Creating Change Agents

Ja’Nina Walker, Assistant Professor of Psychology, reflects on the Check Your Privilege campaign and the steps we need to take to continue raising awareness.

Check your privilege
Check your privilege campaign

Privilege: a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people (New Oxford Dictionary, n.d.)

Colorblind racial ideology: proposes that the most effective means of ending discrimination is through equalitarianism (without regard to race, culture or ethnicity) often accompanied with an avoidance of conversations about race (Neville, Awad, Brooks, Flores, & Bluemel, 2013).

During the 2014-2015 academic school year, a campaign was launched for the University of San Francisco community. The goal of the campaign was to bring awareness to various social privileges that impact students, faculty, and staff on and off campus. The Check Your Privilege Campaign received local and international attention with many universities replicating the campaign on their various campuses. While the response to the campaign was vast, from extreme support to utter disdain, the relevance of the campaign on this campus cannot go understated.

Understanding Colorblind Racial Ideology

Many individuals in the United States believe that colorblind racial ideology (i.e., I don’t see color, I just see people) is beneficial to race relations. However, research has continued to show that not acknowledging race, and the associated structural inequalities, negatively impacts intergroup relations (Holoien & Shelton, 2012; Plaut, Thomas, & Goren, 2008; Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004). When one does not consider the ways in which people of color are viewed in the world, they are ignoring a key component of that person’s lived experience. While colorblind racial ideology only accounts for racial and ethnic differences, one can propose that tenets of colorblind racial ideology may move beyond race and into other social categories. If one avoids conversations around race, they may also fail to acknowledge structural inequalities around sex, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation, or differently abled bodies.

Understanding Privilege

Although we seek to produce change agents at USF, many students graduate with very little knowledge of the ways in which various social privileges impact the experiences of others. For example, in the United States, Christian holidays are recognized as Federal Holidays, while Jewish and Muslim holidays are not; women make less than men on the workforce; Black men and women are more likely to be arrested and sentenced to prison (or killed) for lesser crimes than their White counterparts (Alexander, 2012; Bonilla-Silva, 2014); and transgender women are being murdered at a heinous rate. To fully understand the impact and reach of privilege one must remember:

  • We all have some form of privilege that will increase or decrease depending on our social setting.
  • We can facilitate within ourselves, and others, deep critical understandings of how our individual privilege(s) perpetuate structural privileges and inequalities.
  • We can use our privilege to advocate for others who are less privileged, in a certain situation, than ourselves.

In order to uphold our Jesuit mission, we must critically examine the ways in which we are accurately infusing conversations around power, privilege, and difference into our curriculums and co-curricular activities so that the USF community can change the world from here.

Creating Change Agents

To put things into perspective, a pre-post study was conducted in tandem with the university wide Check Your Privilege Campaign to test the feasibility of a social marketing campaign. Prior to the campaign, students were fairly knowledgeable about various social privileges, and on average reported relatively low colorblind racial ideology. However, these constructs significantly impacted student interest in social justice activities. Students who reported higher colorblind racial ideology were less likely to report interest in social justice activities. Students who were more knowledgeable about heterosexual privilege were more likely to report positive outcome expectations from engagement in social justice activities (Walker et al., under review).

We also examined across discipline knowledge of social privilege, the perpetuation of colorblind racial ideology, and interest in social justice. We found that on average, students in the schools of Management and Nursing and Health Professions were the least aware of individual and structural privileges and social inequalities (particularly racial and class privileges) when compared to Arts/Humanities, Social Science, and Science majors. Additionally, management students were the least aware of male privilege and Christian privilege. Science majors, in addition to management students, were the least aware of heterosexual privilege. With regard to colorblind racial ideology, management students reported the highest levels. Lastly, Management, Science, and Nursing majors were the least likely to report interest in social justice activities when compared to Arts/Humanities and Social Science majors (Poole & Walker, under review).

Our Jesuit Mission

These findings should serve as a call to the USF community to consider the ways in which we instill within our students the ability to think critically about the world in which they live. Given that students who uphold colorblind racial ideology are substantially less likely to show interest in, and positive outcome expectations from, engagement in social justice activities, we must teach them the fallacy in such messaging. Saying that one does not see race, sex, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, or ability status not only limits one’s ability to see the humanity in others, such thinking is in stark contrast to our value of cura personalis. We must reflect on our similarities and acknowledge our differences to uphold our Jesuit mission.

