Skip to main content

Diversity Science at Northwestern

As psychologists, we study the nature of emotion, thinking, and behavior. Though all human beings share these basic capacities, there is a breathtaking diversity to how our common psychological needs and motivations find expression. In establishing a departmental focus on Diversity Science, we embrace this diversity and seek to understand how individuals and groups can best navigate its challenges and opportunities. In doing so, we recognize that inequality, oppression, and disparities in life outcomes have followed from systems of power and inequality in which the dominant undermine the value and dignity of members of many minority groups, and that psychological research must play a central role in identifying and remedying these enduring forms of injustice in American society.  

Human diversity comes in many forms, including differences based on racial identity, culture, ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic class, and ability or disability. Understanding how psychological principles are expressed and inflected through the lens of these differences is central to our mission as a department. Moreover, the troubling persistence of disparities based on these dimensions of social identity constitute an urgent call to action for psychological scientists. Diversity provides a rich opportunity for stronger and more effective human functioning, but these advantages do not emerge automatically; they must be actively cultivated, and the counterforces of disrespect, intolerance, mistrust, and discrimination must be confronted and dismantled. As an intellectual discipline and health service profession, psychology is well-suited to address these challenges. Our department will lead the way in this endeavor.

Diversity is not just a topic to be studied, but a reality to be lived. We are committed to creating a departmental culture that is inclusive and welcoming to all students, faculty, and staff. As we work to make Northwestern a leading center for Diversity Science, we seek and greatly value the participation of people from groups that have been historically disadvantaged, denied opportunity, and excluded from contributing to the psychological study of human nature, in all its great diversity. Our department has indeed grown increasingly diverse, and our capacity to make meaningful contributions to the scientific study of diversity has expanded as a result. Some of our ongoing and developing initiatives related to Diversity Science are summarized here.

A scientific challenge of particular importance in Diversity Science concerns the explication and elimination of injustices facing oppressed social groups. The high social and personal costs of bigotry and hatred toward racial, ethnicity, religious, and sexual minorities have been extensively documented in psychological research. Major professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association have called upon all psychologists to work towards the elimination of these forms of bigotry in research, practice, training, and education, to speak out against intolerance wherever it occurs, and to promote new psychological research on the alleviation of discrimination and injustice (APA, 2001). These efforts include denouncing pseudoscientific research alleging to show evidence for White supremacy or purporting to demonstrate the inferiority of particular racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, or socioeconomic groups. Such arguments commonly include bogus claims regarding biogenetic group differences – claims that the American Society of Human Genetics has forcefully denounced (ASHG, 2018). Some have used psychological science in both intentional and unintentional ways to justify and normalize social inequalities and to underwrite the cultural and economic dominance of White people (Sanson et al., 1998). Psychologists are not immune from this behavior. Therefore, a special measure of vigilance and self-scrutiny is required to identify, question, resist, and refute unwarranted racist assumptions that can be inherent in psychological research.

In building a vigorous program of initiatives in Diversity Science, the Northwestern Department of Psychology is making a commitment not only to better understand the challenges and opportunities that social diversity represents, but also to reject biases in and misapplications of psychological science that have imposed painful personal and societal costs on the members of historically marginalized groups. 

APA (2001). Resolution against racism and in support of the goals of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racial Intolerance.

ASHG (2018). American Society of Human Genetics denounces attempts to link genetics and racial supremacy.  American Journal of Human Genetics.

Sanson, A., et al. (1998). Racism and prejudice: An Australian Psychological Society position paper. Australian Psychologist