Psychology lecture series educates students about stereotypes

Speakers hope to help students see others' views

Adam Edelman/Daily Staff Writer

3.1.07

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Experts in psychology have determined that the forming of stereotypes and ethnic identity starts when a person is a child and continues throughout life.

The psychology department at Iowa State will encourage discussion about the topic at a lecture series titled "Latinos in the Midwest."

The lectures will focus on the unique experience of being Latino or Latina in Iowa. The series begins at 4 p.m. Thursday in 118 Horticulture Hall.

The lecture series will feature Carey Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Stephen Quintana, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ryan's research focuses on stereotypes, prejudices and group processes. She will be speaking about how Latino immigrants and whites perceive each other in Midwestern culture. She has found stereotyping is not something unique to one race or another.

"Most of my research is on the processes that underlie stereotyping," she said. "The processes are similar in cross-groups, even though the content of the stereotypes are different."

Ryan looks at issues of diversity from a scientific standpoint. She tries to keep common ideas about stereotypes separate from her actual research. Ryan said that even the word "stereotype" carries some unwanted misconceptions.

"I call it 'intergroup perceptions,' but we would most often refer to them as stereotypes," Ryan said. "I like to distinguish between the way I use stereotypes in research and the way the term is used in everyday life."

Quintana has also worked extensively with processes involving stereotyping, although his subjects may be smaller. He received the Ford Foundation Fellowship Award for his research with Mexican-American children and their understanding of ethnicity. In his lecture, he will be focusing on the issues of race through the eyes of elementary-school-age Latinos, and how their perceptions change as they go through high school and onward.

"The dimensions that they use to understand race and ethnicity change as they get older. When they are young, they pay most attention to the more superficial features such as skin color and physical appearance," Quintana said. "As they move on through middle and high school, they gain a better understanding of the social impact of their racial identity."

After the children begin to understand their identity in terms of race, they will get a sense of their relationship to the rest of the members of the ethnic group.

"They see themselves through the eyes of others, and then they develop an individual identity as well as an ethnic group identity, an ethnic group consciousness."

Associate professor of psychology David Vogel said one of the goals of the lectures is to allow students interested in social and racial issues to learn more about the field of researching these issues.

"We would like to have people be more aware of diversity issues - in particular, diversity research," Vogel said. "We want them to be more aware of the research that is out there."

The lectures will take place a day before another diversity event, the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity. Vogel said that along with ISCORE, the lectures will get students thinking about important issues in a comfortable setting.

"We wanted to increase our students' opportunities to have some diversity interaction experiences," Vogel said.

This is the first lecture focusing on diversity issues hosted by the psychology department. Vogel said the department will host another lecture series focusing on the black experience next year. He said there are plans to have lectures such as these annually.