As a University community we can take action steps toward ensuring that our community maintains our core values:

  1. Provide mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff. If we want to ensure that our students are knowledgeable about diversity, and leave USF with a social justice framework, we must ensure that faculty and staff are well-informed about such topics. Providing optional trainings are not enough. What we know is that the individuals who have the largest learning curve in regard to diversity and multiculturalism, are less likely to attend optional trainings. Developing an interactive course on diversity (i.e., fallacy of colorblind racial ideology, microaggressions, implicit bias, tokenism in the classroom) similar to Think About It, or having faculty who extensively study issues around diversity conduct department specific trainings, would greatly benefit our community.
  2. Conversations around power and privilege must be infused within the curriculum. We must critically examine the ways in which conversations around privilege and power are conducted within and outside of classrooms. It is not enough to require students to take only one or two cultural diversity courses during their four years of study. If we want to produce men and women for and with others we must be diligent, especially within the schools of Management and Nursing, to ensure that all of our students are gaining an education that is inline with the University’s goals and expectations.
  3. Provide trainings, through the Center for Teaching Excellence, on how to conduct difficult dialogues around privilege and power. The CTE is an amazing resource for faculty and can use its platform to equip faculty with the skills needed to engage students in conversations around power and privilege. The CTE could offer Teaching Retreats, Summer Bookclubs, and Teaching Cafés on teaching and discussing power and privilege. The CTE and administration could even collaborate to produce a mandatory training for all new(ish) faculty on how to navigate infusing such discussions into their classrooms.
  4. Develop an Ombuds Office. One of the biggest barriers to effective conversations around privilege and power is accountability. Often times students experience egregious acts of racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia by faculty and staff. However, they do not know who they can talk to about their concerns without negative repercussions. Developing an ombuds office, where a non-bias party provides confidential, impartial and informal conflict resolution, and problem-solving services for offensive or unethical behavior, would greatly improve responsibility and accountability for all parties involved.
  5. Reinstate and Expand the Multicultural Recruitment and Retention Office. Although the Strategic Enrollment Management office seeks to ensure effective recruitment of all students, the dismantling of MRR has already shifted the culture and climate at USF around race and ethnicity. In an era where Affirmative Action is on the chopping block, yet students of color are not accurately represented on university campuses, we must not forget the need for such an important office with trained staff who use multiculturalism as their lens. For the past 20+ years MRR has successfully recruited and retained students of color who thrive at USF. Disassembling MRR has sent a message to the USF community that multicultural issues are no longer needed. Removing MRR is synonymous to colorblind racial ideology as its dismantling implies that the needs of students of color are no longer a priority. It is very important to have one office that specializes in the recruitment of students of color so that accountability is centralized as opposed to being dispersed among multiple Strategic Enrollment Management staff.

It is the responsibility of administration, faculty and staff to ensure that the USF community upholds our Jesuit mission. We must all be knowledgeable about the ways in which social privileges often perpetuate colorblind racial ideology. If we want our students to change the world from here, we must first reflect on our own knowledge, and then instill in them the skills to think critically about the world around them. We must ensure that the core values that rule our institution are at the center of each department, each course, each advertisement, each conversation, each meeting, and that equity is at the forefront of all of our minds.


Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2014). Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Holoien, D. S. & Shelton, J. N. (2012). You deplete men: The cognitive costs of colorblindness on ethnic minorities. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 562-565. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.09.010

Kellaway, M. & Brydum, S. (2015). These Are the U.S. Trans Women Killed in 2015. Retrieved from

National Equal Pay Task Force. (2013). Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act. Retrieved from

Neville, H. A., Awad, G. H., Brooks, J. E., Flores, M. P., & Bluemel, J. (2013). Color-blind racial ideology: Theory, training, and measurement implications in psychology. American Psychologist, 68, 455-466.

