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Grad students talk: Development and process of a student-led social justice initiative

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Abstract

College student activism has long been a staple of campus life, often driven by the sociopolitical issues of the time. In response to recent and continuous violent deaths of members of the Black community, rising instances of overt racism, and perceived silence among our institutes and professional groups, a multiinstitutional and diverse collective of psychology graduate student leaders, Grad Students Talk (GST) came together to engage psychology graduate students nationally in discussions related to these events. GST facilitated a series of teleconference calls, and one large in-person conference discussion, for psychology graduate students to discuss and process their reactions to acts of racial injustice. Additionally, GST headed “First, Do No Harm,” an advocacy campaign against psychologists’ involvement in torture, which received mention in national media. The purpose of the current paper is to describe the successes of our student collective, to understand the challenges GST faced in the context of activism within higher education, and to provide recommendations to professionals in higher education to support student activism initiatives. Data from a collaborative autoethnographic qualitative approach highlighted a number of important themes that emerged for researcher-participants, including lack of perceived safety, observed silence from institutions and professional groups, and the important roles of universality and instillation of hope. We conclude the present discourse with a synthesis of the systemic challenges student activists face, and recommendations for change.
Grad Students Talk: Development and Process of a Student-Led
Social Justice Initiative
Melanie M. Lantz
Louisiana Tech University
Rebecca L. Fix
Auburn University
Brittan L. Davis
Cleveland State University
Leighna N. Harrison
Palo Alto University
Ashley Oliver
Cleveland State University
Candice Crowell
University of Kentucky
Amanda M. Mitchell
University of Louisville
James J. García
University of North Texas
College student activism has long been a staple of campus life, often driven by the
sociopolitical issues of the time. In response to recent and continuous violent deaths of
members of the Black community, rising instances of overt racism, and perceived
silence among our institutes and professional groups, a multiinstitutional and diverse
collective of psychology graduate student leaders, Grad Students Talk (GST) came
together to engage psychology graduate students nationally in discussions related to
these events. GST facilitated a series of teleconference calls, and one large in-person
conference discussion, for psychology graduate students to discuss and process their
reactions to acts of racial injustice. Additionally, GST headed “First, Do No Harm,” an
advocacy campaign against psychologists’ involvement in torture, which received
mention in national media. The purpose of the current paper is to describe the successes
of our student collective, to understand the challenges GST faced in the context of
activism within higher education, and to provide recommendations to professionals in
higher education to support student activism initiatives. Data from a collaborative
autoethnographic qualitative approach highlighted a number of important themes that
emerged for researcher-participants, including lack of perceived safety, observed
silence from institutions and professional groups, and the important roles of univer-
sality and instillation of hope. We conclude the present discourse with a synthesis of the
systemic challenges student activists face, and recommendations for change.
Keywords: activism, advocacy, group process, racism, student
Melanie M. Lantz, Department of Psychology and Be-
havioral Sciences, Louisiana Tech University; Rebecca L.
Fix, Department of Psychology, Auburn University; Brittan
L. Davis, College of Education and Human Services, Cleve-
land State University; Leighna N. Harrison, Clinical Psychol-
ogy Program, Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, Palo
Alto University; Ashley Oliver, College of Education and
Human Services, Cleveland State University; Candice Crow-
ell, Department of School, Educational, and Counseling Psy-
chology, University of Kentucky; Amanda M. Mitchell, De-
partment of Educational and Counseling Psychology,
University of Louisville; James J. García, Department of
Psychology, University of North Texas.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Rebecca L. Fix, Department of Psychology, 101
Cary Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849. E-mail:
rebecca.fix@auburn.edu
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Journal of Diversity in Higher Education © 2016 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
2016, Vol. 9, No. 3, 290–306 1938-8926/16/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000033
290
There has been an epidemic of Black indi-
viduals, especially youth, being killed by police
officers in the United States. Increasing recog-
nition of police brutality against Black individ-
uals and communities culminated in national
media coverage and outrage in Fall of 2014; at
that time, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mis-
souri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York,
and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio
were just a few of the unarmed Black lives
taken by police that received national media
attention. Moreover, the exonerations of some
of the law enforcement officers charged with the
deaths of Black Americans were highly publi-
cized. Following these events, psychology grad-
uate students from several organizations came
together as they struggled to process these
events personally and professionally, and real-
ized that other psychology students were likely
struggling as well. Student leaders from multi-
ple psychology graduate student organizations
collaboratively developed Grad Students Talk:
Psychology Graduate Students Invested in So-
cial Justice (GST). Students within GST sought
to support one another as they processed each of
these tragedies, and to create similar process
spaces for other students. Since its inception,
GST has facilitated several teleconference calls
for graduate students in psychology, hosted an
in-person group discussion at a national confer-
ence, and spearheaded a grassroots advocacy
campaign in response to psychologists’ involve-
ment in torture: “First, Do No Harm.”
The purpose of the present discourse is to
highlight challenges of activism in higher edu-
cation, and to share the perceived successes,
challenges faced, and the unmet needs of stu-
dents, as observed by our student collective
through the lens of an autoethnographic study.
By examining the process of our student collec-
tive, we provide recommendations based on
these accomplishments and barriers. First, we
briefly discuss the evolution of college student
activism since the 1960s. Next, we will high-
light the challenges of activism and social jus-
tice advocacy in the current prevailing model of
higher education in the U.S., as well as profes-
sional psychology. As activism is often driven
by the sociopolitical climate of the time, we will
also address the climate of increasing racial
injustice in the United States and the events
leading to the development of our collective.
Finally, we will discuss the development of our
graduate student collective, whose emergence is
intertwined with some of the challenges of ac-
tivism in modern U.S. higher education, as well
as professional psychology. The present dis-
course will conclude with an autoethnographic
exploration of some of the GST student-
participant s’ experiences, including perceived
successes and limitations. Recommendations
for supporting activism in higher education will
be discussed.
Evolution of Activism in Higher Education
In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency,
and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on
only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social
reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will
involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be ar-
gued as never before. The university is a relevant place
for all of these activities (Students for a Democratic
Society, 1962).
Activism has a long and storied place in
higher education. During the 1960s, the inter-
section of international humanitarian issues and
an idealistic generation of American youth led
to a new wave of intense, sometimes violent,
college student activism (Barnhardt, 2014;Con-
nery, 2011;Hundscheid, 2010). So large was
the activist movement that in 1970, President
Nixon established a Commission on Campus
Unrest (“Scranton Commission”) in response to
the killings of student protesters by local police
and National Guardsmen (Connery, 2011;
Scranton et al., 1970). Since then, each cohort
has seen changes in the extent of student activ-
ism. No wave of student activism to date ap-
pears to have been as widespread or tumultuous
as that of the 1960s, involving hundreds of
campuses and thousands of arrests (Barnhardt,
2014), and the type of issues addressed and the
strategies employed also evolved. Undoubtedly,
these changes share a reciprocal relationship
with the changes to higher education, which
will be discussed.
