Class Examines Impact of Culture

Gretchen S. Lovas

Bias and prejudice are not always obvious to the untrained eye. Thankfully, Associate Professor of Psychology Gretchen S. Lovas is far from untrained. In her Psychology, Culture and Ethnicity course, she shines a light for her students on bias and prejudice. The class, which explores culture’s influence on human development, behavior and intergroup relationships, also uncovers some brutal truths.

Many of these truths are illuminated by studying multicultural psychology, a field Lovas says focuses on “the dynamics of interaction among cultures and ethnicities.” For example, the class addresses cultural interactions in U.S. history, including its past of slavery and genocide. Although many may try to distance the country from these horrors, Lovas maintains that “the legacy of that history is still operating today.”

Acknowledging present-day racism leads students to question their own attitudes. Sara Saltzman ’13, an elementary education major who took the course in the spring of 2011, says she and her classmates connected topics from the course to personal experience using cross-cultural psychology, a discipline whose insights help combat racism by examining what Lovas calls the “universal features of human life.” Although differences exist among cultures, Lovas says people of every culture have similar emotional, social and familial experiences.

“We defend ourselves from incursions into our territory and fight to protect our kin. We create art and have philosophical and religious traditions. We are really quite similar to each other, no matter how different our context might be,” she says.

Nevertheless, context shapes lives, and Lovas considers it her job to help students understand their place—and the importance of that place—in a matrix of race, class and gender. As she explains, “What you do with that ‘place’ matters.”

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