Plaut, V. C., Thomas, K. M., & Goren, M. J. (2008). Is multiculturalism or colorblindness better for minorities? Psychological Science, 20, 444-446. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02318.x

Poole, S. M. & Walker, J. J. (under review). Are marketing students less culturally competent? Evidence from a survey of undergraduate students.

Richeson, J. A., & Nussbaum, R. J. (2004). The impact of multiculturalism versus color-blindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 417-423. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2003.09.002

Thompson, D. (2013). How America’s Top Colleges Reflect (and Massively Distort) the Country’s Racial Evolution. Retrieved from

Walker, J. J., Poole, S. M., Murray, S., Williams, S. L., Banks, C. J., Stallings, J. A, Balgobin, K.R., & Moore, D. P. (under review). Colorblind racial ideology and privilege awareness in relation to social justice among college students.

Faculty Spotlight: Kevin Lo

Kevin Lo’s cross-cultural research started with the exploration of his own ethno-cultural identity. During our discussion, we talked about interdisciplinary research, social media, and the conversations that inspire him.

Kevin Lo. Photo by Sara Fan

How did you first become interested in research?

My interest in research stems from thinking about my personal, ethno-cultural identity. I’m from Honolulu, Hawaii originally. I was born and raised there, and I’m ethnically Chinese. Obviously Hawaii is part of the US, so I’ve always had experiences in which I felt like I was a local person from Hawaii—not native Hawaiian, but local—American, and Chinese. Depending on the situational context, I would feel a little bit differently—more like I was from Hawaii, more like a Chinese person, more American. I was curious as to what created those differences.

How did you make the leap from your personal experience and this larger identity movement?

Once I became aware of my recurrent thoughts, I wondered, Why do I think like this? Why do I feel like this? Why as I was growing up did my parents say, “We do things this way,”the Chinese way of thinking and doing things? Don’t Chinese people come from China? We didn’t come from China. It was kind of putting these parts of personal identity together that gave me a context for understanding myself and thinking that I can’t be the only person who’s feeling like this.

How have your travels and experiences abroad affected your thought process and research around identity?

Travel gave me a platform for thinking about cross-cultural differences and eventually led me to pursue a degree in international management. As I pursued that degree, it was necessary to collect data and investigate different cultures, but then it also made sense for me to live abroad. I studied abroad in Beijing, China and in Taipei, Taiwan. My first academic job prior to coming here to University of San Francisco was at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. I feel that each of my experiences living overseas have given me insights into that culture as well as points of comparison for thinking about how each of those cultures differed from my perspectives, either growing up in Hawaii or being American.

Two of my early research interests remain current research interests. The first one was people’s use of time, both in organizations and socially. In Hawaii, there’s a slower pace of life. On the East Coast, I experienced the faster pace of life, and it became apparent that maybe Hawaii is not the norm. After living on the East Coast for a while, or even living in China, probably the most salient experience is to go back to Hawaii and feel very impatient when driving at 40 miles per hour down a freeway, which is the norm there. We drive slower, we don’t dart in and out through a crowd of people, you know, just kind of walking at the same pace as everybody else. One of my first research projects was on how people differ in their use of time and what implications that has for international work.

The other project revolves around Chinese American identity and expectations that people put on relationships. In Chinese, we refer to guanxi, which loosely translates to “relationships.” When we talk about business in English, we also talk about importance of networking. Relationships and guanxi are both important, but that doesn’t mean that networking and guanxi are the same thing. While relationships broadly defined are important in both cultural contexts, how you go about them is very different. People could very easily run into problems if they assume that they’re synonymous, not only linguistically, but also if they assume the behaviors associated with each are one and the same. My doctoral research started to tease apart those differences empirically. It’s complex because you’re talking about two very large cultural constructs. In addition, both economies are growing so quickly that what might have been characteristic of guanxi 10 or 20 years ago might not be the same anymore.

I’ve become interested in relationships on social media. Since coming to the University of San Francisco, one of my newer projects is on how business organizations use social media and how individuals use social media as well.

How did you become interested in the social media component of these interactions?

