Faculty Diversity Seminar: Sam Gaertner

In March of 2011, Samuel Gaertner, Professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware, spoke in the first Faculty Diversity Seminar on his research over five decades on the subtle aspect of prejudice and discrimination and ways some of its damaging consequences can be reduced. Professor Gaertner is an internationally acclaimed and respected social psychologist whose work has been a beacon to researchers around the world who seek to understand the dimensions of intergroup hostility, the subtlety with which people demonstrate their biases against members of out-groups and in favor of their own group, and strategies for diminishing these anti-diversity tendencies. In his presentation to those in attendance, he summarized some of his innovative work beginning with his observation that it was not that bigoted people hung up when a stranded black motorist called them by mistake, but hung up before they could be asked to help. This led to the development of his “aversive racism” concept, the idea that people often hold egalitarian attitudes but behave in biased ways because they also hold negative feelings toward other groups. When the situation is racially ambiguous, or when an explanation for their behavior other than race is readily available, they will more frequently sow racial discrimination. They are often unaware that they have behaved in a biased fashion because the egalitarian attitude is explicit and conscious, but the unexamined negative feelings are not. When those negative feelings surface, bias occurs.

In addition, Professor Gaertner discussed his Common In-group Identity Model for reducing discrimination and bias. The basic idea here is that when the boundaries that separate us into groups can be blurred to the point they are expanded to include diverse groups under the same group umbrella, those forces that lead us to prefer others within our group can now operate to bring us closer to others previously outside our group, but located inside it. Professor Gaertner showed how bias is reduced as easily as having black canvassers at a UD football game wear UD (In-group) or Westchester State (out-group) t-shirts when they ask for help completing a survey. Black-White racial distinctions fade away and are replaced by a UD-Westchester group identification. Respondents helped Blacks from UD more than Blacks or Whites from Westchester.

The discussions ranged around how to create that since of "we-ness" in a diverse institution. If we are to achieve successful diversity, we will have to find ways to create a common in-group identity. .