Whereas student activism in the 1960s was
largely driven by societal-level humanitarian
concerns (e.g., the African American civil rights
movement, antiwar movements), student activ-
ists in later decades appeared to be motivated
increasingly by campus-level issues (Hundsc-
heid, 2010). Though some college students of
the 1980s and 1990s addressed issues reminis-
cent of 1960s activism (e.g., apartheid, the Per-
sian Gulf war, sweatshop conditions), the foci
291GRAD STUDENTS TALK
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of student activism trended toward the plight of
the students themselves (Hundscheid, 2010).
For example, New York University students
protested for University-level concerns (e.g.,
collective bargaining of student workers), and
Hundscheid (2010) noted that student activists
saw themselves as “the primary victims of
Global Capitalism” (p. 230), rather than fighting
causes on behalf of the most disenfranchised
groups in society.
Recent events suggest the tide of social jus-
tice foci may again be turning. Community and
on-campus activism appears to be on the rise
since the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, the
17-year old Black male fatally shot while walk-
ing home, and the subsequent acquittal of his
killer. An example of contemporary student ac-
tivism is the November 2015 hunger strike of
graduate student Jonathan Butler at the Univer-
sity of Missouri in response to campus concerns
and perceived administrative inaction related
not only to racism, but also sexism, heterosex-
ism, and xenophobia (Lowery, 2015). Mis-
souri’s football players joined the strike by
threatening to neither practice nor play football
until Mr. Butler’s demands were met, culminat-
ing in then-President Wolfe’s resignation (Low-
ery, 2015).
Even before Jonathan Butler and the football
players at Missouri, groups such as the UCLA
Black Bruins and students at the University of
Michigan and Harvard used social media to
decry continued individual and systemic racism
on college campuses and nationally (Leonard,
2014). Harvard students’ “I, Too, Am Harvard”
social media campaign (Tumblr) led to similar
campaigns at more than 30 universities in the
U.S. and abroad (Leonard, 2014). Though not
specific to college campuses, one of the most
well known current racial justice activism
movements, BlackLivesMatter (BLM), owes its
visibility to social media. BLM, student activist
campaigns such as #BBUM (Being Black at the
University of Michigan), and Harvard students’
Tumblr campaign serve as examples of the
changing face of activism in the age of social
media.
Generally, activist strategies fall on a contin-
uum of intensity and are categorized as conven-
tional (building on existing resources, e.g.,
sporting t-shirts or signs), disruptive (interfering
with routines and startling those on campus;
e.g., sit-ins, rallies), or violent (e.g., hostage-
taking, arson), although even conventional tac-
tics may range from contained to disorderly
(Barnhardt, 2014). Barnhardt (2014) noted the
importance of activist groups using conven-
tional tactics to their maximum benefit, and
emphasized the need for activists to match their
tactics to both the issue and the audience to be
successful. Perhaps, then, the intersection of
social media and more traditional tactics is a
recipe for modern success: social media, partic-
ularly Facebook and Twitter, are cost-effective
platforms that quickly reach a well-matched
millennial audience (Obar, Zube, & Lampe,
2012). Some have expressed concern over the
potential idleness of this new activism (“slack-
tivism;” Lim, 2013), whereas others have noted
that, when used effectively, social media can
uniquely mobilize activists. For example, the
Occupy movement (e.g., Occupy Wall Street)
was born of social media but moved to the
streets of New York, Boston, and other cities
worldwide (Juris, 2012). For Occupy, BLM,
Jonathan Butler, and others, social media served
as a springboard for more traditional tactics,
including protests, rallies, die-ins, and hunger
strikes (Dickey, 2015;Juris, 2012;Mangan,
2014). Others, such as #BBUM and “I, Too, Am
Harvard,” were situated primarily on social me-
dia; the current model of higher education may,
in part, inform the relatively infrequent use of
traditional tactics today.
Challenges to Activism in the 21st-Century
U.S. Academy
Activism within higher education has dra-
matically shifted since the 1960s. In decades
prior, higher education was seen as deeply in-
volved in working toward the greater good in
society (Connery, 2011), which made college
campuses a natural stage for students to protest
humanitarian concerns. In contrast, higher edu-
cation’s focus has slowly shifted to a capitalis-
tic, consumer model, which has direct implica-
tions for student activism (Connery, 2011).
Over the past few decades, college education
has become (a) treated as a product and (b)
considered necessary to earn a livable wage,
which has resulted in an ever increasing number
of students who must indebt themselves and/or
focus on earning money to pay for their educa-
tion (Connery, 2011). Such a system places
students at the mercy of their institutions, as
292 LANTZ ET AL.
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students may perceive receipt of a college de-
gree as necessary for their economic survival.
Put simply, students may not have the luxury of
time or resources needed for activism, and
higher education as a whole may be too focused
on economic security to provide their students
with skills and resources for activism (Marullo
& Edwards, 2000).
Despite constraints, many students and fac-
ulty seek to create social change. Given the
challenges of the modern academy, grassroots
tactics that seek to create bottom-up change
may play a key role in activism within higher
education (Kezar, Bertram Gallant, & Lester,
2011). Kezar and colleagues (2011) examined
faculty and staff change efforts through the lens
of grassroots leadership theory and tempered
radical theory. They describe grassroots lead-
ership as nonhierarchical, bottom-up, inten-
tional efforts to effect change while operating
within institutional power structures, often ‘fly-
ing under the radar.’ Separately, they describe
tempered radicals as individuals who are com-
mitted both to a cause, and to an organization
incompatible with that cause, and who believe
they can be most effective change agents by
remaining with the organization and using tem-
pered strategies to change it from within (Kezar
et al., 2011). Their study highlighted the impor-
tance of both frameworks in understanding
change efforts among those not in authority
positions within higher education. Faculty and
staff sought to raise consciousness of their
causes, create vision, empower others, and es-
tablish networks, using existing higher educa-
tion strategies to do so (e.g., curricula, hiring
committees; Kezar et al., 2011). Though Kezar
and colleagues (2011) focused on faculty and
staff, grassroots and tempered radical frame-
works can apply to student activism, including
the efforts and struggles of the student collec-
tive described herein. Notably, however, GST
was not situated only within higher education,
but also within professional psychology.
Intersection of U.S. Higher Education and
Professional Psychology
Evidence suggests that psychologists can in-
fluence social policies and improve understand-
ing of multicultural concepts by increasing their
commitment to systemic engagement in social
justice work (Ivey & Collins, 2003;McWhirter,
1998;Venner & Verney, 2015;Vera & Speight,
2003), and psychology has increasingly empha-
sized the importance of social justice advocacy
(i.e., activism; Baluch, Pieterse, & Bolden,
2004;Koch & Juntunen, 2014;Vera & Speight,
2003). In fact, advocacy is now considered a
functional competency domain for psycholo-
gists, and some counseling psychology training
programs have even developed and imple-
mented a scientist-practitioner-advocate train-
ing model (e.g., Mallinckrodt, Miles, & Levy,
2014). Yet, following the string of highly pub-
licized murders of Black individuals, the found-
ing members of GST were overwhelmingly
driven to form the collective as a result of the
silence they experienced at their respective in-
stitutions, graduate programs, and/or profes-
sional organizations (e.g., APA).
