Making Madison Matter with Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies Lab
By: Megan Roy ‘17, Rianna Yung ‘16
Posted: April 4, 2016
Within the past year, numerous incidents of racism and discrimination have been reported at institutions across the country including the University of Missouri and Yale University, with student activists calling for sweeping changes for racial sensitivity and inclusiveness. This echoes a sentiment likely felt by many students across the United States — that campus communities are not always welcoming to students of various identity groups. At James Madison University, the Cultural and Racial Diversity Studies (CARDS) Lab, whose principal investigator is Dr. Matthew Lee, from the Department of Psychology, led an initiative dedicated to uncovering our campus climate.
Madison Matters is a survey project that began in the Spring 2015 semester in collaboration with members of the JMU LGBTQ faculty/staff listserv data collection team. The survey is a comprehensive research study whose goal is to investigate how comfortable, safe, and included our fellow Dukes feel here at JMU. Over 1400 students completed the survey. Students responded to various indicators of mental health, as well as to survey items that measured how included they felt on campus, how diverse they perceived the JMU community to be, and how well their classes seemed to address diversity issues. The survey was quite noteworthy in including several underrepresented or overlooked demographic categories such as gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, different types of ability statuses (e.g., mental health, physical/mobility issues), and even international student status.
Findings suggest that often times, minority students (in terms of race as well as sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender identity, ability status, and religion) experience a lower level of well-being compared to other students, and that many of these students do not feel that JMU is as diverse or accepting of diversity as it should be. Surprisingly, many women reported a less safe, less inclusive campus environment, even though the majority of the student body is female; this might be due to experiences of sexism or fear of sexual assault. Overall, however, most surveyed students tended to report a relatively high satisfaction with life, as well as a moderately positive perception of general campus climate. Perceptions of campus climate tend to be related to other outcomes such as psychological well-being and GPA. In sum, while JMU offers a positive climate for many folks, the campus community must work more effectively to ensure that a positive climate is available to everyone.
For students in the CARDS Lab, this project has given them a hands-on experience of how to conduct a scientific study, from initiating data collection to presenting the results to a public audience. “Madison Matters is not only a research study, it has become a way of life for all of the CARDS Lab members,” says Lily Takahashi, a senior Psychology major, Criminal Justice minor, and CARDS Lab research assistant. “[It] has started the conversation about discrimination and [a] way to combat it on college campuses and in everyday life.”
The CARDS Lab began disseminating the Madison Matters findings on campus in the Fall 2015 semester, beginning with presenting results to various JMU faculty members and administrators. Students in the lab have gained worthwhile experience in data management and analysis, presentation and communication skills, working closely with faculty, staff, and administrators at many different levels, and even writing consultation reports for different units and faculty/staff members at JMU. These are essential skills the team can use well beyond their time at JMU. In fact, the team will be presenting their work at this year’s American Psychological Association national convention in Denver.
CARDS Lab students have learned to communicate clearly not only to a professional audience, but to laypeople. “I've learned about how research can be applied to help the community. I've learned more statistical tools and about disseminating data to a population in a way that can be easily understood,” said Katherine Donovan, a junior Psychology and Intelligence Analysis double major, and CARDS Lab member.
On February 17, 2016, the CARDS Lab collaborated with JMU’s D.E.E.P. (Diversity Excellence Education Program) Impact program to present the findings of the Madison Matters project at a collaborative Passport event. Over 240 students attended the event to learn about campus climate and discuss how the results related to their own experiences at JMU. The event allowed attendees to understand different experiences of the campus climate, and where some of the more challenging issues of discrimination and exclusion may be taking place. For Kristin Mack, a CARDS Lab member and junior Psychology major who minors in both Spanish and Family Studies, being in the lab has proven to be an extremely valuable experience. “The CARDS Lab has shown me leadership, professionalism and how to have fluid conversations with other people about issues of discrimination, exclusivity, and students' perceptions of a worse campus climate. I have also learned that it is possible to make a difference on campus, and that…it could mean the world to someone else.”
Recent JMU ’15 graduate Nur Uyguner continues to stay involved with the lab through volunteering. About the collaboration with D.E.E.P. Impact, she said, "CARDS Lab [gave] me opportunities that I thought I would never have in a regular undergraduate psychology lab. I was able to observe and be involved in different aspects of applied research. I learned how to apply my psychology knowledge in real life, which I think could be really fascinating when you see that you change the community around you positively. As a CARDS Lab member, I can say that we help our community to talk more about diversity and address diversity-related problems. I think our findings helped pinpoint specific problems and lead professionals [to] discuss effective solutions.”