Vick speaks to WWU community

This story was originally published in The Collegian of Walla Walla University shortly before Martin Luther King Day.
Dr. Brooke Vick, social psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at Whitman College [spoke] at Walla Walla University’s MLK Jr. Day CommUnity on Monday, Jan. 19 in the University Church.[Note from The Pio: According to the Walla Walla University website, “The CommUnity program facilitates weekly opportunities for the entire campus to gather together for worship, academic reflection and discussion, celebrations of school spirit, social outreach, and civic enlightenment.”]

The Collegian writer Morgan Sanker interviewed Vick before her talk at the university.

Morgan Sanker: Why did you choose your specific field and what influenced your decision?

Dr. Brooke Vick: I chose to study psychology because I observed so many puzzling, problematic human behaviors in my environment and I wanted to understand their causes. I specifically chose to study prejudice and social stigma within psychology because I became aware of prejudice at a very young age and always felt at a loss to comprehend how and why prejudice develops and how to reduce it.

MS: During your time at UC Santa Barbara, did any racial problems present themselves?

BV: While I was at UCSB, I had my head buried in my studies (working toward a Ph.D. tends to give people tunnel vision) so I was rarely outside of my lab. I have no doubt that there were issues with race in that area, I just was not plugged into them at the time.

MS: Have you experienced racial injustice first hand?

BV: Yes. My guess is that one would be hard-pressed to find a person of color in this country who has not been touched by, or privy to prejudice and racism in some form, either personally, via association with others, or institutionally.

MS: What racial tensions have you come across in the Walla Walla valley?

BV: The race-related incidents that I am aware of in our communities come primarily in the form of harassment, profiling, and threats of physical violence and intimidation against younger people (often students) of color in the area. I have also observed negative attitudes directed toward members of immigrant populations in the valley.

MS: How has your research affected your view of racial injustice?

BV: My research has helped me to understand some of the multiple reasons why racial bias develops and is maintained despite broad explicit rejection of the idea by individuals. I also have a better sense of how prejudice affects people from harming their mental and physical health to reducing motivation, life chances, and outcomes. The research can be both depressing and encouraging as it indicates negative consequences of prejudice, but also highlights the good that can be done when bias is reduced.

MS: Can racial injustice and marginalized social identities be stopped?

BV: Because our brains naturally organize people into categories and strong psychological processes motivate the maintenance of social hierarchies, it is difficult to conclude that we can achieve a society in which social stigma in all of its forms is completely eradicated. We can, however, absolutely work toward a more just society that upholds the civil rights of all of its citizens, provides equal opportunity and access to members of all social groups, and affords safety and respect to everyone regardless of race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, or disability.

MS: What strategies can students, faculty, and people alike implement to negate racial injustice?​

BV: Racial injustice, broadly speaking, is a huge beast to defeat. We can, however, begin by working on ourselves and working to improve justice, respect, and equality in our own social circles. We can work to be more sensitive and aware of our own potential to apply stereotypic expectations to others and consciously combat those judgments in ourselves. We can speak up when we see others engaging in stereotypic judgments, expressing prejudicial attitudes, or behaving in discriminatory ways and let them know that we do not agree, that it is not okay. Racial bias is at its most powerful when we are silent –– silence allows these biases to go unchecked, uncorrected, and those who are the perpetrators (whether deliberately or not) can maintain their sense that their ideas represent a broad consensus (social norms are powerful motivators of behavior). If students, faculty, staff, and community members bear witness to prejudice or discrimination, and find themselves in a situation in which they have some privilege (due to their race, age, gender, job title, economic position, etc.), act to call out the behavior and work to reduce its effects. We can all do something. We can all do better.