Despite emphasizing social justice, few psy-
chology programs incorporate social justice into
their curriculum, leaving students without a
meaningful opportunity to explore the role of
advocacy in professional psychology (Ottenrit-
ter, 2004;Venner & Verney, 2015). This train-
ing oversight may reduce the future involve-
ment of psychologists-in-training in social
justice movements (Ottenritter, 2004;Venner &
Verney, 2015). Thus, professional psychology
values and deems advocacy as central to our
roles, yet little is said on how to be social justice
change agents in practice and research (Vera &
Speight, 2003). As a result, there may be trep-
idation regarding activism, which is understand-
able given that when psychologists (and partic-
ularly graduate students) take a stand, they may
be doing so in opposition to at least two insti-
tutions or cultures. Given the limited power that
students have relative to faculty, their institu-
tions, and their professional fields, the uncer-
tainty and fear is likely amplified for students. It
is within this professional intersection and am-
biguity that GST emerged in December of 2014.
Grad Students Talk
The GST collective came together to try to
understand and navigate the dilemmas of how to
engage in activism within higher education and
professional psychology, and sought to create
similar spaces for graduate students in psychol-
ogy nationally, where students could share ideas
with one another about what has or has not
worked at their own institutions—much like
293GRAD STUDENTS TALK
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grassroots and tempered radical efforts of Kezar
and colleagues’ (2011) participants.
All of the student leaders of GST worked
collaboratively, such that there was no hierar-
chical leadership structure, to generate ideas,
determine what tasks needed to be done to ac-
complish the group’s goals, and mutually agree
on divisions of tasks. The predominant out-
comes of the GST collaboration were the facil-
itation of several teleconference calls, as well as
an in-person discussion at a national confer-
ence, which provided graduate students in psy-
chology with a safe space to process their feel-
ings and concerns pertaining to incidents of
racial injustice and violence. Participants dis-
cussed how to effectively communicate ideas
generated during the calls to their own programs
and campuses.
GST employed additional activism strategies
around a controversy in the field of psychology,
regarding psychologists’ participation in torture
of terrorism suspects. GST took this initiative at
the 2015 APA Convention in response to the
results of the Report of the Independent Review
into psychologists’ participation in torture, also
known as the Hoffman Report. (An in-depth
exploration of this issue is beyond the scope of
the current study; for readers interested, please
see APA, n.d.). Following the release of the
Hoffman Report, GST initiated a national cam-
paign called “First, Do No Harm,” in addition to
hosting a conference call for students to discuss
their concerns regarding the report. GST devel-
oped a logo for use on social media, and de-
signed t-shirts, buttons, and stickers to distrib-
ute at Convention. Moreover, GST donated
$1.00 from each t-shirt purchase to the Center
for Victims of Torture. The First, Do No Harm
campaign was mentioned in the New York
Times (Risen, 2015) and the Chronicle of
Higher Education (Wilhelm, 2015). We will
briefly discuss how GST engaged in outreach,
and then discuss the results of an autoethno-
graphic examination of several founders of the
GST collective.
Student Outreach
Calls for participation in the teleconferences
were sent out via multiple graduate student list-
servs that included a participation registration
link. Involvement was limited to the first 20
individuals to register for the teleconference.
Before each call, participants received an e-mail
with difficult dialogue guidelines which encour-
aged participants to be patient, respect others’
opinions, and be aware of one’s own privilege,
including its influence on the discussion and
other participants. Each call was cofacilitated
by two GST members who sought to create a
safe, meaningful space.
Call One, held in December of 2014, totaled
approximately 20 participants while Call Two,
in April of 2015, totaled approximately 17 par-
ticipants. Between Calls One and Two, an in-
person discussion group was facilitated at the
National Multicultural Conference and Summit
in January 2015, which at least 25 people at-
tended. Call Three was held in July of 2015
with a total of eight participants. Each call
lasted 90 min and provided participants with the
opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings,
and reactions to specified events. After the com-
pletion of each call, participants received a vol-
untary and anonymous feedback survey. Feed-
back was taken into consideration for the
facilitation of each subsequent call. In addition
to the open-participation teleconference calls,
members of GST provided ongoing intragroup
support in relation to high-profile racial injus-
tices that continued to occur.
Call Three was specific to the Hoffman Re-
port, which was a departure from the previous
focus explicitly on racial injustice; this, as well
as the possibility that graduate students were
less engaged in professional activities during
the summer, may account for the decrease in
participant numbers. It is notable, however, that
there appeared to be much engagement with
GST’s overall efforts related to the “First, Do
No Harm” campaign. In addition to the confer-
ence call, GST created a Facebook page, a so-
cial media logo for others to adopt, a t-shirt
fundraising campaign, and actively shared in-
formation via professional listservs and the
GST website.
Examining the Process of GST
The members of the GST collective sought to
understand our group members’ motivation to
serve as leaders in this initiative, what they
believed were the successes and limitations of
GST, and their vision for the future work of
GST. A collaborative autoethnographic ap-
proach was used with the eight coauthors, who
294 LANTZ ET AL.
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were also GST collective members. Using this
approach seemed particularly relevant, as each
coauthor participated in some aspect of the tele-
conference calls, with some having served as
both participant and cofacilitator. It is important
to note that there are two different groups of
students associated with GST: (a) the group of
student leaders who organized GST, and (b) a
transient group of students who participated in
the teleconference calls and in-person discus-
sion. Information was not collected on this latter
group of students. The eight researcher-
participants in the present study were members
of the GST collective itself, or the first group.
The intersection of researcher-participant s’
roles, participation, and personal background
provided a unique viewpoint to the GST pro-
cess.
Method
Paradigm
A critical-ideological paradigm was the foun-
dation of the present study. In a critical-
ideological paradigm, the multiple realities of
the participants are recognized, as well as the
reality that oppression and power exist within
the multiple realities of individuals (Morrow,
2007). Emancipation, in which the researcher’s
proactive approach to challenging the status quo
is grounded in the recognition that oppression
and privilege have an impact on the realities of
the lived world, is a main purpose of critical-
ideological worldviews (Ponterotto, 2005). The
ontological assumption of the critical-ideologi-
cal paradigm is that there are many meanings,
several ways of interpreting, and no emphasis
placed on discovering the one “truth” to the
phenomenon under study (Ponterotto, 2005).
The epistemological underpinning of the criti-
cal-ideological paradigm focuses on stimulating
transformation within participants, encouraging
them to formulate a group movement toward
liberation and empowerment (Ponterotto,
2005). Regarding axiology, the critical-ideolog-
ical paradigm recognizes that a researcher can-
not completely dissociate from their value bi-
ases in an attempt to remain “completely”
objective, and encourages the researchers to not
only recognize their own values and biases, but
also to allow their biases to influence the re-
search procedure and the product (Ponterotto,
2005).
