Psychology Students' Plan to Fight Racism Gets Response from Oval Office

November 09, 2015

Can a group of undergrads find the solutions to the daunting questions of racism and police brutality in the U.S.? Judging by the response from the President of the United States, they just might be on the right track.

Forensic Psychology students (from left): Geddy Barr, Chavonne Little, and Kyle Wheeler.

Forensic Psychology students (from left): Geddy Barr, Chavonne Little, and Kyle Wheeler.

Students in Associate Professor of Psychology Barbara Gormley’s Forensic Psychology class were given a research project to go online and read and collect responses from people across the social spectrum—white or black, police officers or community members, politicians or community organizers, and find out where the conversation has gone since last year’s infamous Ferguson, Mo. incident.

After researching what was said and by whom, the students then shared with each other the information they found on multiple sides of the controversy in a structured classroom discussion. Then they brainstormed various solutions to the problem.

From their research, the class came up with a seven point plan of ideas the students thought would go a long way to eliminating the problems and creating solutions. The list included such ideas as police training with alternatives to gun use, officers living in the communities they serve, and a national effort to reduce racism across all citizens, beginning with schools at every grade level.  When the students' plan was finalized, it was sent out to 22 elected officials on the local, state and federal level. As of now, only one of them responded back-President Barack Obama.

Associate Professor of Psychology Barbara Gormley’s Forensic Psychology class came up with a seven point plan of ideas they thought would go a long way toward eliminating problems of racism and police brutality cases.

Associate Professor of Psychology Barbara Gormley’s Forensic Psychology class came up with a seven point plan of ideas they thought would go a long way toward eliminating problems of racism and police brutality cases.

According to Gormley, the classroom discussion was not hard to have and the solutions were easy to generate after the students researched different points of view. What impressed the professor was the amount of examples the students came back with. “I was expecting them to find two or three examples, but some of them went on and on, finding multiple people saying different things,” she said. 

For Chavonne Little, the project took on additional importance because her grandfather is a detective in the Chicago Police Department. "I’m crazy worried about him all the time, especially with the recent articles about police brutality and racism. It was really important that I knew where everyone stood and his potential danger, so I could inform him about what was going on, even if he knows already," she said.

Little and fellow students Geddy Barr and Kyle Wheeler said they did much of their research through Google. Barr said reading the responses from people on line was eye-opening. "When you read these comments, you realize there is a lot of hatred out there," he said. In order to avoid the usual anonymous comments, Wheeler and Little said they researched comments on the PsycINFO website from the American Psychological Association. "I used that site for getting statistics on police departments and racial bias, and then I looked at peer reviewed items on Google so I would know that it was more credible than just somebody’s anonymous opinion," Little said.

How did these students keep their own opinions from clouding their research? "Going into psychology, I have to go into situations with an unbiased perspective, so that’s how I approached it," said Wheeler. 

While hearing from the Commander in Chief was, as Chavone said, "pretty cool," fellow students Geddy Barr and Kyle Wheeler said they would have liked to have heard from some local officials. "It’s kind of alarming that the elected officials who are looking over the cities didn’t respond. I think they should be more willing to reach out with solutions," Wheeler said.

Regardless of the feedback, Professor Gormley said she is impressed with how her students handled the discussions, which because of the issue, could have become testy.  “These students have impressed me because they are having conversations at a very high level that most people avoid. Who wants to talk about racism in police departments? It’s kind of a hot-button subject, and they did a really good job. They stayed calm, they were respectful, and they had a lot of really interesting ideas and thoughts. They were so engaged."

Barr said he has learned that having discussions exploring solutions to racism is the only way to make sure anything will change. "We need to get things out in the open. The more we talk about things, the better understanding we all have of one another," he said.

"One of the things I hope they will get out of this is that they will come away feeling that they can make more of a difference than they thought they could," Gormley said.

The Latest On Twitter

  • “For a lot of our students, life happens but the important thing is, we will get you done. Maybe you have to take... https://t.co/hAWkA9Kvmi
    February 26, 2017
  • "It’s a wonderful opportunity to be in on the ground floor of establishing a department, and helping to further... https://t.co/OHuTEqZ0oy
    February 24, 2017
  • Education is power. https://t.co/Ffo0JDH9od
    February 23, 2017