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Psychology Professor Wins National Award for Infusing Diversity Into Teaching

Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, assistant professor of Psychology at IUPUI
Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, assistant professor of Psychology at IUPUI

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June 29, 2009

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Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an assistant professor of Psychology at IUPUI, has received a national award for her efforts to infuse diversity issues into the classes she teaches.

“This is wonderful news, and we are very proud of her,” said Kathy Johnson, chair of the Psychology department in the Purdue School of Science.

Ashburn-Nardo received the award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. The award recognizes faculty who have “effectively incorporated multiple cultural issues into their general psychology courses.”

As a social psychologist whose research focuses on stereotyping and prejudice – particularly biases over which people have little conscious control, there are few who see the need as much as Ashburn-Nardo does to incorporate multi-cultural issues into their teaching.

“Many of my students come from culturally homogeneous backgrounds, but I encourage them to appreciate diverse viewpoints,” she said. “Through subtle techniques such as using photos of people from a variety of ethnicities to illustrate concepts on slides I use in lecture—regardless of whether the concept is directly related to diversity issues—I send the message that people from every walk of life have valuable lessons to teach us.”

Even when a class, such as undergraduate research methods, doesn’t obviously lend itself to raising awareness of diversity, Ashburn-Nardo works to include multi-cultural material. “Although my undergraduate research methods course does not specifically emphasize diversity as a primary course objective, I choose empirical articles that focus on stereotypes, prejudice, and stigma as examples of different research concepts.”

Her efforts are appreciated by students. “More than once, African American students in these courses have approached me after class or during my office hours to thank me for not being afraid to talk openly about diversity issues and for using examples other than the “White folks pictured in the textbook.”

Race- related issues have intrigued Ashburn-Nardo since her days as a high school student growing up in a “very integrated” small North Carolina town, where African American students constituted a slight majority in the high school she attended.

“We didn’t talk a lot about racism, but you could see different cliques that existed along racial lines,” she said. Having had those experiences, she believes, made her more interested in race and diversity issues when she took classes in social psychology in college.

Studying stereotyping and prejudice from the perspective of both the target and the perpetrator makes her somewhat unique. Usually, researchers study one or the other. Ashburn-Nardo’s work has focused on how prejudice affects people even outside their conscious awareness , shaping attitudes in subtle ways that many are surprised to discover have taken root in themselves.

While one part of her research has to do with finding how these subtle forms of bias affect targets of prejudice, another element of her research has to do with how to reduce prejudice.

Confrontation as a prejudice reduction tool has been emerging as an area of study, she noted. Most people associate confrontation with something bad or heated, but that is something of a misnomer, Ashburn-Nardo added.

“Confrontation doesn’t have to necessarily be so confrontational,” said. “If someone tells an off-color joke, you can communicate that you think it was wrong to say even with a roll of the eyes.”

Research shows that a relatively non-threatening confrontation can be effective in getting people to stop biased behavior, she said. “It won’t necessarily make them like the person who confronted them, but it is effective in getting them to stop.”