|Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2018|
Eye on Psi Chi
Fall 2018 | Volume 23 | Issue 1
Challenge Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone
Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez, PhD,
Welcome to the new term! As a dear colleague likes to remind me, the beauty of an academic context is that, every 12 to 15 weeks, students and faculty alike have the pleasure of hitting “the giant reset button” at the end of one semester, refilling the reservoir of promise and potential just in time for the start of the following term. Books exude their new book smell. Syllabi brim with interesting readings and thoughtful assignments to further broaden and deepen our knowledge. Everyone starts out the semester with perfect grades and spotless attendance. The activities that lead students to their seats on that first day of classes are many and often stressful. Students have to register, be waitlisted, monitor courses against their degree requirements, buy books and school supplies, check financial aid and scholarships, etc. With so much structure to follow, sometimes students forget to ask “What do I want to learn this semester?”
What do you want to learn this semester?
As you ponder this question, look up from your books and screens, and push yourself to experience what I believe to be one of the greatest perks college has to offer: the ability to interact with people who are different from you with many, rich dimensions of identity. “Diversity” has become a bit of an ugly word on some campuses and has been unfortunately politicized in our national landscape. Put politics aside for a moment and consider the value of diversity. Businesses value diversity in their workforce because it translates into higher sales for their diverse clients. Colleges value diversity in their student body because it translates into a richer learning environment for all students. Diversity in groups can actually change the way we all think, resulting in greater creativity and better decision-making (Phillips, 2014; Stahl, Maznevski, Voigt, & Jonson, 2010). In real-world settings, we are collectively being tasked with working successfully within teams (McDaniel & Salas, 2018).
Exposure to diversity alone is not necessarily effective for well-functioning of groups (Stahl et al., 2010; Wang, 2017). What diverse groups gain in creativity they may lose in cohesion (Stahl et al., 2010). Furthermore, the benefits of diversity are best observed when the differences between groups are meaningful (e.g., values, attitudes) rather than superficial (e.g., use of general ethnic labels that may or may not indicate different world views). Given the essential yet complex nature of team work, wouldn’t it be wonderful to pick up some skills for how to work productively in diverse groups? It turns out your college campus is a great place to do so! In a meta-analysis of college diversity experiences, results show that the greatest impact on positive cognitive outcomes for students was from interpersonal experiences rather than diversity workshops or coursework (Bowman, 2010). Thus, my recommendation is to look up from your books and screens, and be open to engage in some deep diversity experiences on your campus!
Some of you may be asking, but what is diversity? Diversity generally refers to differences along many dimensions of identity including, but not limited to, race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status, political ideology, and religious beliefs and practices. As I mentioned, these labels can lead to only superficial differences between people, although they are helpful pointers for seeking activities. For example, if you are cisgender, have you ever considered going to a drag show? If you are an urban Latinx like me, have you ever considered attending a rodeo? Look for meaningful differences that will challenge you to understand how you see the world. A helpful step in this process is understanding what you bring to a group (see Figure 1).
These questions are certainly only a starting point. If you have a much more nuanced understanding of who you are as a person, then you can certainly engage in an analysis much deeper than this one. Regardless of how you engage in this process, once you have a sense of what you bring to a group, you can consider how to go outside of your own comfort zone. You may choose activities that are scholarly, social, or even community engaged. For example, you may wish to participate in a specialty student club, venture to a local venue, or even volunteer in a particular context. In my community, I steer my students to volunteer their time and energy into the Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection group where they work with local refugees to become integrated into our community.
As you approach your activities, pay attention to your mindset. I would encourage you to expect frustration as you leave your comfort zone and choose to learn something new anyway. You may not like the music you hear, or the taste or texture of new foods. You may be physically uncomfortable with differences in interpersonal space used across cultural groups. At a deeper level, you may find that you disagree with viewpoints presented or experience the focus of conversations differently than what you would value or consider important. Rather than pass judgment on these experiences, observe them and try to understand how your own cultural diversity informs your values, beliefs, and practices. For example, why do you stand at arm’s length when having a conversation with a friend? Why not closer? Why not further? And, why do you commonly use the spices that you use to flavor your dishes? Understanding that our own values, beliefs, and behaviors are culturally grounded goes a long way to nurture cross-cultural understanding.
