How do we get over our implicit biases?
Talking about change and enacting change are two very different concepts. Senior Alia Coleman, a psychology and sociology double major, is very much in the latter camp. As someone who has experienced racism first hand, she wanted to create a new normal in the cultural dynamic of Bradley’s psychology program — specifically by helping to create a more diverse and inclusive landscape.
She became intrigued with the idea in her sophomore year after reading the book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.” It called out a pattern of behavior in which Black, white and Latino youth cluster in their own groups.
“Ever since I read that book, I've been noticing and seeing these patterns, not just at Bradley, but in general,” she said. “I don't inherently think that everyone is racist, but we all have implicit bias and we have to talk about these biases and how they affect our perceptions of others in order to create an inclusive environment.”
Making Inclusivity a Priority
In her work as an office assistant and peer mentor for the Office of Inclusive Excellence, she recognized inequities in the makeup of the Psi Chi and Psychology Club, where she now serves as president. Working with Ren Huerta, the DEI lead in Psi Chi last year, they planned events specifically targeted to marginalized students within the Psychology Department. With the new DEI lead, Nina Escobar, Coleman is continuing this mission.
“We were looking at the Black population, Hispanic population, Asian population, LGBTQ — the people in our department who typically don't come to our events. They’re not comfortable coming in because there’s nobody there who looks like them,” she said, noting how the typical psychology student/teacher is a white male or female.
The informal settings provided a safe space for attendees to share personal stories of racism, discussing how they worked through it together and found comfort in numbers. As a result, students are now more involved and taking advantage of the campus resources available to them, which they weren’t doing before these meetings.
“Our end goal is to not need a DEI lead in the near future,” Coleman said. “Eventually the group will just kind of blend together and students will feel more comfortable being in Psi Chi as a whole. And I think that we're heading in that direction already because we have the most diverse board we’ve ever had right now.”
Engagement Breeds Success & Friendships
In addition to her DEI advocacy in Psi Chi, she is also president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Coordinator for HEAT, Vice president of Women Who Empower and Active Minds, as well as a psychology tutor. Most recently she was awarded a highly competitive SUPER Fellowship (1 in 25 students were selected internationally) from the American Psychological Association (APA), which allowed her to research the origins of implicit and explicit biases and how they affect individuals and groups. This award will fund her travel to the national conference in Seattle, later this year where she will present her findings.
Despite all these accomplishments, Coleman hated her first year at Bradley — it was during the height of the Covid pandemic, when students had to isolate in their dorms and there was nothing to do. But, when sophomore year rolled around, she jumped at the chance to immerse herself in the campus community.
“I really got involved on campus and I realized there were so many things out there for me. And there's a lot of genuine people here. Specifically in my sorority. These are people that I'll know for the rest of my life. They'll be invited to my wedding. They'll be aunts to my kids, and things like that. It's been a really well-rounded experience overall.”
Coleman’s advice to incoming students is get involved. She also credits Assistant Professor of Psychology Valerie San Juan for encouraging her in the honors psychology program to create her own research topic.
“It was so intense, and I was ready to give up, but she pushed me and told me my project is worth completing,” said Coleman. “If she hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been an APA Super fellow.”
“Alia is a superstar within our department,” said San Juan. “She is highly driven and passionate about making the Bradley community a more welcoming space for all students.”
— Emily Potts