Autoethnography
As a qualitative inquiry, the present study
sought to describe the lived experiences of par-
ticipants through use of a collaborative autoeth-
nographic methodological approach (Moore,
Scarduzio, Plump, & Geist-Martin, 2013;Polk-
inghorne, 2005), in which the researchers serve
as the subjects of inquiry. As such, the research-
ers position themselves as coconstructors of
meaning, both as research participants and as
analysts of the data, to remain unapologetically
political (Fine, 1992). This positioning not only
adds to the trustworthiness of the investigation,
it also challenges the hegemonic pressures of
scholarship that often treat data as if it were
unaffected by interpretation (Fine, 1992). Given
the dual roles inherent in autoethnographic re-
search, as cocreators of data, the researchers
engaged in various trustworthiness measures to
uphold the rigor of the findings. The coauthors,
who were also GST collective members, each
reflected on and shared their own experiences of
GST through their responses.
Trustworthiness
Trustworthiness in qualitative research is re-
lated to the extent to which the methods and
results of the study can be trusted (Hill, Thomp-
son, & Williams, 1997). The researchers en-
gaged in professional reflexivity to understand
how their own experiences and biases influ-
enced the process of the research (Morrow,
2005). Additionally, credibility (Morrow, 2007)
was achieved through prolonged engagement
with the participants, participant checks, and
thick descriptions of the multiple layers of so-
ciocultural factors in the data analysis. Further,
the dependability of findings was maintained
through an audit trail (i.e., detailed record of
research activities, influences, and emerging
themes) and confirmability was reached through
reporting of the data as directly as possible.
Trustworthiness was also achieved through
triangulation of data sources, such as the inclu-
sion of several participants who have similar
perspectives, but have various roles and loca-
tions within the institution of academia. Finally,
and most importantly, consequential validity
was achieved through an increased conscious-
295GRAD STUDENTS TALK
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ness surrounding issues of power and oppres-
sion, and the potential of the members, the
group-as-a-whole, and the research findings to
create social change (Guba & Lincoln, 1994).
Subjectivities Statement and
Participant Information
Qualitative inquiry requires the researchers to
acknowledge their subjectivities; this is espe-
cially true in collaborative autoethnography, as
the researchers also serve as participants.
Therefore, the identities, educational back-
grounds, and biases of the researchers are spec-
ified, and a statement is made as to how such
identities, experiences, and biases may impact
the conclusion. For the protection of the re-
searcher-participant s, identification numbers
have been provided in the place of names. Dur-
ing the inception of the current study, all eight
participants were doctoral students in either
counseling (n5), clinical (n2), or clinical
health (n1) psychology at various universi-
ties across the nation. At submission, four re-
mained doctoral students, and four completed
their doctoral degrees—two of whom are now
assistant professors, and two of whom are post-
doctoral fellows. All participants were U.S.-
born, in their late twenties to early thirties, and
held leadership positions within the American
Psychological Association and its various divi-
sions and committees. Participants were primar-
ily White (n5) cisgender women (n7),
who identified as heterosexual (n5), and
agnostic (n5). Participants were of working
class (n3), low socioeconomic status (n1),
middle class (n3), and middle upper class
(n1). Three identified as people of color
(Latino, n1; Black, n1; and Biracial, n
1), three identified as sexual minorities (gay,
n1; queer lesbian, n1; and bisexual, n
1), and three identified as religiously or spiritu-
ally different than agnostic (atheist, n1;
spiritual, n1; and Catholic, n1).
The participants were all committed to social
justice, politically and ideologically liberal, and
emotionally charged because of the systemic
oppression of and violence toward individuals
with marginalized identities—particularly, ra-
cial minorities. The marginalized identities of
some participants, ally identities in other partic-
ipants, and social justice orientation in all par-
ticipants facilitated an interest in the topic under
investigation, as did an awareness of recent
institutional and systemic oppression. As such,
the homogeneity of ideology of participants
likely contributed to a more liberal analysis of
findings and a lower threshold for saturation to
be achieved.
Data Collection and Analysis
The data collection and analysis process was
recursive to increase authentication and trans-
ferability of procedures of the study. First, the
second author developed a questionnaire con-
sisting of five open-ended questions about the
successes, difficulties, and future directions for
GST. The questions included (a) What led to
your participation in Grad Students Talk?, (b)
What benefits or successes have you witnessed/
experienced as a leader and participant in Grad
Students Talk?, (c) What were the difficulties
(e.g., emotionally, logistically) that you encoun-
tered during your Grad Students Talk experi-
ence?, (d) In what aspects of the Grad Students
Talk experience did you participate, and how do
you hope to continue to stay involved in Grad
Students Talk in the near future?, and (e) How
do you envision Grad Students Talk growing or
expanding its reach?
Second, all eight coauthors shared their ex-
periences by responding to these five questions
in written format and submitting them to the
first and second authors. Once all responses
were received, the first author coded and ana-
lyzed the data using thematic analysis, a general
qualitative method in which researchers orga-
nize and interpret patterns observed in the data
(Braun & Clarke, 2006). The sixth author
served as a peer auditor to ensure more accurate
coding and to minimize bias by providing an
additional perspective on latent content. Third,
the analysis was guided by Braun and Clarke’s
(2006) recommendations and six-step guide, in
which all of the data were analyzed with the
exception of Question Four, which is discussed
briefly below.
In the first step of thematic analysis (Braun
& Clarke, 2006), familiarizing oneself with
the data, the analyzing researcher read
through each participant’s responses several
times, taking notes each time after the first
reading. The second phase includes the gen-
eration of initial codes, at which point data
were transferred to individual note cards and
296 LANTZ ET AL.
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organized by prompt in the form of partici-
pant statements. In the third phase, the analyst
searched for themes among participants’ in-
dividual statements. Accordingly, participant
responses were reorganized into observed
themes within each prompt, and reorganized a
second time following a comprehensive re-
view of the resulting themes (i.e., phase four,
which entails reviewing the themes). During
phase five (defining and naming identified
themes) the analyst transferred the identified
themes back into an electronic document, and
responses were labeled and defined using de-
veloped notes and examples of each observed
theme. How often each theme was endorsed
was noted. At this point, the sixth author
served as an auditor, and the themes were
agreed upon. The sixth phase of thematic
analysis was then employed, which entails the
production of the final report. The analyst
revisited the data through writing, and revis-
ited the original participant responses to ex-
tract examples of the observed themes. After
the completion of the sixth step, the sixth
author reengaged in the process to give brief
consideration to latent themes. In addition to
the six-step guide (Braun & Clarke), partici-
pant checks were employed to ensure accurate
representation of data.
An inductive analytic approach was used,
which allowed the themes to be data-driven
rather than guided by preconceived notions;
however, it is important to acknowledge that
qualitative analysis cannot be completely free
of bias. Given the ideological framework of the
present investigation, researchers engaged in re-
searcher reflexivity to challenge power, privi-
lege, and multiple hierarchies that emerge in the
analysis of qualitative data. Finally, semantic
themes, rather than latent themes, were sought
to identify themes based on participants’ ex-
plicit responses; however, latent content will be
briefly discussed.
Results
Results presented are for questions One,
Two, Three, and Five. Given that Question Four
was not a reflective question, leading to short
responses, it was not analyzed. We will instead
discuss Question Four here briefly. All eight
coauthors participated in GST calls as both a
GST representative and call participant, and six
of the participants have served as cofacilitators.
Four participants who are still doctoral students
at this time expressed intention to continue with
GST, and four graduated participants have ro-
tated out of the group, which they anticipated.
Across the remaining prompts, four themes
emerged consistently: (a) researcher-partici-
pants wanted, and felt they provided, a safe
space for themselves and others to process their
reactions to violence against Black individuals
and communities; (b) the principle of universal-
ity (Yalom, 2005) was salient in participant
responses; (c) personal discomfort during diffi-
cult dialogue was a common barrier experi-
enced; and (d) every participant wanted to see
the continuation and expansion of GST. Multi-
ple themes emerged within each of the four
prompts.
What Led Participants to Become
GST Leaders?
Identity. Overwhelmingly, participants
noted the role of their personal and professional
identities in their decision to join the GST col-
lective. For example, P8 shared the importance
of having a space to integrate his professional
and personal identities “as a person of color
navigating the responsibilities of a soon-to-be
doctor.” Similarly, P1 acknowledged her White
privilege, and shared her desire to better under-
stand the experience of persons of color. Sev-
eral participants identified a connection be-
tween their existing professional work and
GST, including research, clinical, and leader-
ship roles. P6 shared, “I saw this as a natural
extension of [my] work,” adding that she “was
glad to know other psychologists-in-training
[were] interested and engaged.” P4 explained,
“I am very invested in assisting the BLM move-
ment, as I currently am involved in research and
clinical work that have to do with discrimina-
tion against Black males in the juvenile justice
system.” Additionally, many participants iden-
tified a commitment to social justice. For exam-
ple, P8 wrote, “I have a drive for social justice,
given my experiences as a person of color. I
became socially and politically aware of issues
at a young age growing up in the barrio (ethnic
enclave) and these experiences fuel my passion
for the values represented in GST.”
Personal need for process. Some re-
searcher-participants acknowledged they strug-
297GRAD STUDENTS TALK
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gled with the recent high-profile incidents of
violence against Black men and women, and
needed a space to work through their reactions.
Participants also identified difficult emotions
and a desire to understand what they could do to
affect change. For example, P2 shared, “With
recent events in the news and in our home-
towns, I have been struggling to make sense of
the feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment,
and hopelessness.” Similarly, P5 wrote, “I had
been feeling discouraged, disheartened, and
helpless in the face of racially motivated vio-
lence by law enforcement toward individuals
and communities of color.” Some participants
appeared to be drawn to the GST collective to
work alongside other individuals likely to create
a safe space to process, as well as to cope
through taking action, as described by P5 as she
wrote, “Participation in Grad Students Talk pre-
sented me with the opportunity to gain back
some agency and start advocating on behalf of
these issues.”
Silence. Several participants noted that
their own professional environments did not
acknowledge the sociopolitical climate and con-
tributing events. From above, P2 continued,
“And such feelings have been exacerbated by
the subsequent silence within [my] professional
environments.” P8 echoed this, noting, “I have
yet to see my program...respond or make a
comment on police brutality against communi-
ties of color.” P3 and P4 observed that students
may not have opportunities in personal or pro-
fessional contexts to have these discussions.
Provide a space for others. In response to
participants observing a widespread culture of
silence, several participants expressed a desire
to provide a space for students outside of the
GST collective to process their own reactions.
As P4 stated, “I wanted to be a part of an effort
that offers a safe space to many who are af-
fected by recent acts of violence by governmen-
tal employees with power toward people of
color related to the BLM movement.” Likewise,
P3 wrote, “I also think that providing spaces for
students to participate in processing current
events, oppression, systemic discrimination,
privilege, and one’s own identity is critical, as it
may not exist in their personal or professional
environments.”
The latent content in these answers asked
another question: Is there a space for me, in
psychology or higher education, to share my
values and process my pain? In the field of
psychology, the professional values propose to
support social justice action, but GST partici-
pants felt there were training gaps they needed
to fill in the creation of this group. Additionally,
although many of our institutions espouse goals
of social responsibility, the silence seemed to
feel palpable. As an expression of salient as-
pects of their identities, such as person of color,
ally for racial equity and justice, and social
justice activist, GST leaders sought to integrate
personal and professional identities in order to
process the myriad emotions experienced with
continued incidents of police brutality and in-
justice. Furthermore, this process was fueled by
disappointment in the discrepancy between
word and deed among seasoned psychologists
and educators. In witnessing silence, GST
members decided to respond with creation of
telespace for student voices, who at the time
seemed to be more interested in these discus-
sions than most mid and late career psycholo-
gists, educators, and administrators.
Benefits of GST Events
Universality. Yalom (2005) defines uni-
versality as an experience of validation within
group process through connection with other
group members who share concerns or feelings
similar to their own, noting this validation can
provide a “powerful source of relief” (p. 6).
Although the discussions held through the GST
initiative were not therapy, the experience of
universality certainly extends beyond therapy.
The power of this experience is highlighted
within P8’s response, who wrote, “[Observing
the parallels between the struggles faced by
both the Latino and Black communities] vali-
dated my experience as a person of color and
the things I am doing to help heal the wounds
that we face as communities of color in the
U.S.” In addition, P2’s narrative also exempli-
fies universality: “I have felt a stronger connec-
tion with the discipline of psychology...andI
have had the opportunity to be challenged, chal-
lenge others, and to join peers in processing the
rollercoaster of emotions surrounding recent
events.” P4 and P7 shared the importance of
being reminded that there are others who felt
similarly to them. P3 also noted, “I believe
[GST] has provided a space for students to
298 LANTZ ET AL.
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connect and receive support through shared ex-
periences of oppression and discrimination.”
Instillation of hope. Instillation of hope is
another important factor described as crucial to
group process (Yalom, 2005). It offers a unique
source of hope not found elsewhere, as groups
likely comprise individuals who are at various
stages of progress and thus, struggling individ-
uals may be exposed to others who have devel-
oped adaptive ways of coping (Yalom, 2005).
Some researcher-participants identified feelings
of hopelessness as a reason for having joined
GST. P2 noted, “I felt some of my hopelessness
subside with the increased energy and advocacy
efforts of so many students who are committed
to social change.” P4 and P5 both described
feeling inspired through their participation in
GST calls.