As you engage diversity, I also encourage you to meet your fears and choose to learn something new anyway. Over the years, I have found that my students are consistently challenged by the discomfort they feel when surrounded by people who speak a language that they do not understand. Students express personal concerns (e.g., embarrassment resulting from not understanding and having to ask a person to repeat something) and social ones (e.g., discomfort when others are speaking in a different language for varied reasons such as “they are talking about me” or “I want to participate in the conversation”). There is the ever-present fear of being called a racist, a fear that goes well beyond my own campus (e.g., Ashlee, 2017). Any seasoned educator will tell you that making mistakes is a critical part of learning. In fact, a few years ago, I recorded a TEDx talk on this very issue that could be helpful as you head on your journey (Domenech Rodríguez, 2014).
The United States is becoming increasingly diverse (Cohn & Caumont, 2016). Team work is essential to our professional pursuits (McDaniel & Salas, 2018). Our literature points to the importance of interpersonal contact in diverse contexts. This fall, I would encourage you to look up from your books, computers, and smart phones, and push yourself to engage the experiential learning that college campuses have to offer! I predict that these experiences may turn out to be more memorable over time than much of the course content you cover in your classrooms.
Ashlee, K. (2017). Overcoming the fear of being called a racist: White student affairs professionals working for racial liberation. 2018 ACPA Convention. Retrieved from http://convention.myacpa.org/houston2018/overcoming-fear/
Bowman, N. A. (2010). College diversity experiences and cognitive development: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 80, 4–33. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654309352495
Cohn, D., & Caumont, A. (2016, March 31). Fact Tank: 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/
Domenech Rodríguez, M. (2014, December 2). No way but through [Video file]. Retrieved from http://tedx.usu.edu/portfolio-items/melanie-m-domenech-rodriguez/
McDaniel, S. H., & Salas, E. (2018). The science of teamwork: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 73, 305–307. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000337
Pew Research Center. (2016). Religion in everyday life. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2016/04/12/religion-in-everyday-life/
Philips, K. W. (2014, October 1). How diversity makes us smarter. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
Stahl, G. K., Maznevski, M. L., Voigt, A., & Jonson, K. (2010). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups. Journal of International Business Studies, 41, 690–709.
Teo, T. (2009). Psychology without Caucasians. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 50, 91–97. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014393
Wang, J., Cheng, G. H. L., & Leung, K. (2017). Cultural diversity and team creativity: A meta-analysis. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2017, 10612. https://doi.org/10.5465/ambpp.2017.10612
Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Utah State University. She has an active program of research on evidence-based parenting interventions with particular focus on cultural adaptation and implementation of Parent Management Training–Oregon model with Latinx families. She is a researcher and a licensed clinician. Dr. Domenech Rodríguez is also a passionate mentor. She has chaired 9 honors theses, 12 master’s theses, and 15 dissertations since 2005. She has supported 15 undergraduate students in obtaining $17,679 in grants including Psi Chi’s Undergraduate Research and Thelma Hunt Research Grants.
Dr. Domenech Rodríguez has a long-term commitment to advancing the mission of Psi Chi. She served as advisor to the USU chapter of Psi Chi (2002–15). During that time the USU chapter invariable achieved Model Chapter status and received the 2012 Regional Chapter award. Dr. Domenech Rodríguez served Psi Chi as Rocky Mountain Regional Vice-President (2005–09), Diversity Director (2011–2012), and Editor of the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research (2011–16). During her editorship, the journal experienced important growth including: consistent on-time publication, increases in articles received and published, tracking impact of articles, and moving to open access format. The journal editorship has been one of the most treasured professional activities of her career.
Dr. Domenech Rodríguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico; she is bilingual and bicultural. These personal characteristics that have profoundly shaped her scholarship, her collaborative style of mentorship, her servant leader approach, and her passion for culture and context in psychology.
Copyright 2018 (Vol. 23, Iss. 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology