Insights into EDI at UBC Psychology

Insights into EDI at UBC Psychology: In conversation with Dr. Amori Mikami, Associate Head of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

By Khushi Mehta 

In our previous article for Black History Month, we discussed how Blackness has been erased from the field of psychology. However, we did not discuss what this means for the future of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) – both within UBC Psychology and in the field at large. To learn more about the department’s EDI efforts, we spoke with the Associate Head of EDI, Dr. Amori Mikami.

Students of colour often face racialization, poverty, food insecurity, and marginalization within the field – not only as participants who deal with biased sampling methods, but also as scientists. I wondered what the EDI committee was working on to help combat these issues?

There are several ongoing initiatives that I hope are helping in increasing the representation of diverse students and, faculty in our department. One of the specific initiatives on the undergraduate level is the Diversity Mentorship Program. In this program, undergraduates who are interested in psychology and graduate school, and are underrepresented in psychology graduate programs, are paired with current psychology graduate students. They receive some workshops, and mentorship about how to apply to graduate school, what people are looking for in applicants, and what graduate school is like. We see this as one way to demystify the hidden curriculum and increase the pipeline of diverse undergraduate students wanting to enroll in psychology graduate programs.

We also have the undergrad RA portal where undergraduates who are interested in gaining RA experience have access to a centralized location where they can view deadlines, labs that are recruiting, and can apply to multiple labs instead of having to figure out ‘Oh, am I supposed to email the professor? Am I supposed to keep trying? Like, when do I do that? How do I even know which labs are recruiting?’ Further, the undergraduates can also receive course credit for their RA work. Our department realized that for some students, asking them to volunteer their time is an unfair burden, which might mean that they do not have options to receive the RA experience. We decided to offer course credit, as something that will help some students to be involved in labs that couldn’t otherwise.

“Our department realized that for some students, asking them to volunteer their time is an unfair burden, which might mean that they do not have options to receive the RA experience.”
Associate Head of EDI

We’ve also set up the Psychology Inclusive Excellence Fund [PIE fund], which will fund some of the fellowships for undergraduate RAs, prioritizing those who contribute to the diversity of psychology and those that have financial need. So those are the way that we’re helping to prepare more diverse students for graduate school.

As for the graduate admissions, we have started to implement a more holistic evaluation and adjudication process. We are also keeping in mind the applicant’s contribution to the EDI goals of the department, one way of which could be through lived experience, as part of our evaluation and scholarship decisions. And again, the PIE fund will also be used to support a certain number of graduate students who are underrepresented.

Regarding faculty hiring, we have implemented many initiatives such as getting the word out more broadly, to increase the recruitment and the diversity of applicants who apply. We are evaluating applications more holistically, including keeping in mind how applicants contribute to the EDI goals of the department, and assessing that formally as part of the decision-making process. We have other initiatives to encourage a more inclusive climate in the department that will support diverse students and faculty once they are here.

In general, all these initiatives are intended to increase the diversity (broadly defined) and inclusive climate of our department. However, not a lot of them are specific to Black and Indigenous department members.  But if you look at the EDI Task Force report, we have identified Black and Indigenous students and faculty, in particular, as groups that are very underrepresented in our department. So, we do have our eye toward those groups, even though I think that the initiatives, hopefully, will help everyone.

As one example, we are thinking about setting aside a certain number of slots for Black or Indigenous students for the Quinn Awards. These are paid, 35-hour/week, summer research assistantship positions in psychology labs. This would be an example of a way that we are trying to think more specifically about the needs of Black or Indigenous students, which can be different from the needs and experiences of other racialized students.

My next question, then, is – what would the EDI committee like to do to make the Department of Psychology a safe space for Black and Indigenous students such that they can make use of these initiatives that we are working on?

Our department has an Indigenous Task Force that has made recommendations that over with those from EDI Task Force report, but are taking into account some of the particular needs and experience of Indigenous students. Similarly, I do think that the needs, experiences, and barriers faced by Black students in our department are somewhat different that those faced by other racialized students.

For this reason, I think hiring Black faculty members is important for our department, and this is something that is explicitly written into the hiring recommendations of the EDI Task Force Report. Faculty hiring is a complex endeavor, and there are many factors that go into who is offered the job, and who ends up accepting it. So, I see increasing the representation of Black faculty members as part of our department’s five-year strategic plan, and not something that’s going to change overnight. But yes, we have no Black faculty members in our department at this time, so this is a clear target for improvement. I don’t think that, hiring, for instance, more Asian faculty, will be achieving our goals, if we’re really thinking about making the department a more welcoming and supportive place for Black students.

Further, many faculty are thinking about how to diversify the content and the topics in their courses. We do have paid graduate student EDI consultants in our department who can worth with, and have worked with a number of faculty already: going over their syllabus, looking at the diversity of authors represented in the readings, suggesting other readings, etc. The consultants are working with faculty who would like to include content in their course to discuss issues related to racial bias, racial diversity, or other types of prejudices. However, I do think that it’s important to consider including research by Black scholars, and work that represents the Black experience. I don’t think this is something that is often included in our courses. And I do think that that’s something that would help Black students feel more welcome and included in our department. One recommendation that I have for faculty who wish to include the experiences of Black Canadians in their course material, is to prioritize Black authors and researchers who have done that work.

Another recommendation is to think about presenting stories of resilience and strengths, so it’s not just ‘Here are all the health disparities and ways that Black Canadians are not doing as well’. When discussing disparities be clear that these are attributable to systemic racism and name that explicitly. I also advise seeking support from our EDI consultants and looking at the resources on our EDI website. Take it on yourself, with support from the EDI consultants, to educate yourself about some of these issues and to develop a way to talk about them that will help Black students feel included and represented and not uncomfortable and put on the spot.

“When discussing disparities be clear that these are attributable to systemic racism and name that explicitly...and develop a way to talk about (the issues) that will help Black students feel included and represented and not uncomfortable and put on the spot.”
Associate Head of EDI

The APA issued an apology in 2021 to the communities it has harmed in the past through its publication of racist psychology research or racist psychologists. What are some of the different steps we as EDI committee members are taking in acknowledging the racist and colonial legacies within not only the field, but also perhaps within the department?

Our EDI Dialogue and Learning working group hosts several events. One is the anti-racist book club, which meets about every 1-2 months, and several books have specifically taken on issues of racism against Black Canadians and academics. I would also encourages people to think about explicitly acknowledging the legacies (and current perpetuation) of racism and oppression in psychology, in their courses and lab meetings. This can be a very uncomfortable topic, but it is something that our EDI consultants can brainstorm with you about, and can suggest resources and ideas that you can consider for yourself. It may require each of us to think about, and be upfront about, our positionality as settlers and our privilege.

Dialogue and Learning workshops are ongoing throughout the year, wherein we talk about different issues. I do think that it would be appropriate to do a workshop about how we, as a field, or in our labs, or in our courses, are upholding structural racism and what we can do to dismantle it.

I’m also thinking that there are workshops going on in individual area that are sometimes not for the whole department, but I still think make a positive difference. For example, I’m in the clinical area, and two members of our area attended a webinar about anti-racist supervision in clinical psychology training programs. Then, for the clinical area faculty retreat that happened in December, we presented a summary and some exercises based on the content from the webinar. All the clinical area faculty participated in this discussion.

If you are not a member of the EDI committee and would like to contribute to the work happening within the department, fear not.

Attending our EDI Dialogue and Learning events is something that any department member can do. People can also go for one event and decide to sit out another. Another idea to is to take advantage of our EDI consultation services. And lastly, don’t be afraid to access resources out of UBC.