Inspiration of action. Perhaps stemming
from instillation of hope, a number of research-
er-participants described feeling not only in-
spired, but also motivated for further social jus-
tice advocacy. P4 shared, “[GST discussions]
have motivated and inspired me to continue to
pursue advocacy opportunities related to reduc-
ing systematic discrimination in the United
States, especially discriminatory acts targeting
African Americans.” P1 shared P4’s experi-
ence, noting, “[feeling disheartened about oth-
ers’ experiences with discrimination about oth-
ers’ experiences with discrimination] has
pushed me to further my advocacy efforts and to
learn more about oppression and discrimination
throughout the country.” Additionally, P3 ob-
served, “I have also heard students mention that
it has provided them with information and guid-
ance on how to facilitate discussions in their
programs, clinical rotations, and/or personal
and professional interactions about these impor-
tant topics.”
Safe space. Many of the researcher-
participants described a desire for a safe space
to process these events as one reason for joining
GST. The researcher-participants described
feeling as though space was created wherein
students and the researcher-participants could
process their own reactions to incidents of vio-
lence against Black individuals. P6 explained,
“Giving students the space to process, whether
that includes simply listening or actively dis-
cussing their thoughts and emotions related to
racism and police violence, has been a notable
benefit.” Similarly, P4 wrote, “I think our
movement has provided a place for affected
individuals to address their emotional reactions,
to recognize that this is an important topic, and
to learn about resources/how to get more in-
volved in advocacy related to the BLM move-
ment.”
P7 echoed this, writing, “I think [GST dis-
cussions] gave graduate students a safe space to
talk about what is being done in their programs
but, more importantly, what isn’t being done in
their programs or at their institutions, and how
they are feeling about it, as they may not feel
safe to share their disappointments at their home
institutions.” Overall, participants described
several perceived benefits of the GST discus-
sions, best summarized through the themes of
universality, instillation of hope, inspiration of
action, and the creation of a safe space to pro-
cess.
The need for safe spaces of universality un-
covers another set of latent content. What about
our institutions and programs is currently un-
safe? The lack of dialogue occurring in graduate
programs and on campuses creates the percep-
tion that there may be consequences for initiat-
ing social justice conversations in mixed com-
pany. Mixed company, in which everyone may
not endorse the same values, can foster rich
dialogue when facilitated courageously and
competently. GST members, in the need to cre-
ate this space, implicitly acknowledged that per-
haps courage and cultural competence were not
valued in their home institutions. The invitation
to other students and the hope and action emerg-
ing out of the GST initiative served as a re-
minder of the importance of these conversa-
tions, despite initial fear and discomfort.
Difficulties Encountered During
GST Events
Personal discomfort. Experience of per-
sonal discomfort was one of the most common
difficulties identified by participants. For some
researcher-participants of color, this meant an
overwhelming emotional experience due to
confronting the reality of violence against the
Black community. P5, a woman of color, de-
scribed experiencing doubt regarding whether
as individuals or a group we could make a
difference, adding, “It was difficult for me to
stay engaged emotionally because my first cop-
ing strategy is to block everything out.” P8, a
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man of color, echoed this sentiment, stating,
“One of the hardest things about [GST] was
slowing down to take the time to reflect....I
found myself more involved in my work to
avoid reflecting. Part of me was in denial about
the recent brutality and shootings reported in the
media against Blacks, as I found it extremely
difficult to accept that these social issues were
happening in 2015.”
On the other hand, for some White research-
er-participant s, personal discomfort meant the
challenge of confronting one’s own privilege.
P1 shared, “One thing that was difficult for me
was acknowledging my privilege [as a White
woman] and how it fit into the process of [GST]
...Ifeared that I would not be able to relate to
many of the participants on the call or that
others would perceive me as ‘not getting it’.” P3
similarly acknowledged her privilege as a
White woman, and described her attempts to be
mindful as a cofacilitator. P4, also a White
woman, wrote, “I found it emotionally difficult
to hear about people’s experiences of discrimi-
nation and not let myself dwell on feelings of
anger/aggression toward the perpetrators of said
acts of discrimination.”
One researcher-participant addressed a limi-
tation of the GST process. Specifically, this
researcher-participant shared the perceived dis-
comfort of GST participants in the discussion of
the dominant discourse of systemic and institu-
tional racism, in which they all work and live.
P2 identified the impact of such difficult dia-
logue on the process of call participants, ex-
plaining, “One of the challenges of [GST] was
related to students’ trepidation discussing struc-
tural, institutional, and systemic racism.”
Limits of teleconference as GST’s primary
medium. In addition to personal discomfort,
some researcher-participants noted additional
barriers inherent to telephone communication.
Several participants acknowledged the diffi-
culty of managing a large conference call, while
wanting to include as many students as possible.
Time constraint was another noted concern that
was compounded by the number of participants
per call. Additionally, two cofacilitators noted
the challenge of facilitating difficult dialogue in
the absence of nonverbal communication. This
observation may have influenced a common
recommendation to be noted later, which was to
expand GST to more in-person discussions.
The differences in the discomfort experi-
enced by the people of color (POC) members
and the White members of GST highlight addi-
tional latent content in the challenges of the
GST process. POC experienced the discomfort
as the initial step in confronting the pain of
learning about these continued injustices
against other POC, especially those who typi-
cally used avoidance as a coping strategy. The
privilege of being in academic settings gave
them an environment where they could focus on
work, rather than process emotions, but as they
grew tired of the collective avoidance and the
overwhelm of frustration and pain, POC partic-
ipants chose to acknowledge the discomfort and
move through it in this activist process. Some
White members of GST expressed discomfort
related to fear of rejection and questions of
belonging and purpose. They wondered whether
they had a place in this movement, as White
allies, and how to take their place without fo-
cusing attention on their experiences, rather
than that of the POC. The limitations of tele-
conferencing were both protective and disrup-
tive; GST leaders did not have to witness or be
witnessed in their discomfort, but they also
could not use body language as a cue to manage
group dynamics.
Envisioning the Future of the
GST Collective
Inclusion. Two ways through which inclu-
sion could be expanded were identified as
greater attention to intersectionality and inter-
disciplinary collaboration. Some GST leaders
noted that intersectionality was not explicitly
addressed during the GST process. Most of the
calls were in response to the high-profile kill-
ings of Black men, and calls had not yet been
coordinated to address the violence against and
murders of Black women. Further, no GST calls
have been scheduled in response to the killings
of transgender persons, though transgender per-
sons and transgender persons of color are at
particularly high risk for violence (National
Center for Transgender Equality, 2014). Ac-
cordingly, some participants wanted GST dis-
cussions to expand to address issues of other
marginalized communities, such as Latinos/as,
the DREAMer movement, and the LGBTQQIA
community. Some GST researcher-participants
further expressed hope that GST could become
300 LANTZ ET AL.
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more interdisciplinary in composition and out-
reach, and be more inclusive of graduate stu-
dents from other disciplines (e.g., public policy,
education).