When Facebook was first available, I had an account. I was quite active on Twitter for a while. I don’t think that Instagram is most popular with my age demographic, but I’m still an avid Instagrammer. My interest is in how other people use social media—both in organizations but particularly cross-culturally as well. I think what I know anecdotally is that different platforms are more popular in certain cultures than in others.

I’m also very interested in the use of social media in the classroom and whether current students, because they’re digital natives, are genuinely interested in having their social media lives converge with their academic lives. There have been a lot of suggestions, pedagogically, for faculty to incorporate social media into their teaching. In the past, I’ve actually experienced quite a bit of resistance from students who say, “Yes, we are on Twitter and on Facebook, but we don’t want to be on Twitter or Facebook for class.” Some relationships are very specific and people keep those relationships compartmentalized. Students might maintain a Twitter account for engaging with their friends and maybe a few athletes, celebrities, or politicians, but that is going to be a socially specific or personally specific domain. They don’t want class-related communication rolled into that same Twitter account, and that’s a new phenomenon that has implications for teaching.

How do your students inspire your research?

The best experience that I could imagine would be having a class of students who represent many different cultures and we could talk about interpersonal relationships, use of time, and use of social media to gather stories. I can introduce both a theoretical concept that’s relevant to the class as well as some of the findings that my research has suggested and ask them what they think about it. Or perhaps my findings are already outdated because things change so quickly and that would give them a chance to respond and feel engaged with some of the most cutting edge findings.

How does your interdisciplinary background in business and psychology work together?

It’s part of who I am to choose an interdisciplinary field. I received a degree in international management, but it draws heavily from social psychology, cultural anthropology, and industrial-organizational psychology as well. I think that ultimately helps me be more rounded as a researcher—I can draw from other fields, have conversations with people in those fields, have dialogues that help inform my perspectives, and maybe link up with them for research collaborations.

Sometimes it makes it a little harder because it’s a small discipline unto itself but one that tries to enter other disciplines that are much larger. This is really where I want to sit as a researcher, so I accept that these are some of the challenges as an interdisciplinary researcher. I think it’s really important as a researcher to find topics that are stimulating. I would rather take something that really piques my interest and round it out by drawing from several different fields.

For example, not all disciplines conceive of culture in the same way, and I recently experienced these differences in trying to get some research that a colleague and I had done on organizations’ use of social media. That was targeted for intercultural communications journals, which is not my direct discipline. I think there’s a part of communication literature that I certainly understand, but the way that management academics talk about culture and the way that communication scholars talk about culture are quite different.

Here at our school of management, there are quite a few interdisciplinary researchers. We might have a degree or an area, but we’ll branch out and try to publish work in other related areas. Being here, I don’t feel like it’s a journey I’m trying to forge by myself.

How is your research playing out at USF?

One of the perks of being an interdisciplinary researcher is that it’s easy for me to join in conversations at various parts of the university. Here in the School of Management, my department is called Organization, Leadership, and Communication. In some universities, it’s called the Organizational Behavior Department, maybe the Management Department. I can have conversations with International Business. I can have conversations with our Communications Department within Arts and Sciences. If faculty at the School of Education are interested in culture as a variable, then I probably have complementary interest to some of the work that they’re doing. There are a lot of people across university, not strictly in the School of Management, who are interested in similar topics.

How does being in San Francisco impact how you do research?

This is one of the major cities in the US that lends itself to simulating cross-cultural perspectives. When thinking about my research, I don’t feel like I have to go too far to have those same personal experiences that I might have to go to another country to acquire. By the same token, I make a case to my students if I’m talking about cross-cultural differences that you don’t need to go overseas or abroad. Look at how diverse our city  is. You can go down the street and have a cross-cultural interaction that you don’t quite get and want to examine more closely. San Francisco informs my research because of its diversity.

Do you continue to do a lot of traveling for your research?

When I go abroad, I try to think about what am I feeling and what am I experiencing that might be rooted in cultural differences. I’ve come across the broad dimension of culture that stimulates my interest most intensely. If I could sit down with a local in another country, I would talk about their concept of time and relationships. It’s the personal experience of conversations that prompt me to think about research.

Celebrating Faculty Scholarship at the CRASE Kickoff!

CRASE kickoff
More than 200 people from across the university attended the CRASE kickoff.