Expansion. Several participants expressed
wanting to see GST events expand into in vivo
formats, such as at conferences, given the dif-
ficulty of accommodating a large number of
students by phone. Indeed, when members of
the GST collective facilitated an in-person dis-
cussion at the 2015 National Multicultural Con-
ference and Summit, substantially more stu-
dents were able to actively participate than by
telephone. In-person discussions could also be
facilitated within training programs and at in-
ternship sites. Several participants suggested
further developing GST’s online resources, in-
cluding greater social engagement online
through the creation of an online forum, web
series, and an online library of resources. As
these responses were obtained, some of the rec-
ommended developments have begun, includ-
ing the creation of a GST Facebook page and
expansion of the GST website. It was also sug-
gested that GST expand its research beyond the
current study. Some participants expressed hope
that the GST collective could further expand
into social justice action, similar to what was
done with the “First, Do No Harm” campaign.
Latent content in the desire for inclusion and
expansion is complicated. In work that centers
on Black lives, there are often calls for it to be
inclusive of all lives, which overtly ignores the
systemic and institutional oppression of racial
minorities and propels the deeply problematic
rugged individualism mentality of the dominant
discourse. Conversely, among GST, the future
direction of inclusion was both to expand on
which Black lives receive attention, beyond the
heterosexual males within that community, and
bridge to the similarities and unique challenges
of other marginalized groups such as Latin@
and LGBTQQIA communities, which represent
identities of GST leaders. Interestingly, the
greatest expansion and use of GST resources
was used to promote the “First, Do No Harm”
campaign, which collected and donated funds to
victims of torture, many of whom represent the
Middle Eastern and North African communi-
ties. As a movement, POC were still centered,
but it is worth mention that the original purpose
of the GST group, incidents affecting Black
communities, has yet to receive that level of
activism and support from the collective.
Discussion
GST formed as a result of a sociopolitical
climate of racial injustice, silence emanating
from our professional and educational institu-
tions, and the unique challenges of activism and
advocacy in modern higher education. The
work of the GST collective has been unique
because it began as a grassroots initiative oper-
ating independent of any professional organiza-
tion, and has been organized and run solely by
graduate students. Further, GST is multiinstitu-
tional and national in scope, providing partici-
pants with a space to process and learn, regard-
less of their ability to travel or the resources
available at their home institutions. Results
from the present discourse speak to the diffi-
culty experienced by students who identify as
advocates in the absence of perceived safety
within our professional and educational envi-
ronments.
In less than a year, the GST collective man-
aged to offer spaces for nearly 80 graduate
students to process their personal and profes-
sional struggles in response to race-related vio-
lence, death, and police brutality. Additionally,
GST’s “First, Do No Harm” campaign at the
2015 APA Convention was nationally recog-
nized. Through the use of collaborative autoeth-
nography, we sought to understand our own
experiences not only as organizers, but also as
participants in the process. What we have
learned through this autoethographic process
has been important to the continuing develop-
ment of GST, and social justice groups under
development might consider such ongoing re-
flective process to inform their efforts.
Limitations
Results should be considered in light of the
methodology employed in the present study.
Scholars have argued that autoethnography is
more genuine than conventional research due to
the researchers’ unequivocal use of self and
open articulation of biases (Laslett et al., 1999).
Given that the data and analyses are embedded
within the researchers own perspectives, and
that qualitative inquiry describes the perspec-
tives of a few, the results may not generalize to
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all student activists; however, that themes con-
verged among a diverse group of researcher-
participants, and between the participants and
the extant literature, suggests transferability.
One important limitation noted by research-
er-participants was that intersectionality was
not addressed by the work of GST (Crenshaw,
1988,1991). Intersectionality allows us to rec-
ognize that every individual holds multiple, in-
terwoven identities, and thus each person can-
not be understood through affiliation with a
singular social group (Chun, Lipsitz, & Shin,
2013). For instance, a person who identifies as
Black, cisgender, and female exists within at
least these three social contexts, and the inter-
section of these identities is impactful on their
experiences. Although the BLM movement rec-
ognizes the importance of intersectionality, one
of their founding members has commented on
the exclusion of women of color, and especially
LGBTQ women of color, from the history of the
movement and from the larger rhetoric on state
violence against Black individuals (Garza,
2014). This exclusion was also a limitation re-
flected in the events organized by the GST
collective, which largely centered cis-hetero-
sexual Black male murders, despite no one rep-
resenting those identities in the group.
Given that lack of attention to intersectional-
ity is a common criticism of social justice
movements (Cho, Crenshaw, & McCall, 2013),
it is important that we reflect on potential rea-
sons for this oversight in GST. One potential
reason is that violent deaths of Black men
within a patriarchal society have received the
highest level of media coverage, obscuring our
awareness of incidents such as those involving
Black women and transgender persons. It is also
possible that the news of slain Black women felt
overwhelming for group members. Neverthe-
less, because empirical investigation and activ-
ism are political (i.e., can challenge/reflect the
status quo; Goodman et al., 2004), students and
professionals need to acknowledge the limita-
tions of broad conceptions of multiculturalism
and the reductionist notions of identities and
social movements (Helms, 1994).
Also of note is that the perspectives examined
herein were predominantly the perspectives of
White participants, because most participants
identified as White (62.5%). Quotes were se-
lected to provide meaningful insight into the
GST process, but because balance was at-
tempted, when possible, across all participants,
comments from White participants are cited
more often than are comments from participants
of color. This is important to consider not only
in the context of the study results, but also in the
contexts in which these results are situated:
professional psychology, and higher education.
Our sample, despite the racial imbalance
(37.5% POC), is consistent with the U.S. pop-
ulation (36.8% POC, U.S. Census Bureau,
2012) and general college enrollment (40%
POC; U.S. Department of Education, 2015).
Further, greater racial/ethnic diversity was dem-
onstrated in the sample than exists in the pro-
fessional psychology workforce (16.4%) and in
the general doctoral/professional workforce
(25.8%; American Psychological Association,
n.d.). Thus, the way in which White voices were
privileged in the present study mirrors the way
in which White voices are privileged in other
contexts by default. Care must be taken to rec-
tify this imbalance and highlight the voices of
persons of color, particularly in the discourse of
race.
An additional limitation of the work of the
collective was a limited repertoire of activist
strategies, primarily emphasizing discussion,
support, and idea generation. The exception was
GST’s “First, Do No Harm” campaign. Even
then, in contrast to other examples of student
activism, such as the hunger strike of Jonathan
Butler at Missouri, or the social media cam-
paigns of Michigan and Harvard, the more ac-
tive strategies employed by GST were in the
context of professional psychology rather than
higher education, and were still quite tempered.
When GST mobilized around the injustice of
psychologists’ participation in torture, the col-
lective employed a multimodal set of activist
strategies that combined social media cam-
paigning with more traditional, action-oriented
strategies. This focus and its successes can be
understood through the tempered radical frame-
work (Kezar et al., 2011), as the strategies GST
leaders did employ used existing institutional
media (e.g., conference calls; listservs; social
media; visual protest) to change their organiza-
tions from within. Concerning systemic racial
injustice and police brutality, however, the mo-
mentum of GST has not yet moved beyond
discussion and support. Although the issue of
psychologists’ participation in torture is related
to race (those accused of terrorism were often
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Middle Eastern or North African individuals;
MENA Psychological Network, 2015), it could
be argued that GST mobilized differently
around this issue because it less directly in-
volved race, and the collective was predomi-
nantly White.
An additional explanation, however, speaks
to the position of graduate students in higher
education versus professional psychology.
Much discussion among GST participants and
leaders related to feeling uncertain how to en-
gage in activism in higher education. We argue
that to take a tempered radical position—that is,
to believe that oneself is a more effective activ-
ist by working within the system to change the
system— one must have at least some sem-
blance of both perceived and actual power
within the system they seek to change. Kezar
and colleagues’ (2011) participants held at least
some power within their institutions as staff and
faculty. If students are consumers, they are con-
sumers of a product they may deem necessary
for their future quality of life. In the current
model of higher education, students may feel
particularly disempowered to engage in activ-
ism. Disempowerment, combined with students
working to pay for their education, may create a
climate that makes it especially difficult for
students to even consider activism. In the case
of GST, the students may have felt less empow-
ered and supported in their activist/advocate
roles within higher education than within pro-
fessional psychology. Indeed, Kezar and col-
leagues’ (2011) participants noted the impor-
tance of both student involvement in activist
goals, and faculty and staff working “behind the
scenes” to support student activism (p. 142). In
the absence of such support from faculty and
staff, it may be difficult for students to mobilize
in higher education due to power structures and
the need for mentorship in advocacy skills. The
leaders in GST came together as established
student leaders from various organizations in
psychology. Accordingly, they likely felt more
empowered within their professional circles
than within higher education.
Recommendations
The support and attention given to GST’s
“First, Do No Harm” campaign suggests that
GST, and other student collectives, can success-
fully mobilize using a multimodal approach that
combines modern and traditional activism tac-
tics. Future research should continue to examine
factors facilitative and hindering of student ac-
tivism. It is imperative, however, that faculty,
staff, and administrators create an activist-
friendly environment, and engage in advocacy
work themselves for purposes of modeling, ed-
ucation, and to signal support and safety to
students. As for professional psychology, we
echo previous scholars’ recommendations with
regard to greater explicit focus on not just mul-
ticulturalism, but social justice, which requires
intentionality, and more innovative pedagogy
(Koch & Juntunen, 2014;Motulsky, Gere, Sal-
eem, & Trantham, 2014;Vera & Speight,
2003). If advocacy requires moving beyond
supporting a cause to systematically taking ac-
tion to achieve change (Obar et al., 2012), and
psychologists are to be social justice advocates,
then it follows that it is the role of psychologists
to take action. It can be unclear, however, what
such action would look like. The silence expe-
rienced from graduate programs may have been
influenced by a lack of training in advocacy
skills and confusion about the role of psychol-
ogy in advocacy. A recent two-issue special
edition of The Counseling Psychologist dedi-
cated specifically to nontraditional pedagogical
strategies for social justice training suggests that
professional psychology is continuing to learn
and grow in the pedagogy of social justice ad-
vocacy (Koch & Juntunen, 2014). It is our hope
that psychology educators will build on such
models and provide the necessary training in
advocacy skills for students.
As for higher education, we echo Martin’s
(2014) recommendations, as they are consistent
with our participants’ experiences. It is impor-
tant for campus professionals to create a safe,
inclusive environment for student activism. It is
not enough for institutions, departments, or pro-
grams to embed social justice values into their
mission statements. Given the power differen-
tial between faculty and students within aca-
demic settings, it is recommended that faculty,
staff, and administrators verbally welcome stu-
dent activism (Martin, 2014). In such an envi-
ronment, student activists would be proactively
and positively engaged by faculty and staff to
provide their voice to social justice concerns,
and would be provided with intentionally devel-
oped safe spaces and campus communities
(Martin, 2014). Finally, the most important rec-
303GRAD STUDENTS TALK
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
ommendation is that of cultural change at the
institutional level such that administrators, fac-
ulty, staff, and students are committed to social
change (Martin, 2014).
Conclusion
Despite limitations, the work of the GST col-
lective appears to have highlighted an unmet
need for explicit, ongoing discussions within
our professional and educational environments
when difficult, culturally salient events occur in
the U.S. and across the world. Successes mark-
ers of the GST collective’s efforts include an-
ecdotal observations of the demand for GST’s
calls, high attendance at the 2015 National Mul-
ticultural Conference and Summit discussion,
and the swift national attention garnered by the
“First, Do No Harm” campaign. Given that the
spaces created by GST have begun to address a
void marked by silence, our work serves as a
model for how social justice initiatives led by
graduate students can be developed and begin to
make an impact. Moreover, the limitation of the
teleconference medium, and the small number
of participants relative to the population speak
to the importance of programs and institutions
creating safe spaces for student activism, and
providing students with support and mentorship
with regard to activism.
Observed themes from a collective autoeth-
nography tell a story of the importance of re-
membering that humans are relational and cul-
tural beings, and we as psychologists- and
educators-in-training are no exception. We are
affected by the sociopolitical reality of current
events, and when silence emanates from our
professional environments in response to events
such as repeated high-profile murders of Black
men and women, we feel isolated and without a
place to process. Thus, it is imperative that
discussion be initiated and facilitated in aca-
demic and professional settings in response to
difficult sociopolitical events. After all, if the
personal is political, and as psychologists and
educators we are the instruments of our work
(self-as-instrument; Reinkraut, Motulsky, &
Ritchie, 2009), then the professional is also
political. To effectively engage in our work on
race-related and other sociocultural issues, we
must first be able to work through what these
issues mean for us as individuals. In addition,
we must work together as a professional com-
munity to determine what these current events
mean for us in our roles as psychologists, edu-
cators, administrators, researchers, and advo-
cates. This is not a question that can be an-
swered in a culture of silence.
Based on the present discourse, difficult dis-
cussion and collaboration toward advocacy is
highly beneficial to students in academic set-
tings, professional organizations, and may also
be engaged one-on-one with our trainees or our
mentors, informally over meals, and other avail-
able spaces. Given the power differential be-
tween student and faculty, and student and in-
stitution, it is imperative that faculty, staff, and
administrators provide a safe, supportive envi-
ronment for student activists to engage in social
justice work. For such support to be provided,
however, it may require institutional culture
shifts such that higher education once again
becomes deeply involved in the societal greater
good (Connery, 2011;Martin, 2014). From our
experiences as leaders in a multiinstitutional
student collective, let our primary recommen-
dation be that faculty and administrators take
initiative to create such safe spaces in their
programs of study and institutions, for both
students and for colleagues, where we can ask
and answer together: How am I personally af-
fected by today’s tragedy, and together, how
can we respond?
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... Students have always been critical leaders in social justice and advocacy movements. From recent issues related to Black Lives Matter and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), counseling psychologists and counseling psychology students have found spaces to engage in both advocacy and activism (Hargons et al., 2017;Hope et al., 2016;Lantz et al., 2016). Students at the GSPP are no different. ...
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