Thank you for attending the CRASE Kickoff and celebrating faculty accomplishments! Over 200 people from across the university were in attendance along with the president, provost, and senior vice provost. We were happy to share our video about the center and our faculty.

We would like to thank the following co-sponsors for supporting the Kickoff!
Office of the Provost
College of Arts and Sciences
School of Education
School of Law
School of Management
School of Nursing and Health Professions
Gleeson Library | Geschke Center
Corporate and Foundation Relations
Office of Contracts and Grants
Department of Art + Architecture
Department of Hospitality Management
Department of Organization, Leadership, and Communications
Department of Psychology
Department of Public and Nonprofit Administration

We look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events!

See the CRASE Video by Woo Nguyen

CRASE KickoffCRASE KIckoff

See more photos by Shawn Calhoun

Nostalgia, Lahore, and the Ghost of Aurangzeb

Taymiya R. Zaman, Associate Professor of History, explores conflicting pasts and her process in writing about Aurangzeb through the personal memoir of one man, Bhimsen Saxena.
Portrait of Aurangzeb
Portrait of Aurangzeb. Artist Unknown. Reprinted with permission from Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

How do historians address troubling pasts? Recently, because of public pressure, “Aurangzeb Road” in India was renamed “Dr. A. P. J Abdul Kalam Road.” This is because Aurangzeb (d. 1707) is seen by many as a fanatical Mughal king who persecuted Hindus, and whose strict adherence to Islam was to the detriment of all non-Muslim communities. A number of historians opposed the renaming, because historical evidence does not support this image of Aurangzeb and because we are attuned to the ethical dilemmas that arise when a figure from the past is tried and found guilty based on standards of the present. A guilty verdict supports the erasure of history quite literally, as was the case with the destruction of the sixteenth century Babri Mosque in India in 1992 on the grounds that Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, who commissioned the building of the mosque, was also a Muslim invader.

My recent article, “Nostalgia, Lahore, and the Ghost of Aurangzeb” addresses the conflicting pasts that play a role in shaping political discourse in present-day India and Pakistan. The article traces how the image of Aurangzeb as a fanatical Muslim was created by 19th century British colonial historiography, and how the ghost of Aurangzeb surfaces in Lahore, Pakistan in response to pain caused by the political upheaval of the present. While some blame Aurangzeb for the sectarian violence that rages in Pakistan, others uphold him as a hero who stood up for Islam during a time when the political power of Muslims in India was starting to fade. Despite being at odds with one another politically, these two positions rely on an image of Aurangzeb created by the historiography of the colonial period rather than by Mughal sources.

Instead of drawing upon multiple primary sources to reconstruct Aurangzeb (which has already been done by others in deft and interesting ways), I choose to resurrect Aurangzeb through the personal memoir of one man, Bhimsen Saxena, who was a Hindu soldier whose family had served the Mughals for generations. My goal in using Bhimsen’s memoir is to create, in modern subjects, empathy for a historical actor whose ability to hold ambivalence towards the king provides an intervention into heated present-day debates that are framed around binaries of good and evil. Bhimsen is at times furious with Aurangzeb, who he sees as a terrible administrator, and at times filled with reverence towards the king, because in his eyes, even a flawed king is a sacred being who can perform miracles and whose presence is necessary for the protection of the land. Aurangzeb is both the hero and villain of Bhimsen’s world, but he is not—as is the case today—hero to some and a villain to others, where the former see his ascetic adherence to Islam as desirable and the latter as abhorrent.

Finally, this article argues that the figure of the king—sacred to multiple religious communities— was central to mediating religious sentiment in pre-colonial India. In the absence of a king, this sentiment attaches itself to sites of injury, such as monuments or the names of roads, which are perceived as evidence of the threat one community poses to another. But even kings such as Aurangzeb, who had their critics in their own times, constituted the beating heart of a world sustained by the sacred symbol of kingship, in which communal violence of the kind that exists in modern South Asia was absent. Viewing a king through the eyes of one of his subjects opens both historians and their audiences to the imaginative possibilities of the past; we cannot erase national boundaries, but we can rebuild an older order of being within ourselves to help us make peace with pasts that trouble us.