Faculty Spotlight: William Riggs

William (Billy) Riggs, Associate Professor in the School of Management, recently published a book titled End of the Road: Reimaging the Street as the Heart of the City. The book brings together Prof. Riggs’ ideas and thought leadership in the areas of autonomy and smart transportation, housing, economics and urban development. Since 2016, under the aegis of the University of San Francisco, Prof. Riggs has also organized six conferences on “Autonomous Vehicles and the City”—conferences that have been critical in bringing together academics, the public sector (planners, engineers), the private sector (tech entrepreneurs), and philanthropists to consider how technology may shape future transportation modes and models in our cities.

In our conversation, Prof. Riggs talked about his recently published book, the conferences he has organized, and plans for future research.

Can you tell us about your recently published book – End of the Road: Reimagining the Street as the Heart of the City?

 Basically, the book is something I worked on for 10 years. It explores how streets are at the heart of public space in the city, and that they are far more than something to just move people through the city. I was interested in streets as part of the social and cultural fabric of the city, and wanted to explore how streets can inject life into cities—jobs, housing, businesses, and so on. It is about thinking of all the ways we engage with streets other than movement. The book has case studies from all around the world: San Luis Obispo (U.S.), Utrecht (The Netherlands), Santiago (Chile).

One thing I reflect a lot in the book is about future kinds of mobility, future network-based approaches, and how streets will have to adapt to this new moment. With autonomous vehicles, transportation systems are evolving and the book addresses how the built environment and urban form need to adapt with this evolution.

Can you tell us about the conferences on mobility—Autonomous Vehicles and the City—that you have organized over the past six years?

The conference engages complementary thinking about cities and automation and what should cities look like in the future. My goal was to put USF at the center of this discussion on automation and technical innovation. How can USF advance policy and thinking about the public good within the spectrum of large cities, and advance goals of sustainability and social justice. In other words, how can USF innovate for the public good. In order to do so, we have to talk about housing, zoning, land use, spatial inequalities, and all that has to be discussed with transportation and an evolving dialogue about automation.

In the last conference we highlighted mobility, social justice, and access. There are people in the private sector who are interested in addressing social issues in tandem with their commercial interests, which is why we need the private sector, the public sector, and philanthropists to come to the table to tackle the future of mobility in San Francisco

I have now organized six conferences. We began in 2015 before I came to USF. Michael Boswell (from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) and I had the idea of bringing people together to write about issues regarding automated vehicles and to stop writing about widening roads. We first penned an op-ed in the “autonomous futures” series of Planetizen, and this led to five or six thought pieces that made us realize we need a larger discussion.

As a result, we have now hosted a number of conversations. The mechanics of doing this involves core members of faculty from San Jose State, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the Urbanism Next program at University of Oregon. I believe the idea of shaping the future must be greater than a single individual or a single institution, and I have had no expectation (or illusion) that the dialogue should last for forever;  but as long it is relevant to the original intent, I think it can grow .

The conferences typically have 200 – 250 attendees every year in-person, in San Francisco, and with the livestream there have been upwards of 2000 people attending. We have had European colleagues asking questions and learning what is happening in the bay area. USF has thus become a powerful force in this dialogue.

How did you get into the field of transportation planning, city planning, and specifically Autonomous Vehicles (AV’s)?

 I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. It was not an environment that planners would call “walkable.” For college, I went to Ball State University in Indiana to study architectural history, and I became interested in being able to walk and bike everywhere. I am also an athlete and very much enjoyed running in cities, and then, my senior year in college, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. As a result, I couldn’t walk, and that was when I realized my identity was so tied up with running and walking in cities.

I had plans to study and travel in Europe, but as I took time off because of my injury, I thought I might lose the ability to see cities on foot and this ended up being a pivotal point in my life and changed my life’s trajectory. I was able to travel to England, France and the Netherlands and got very interested in city planning, urban design, and aspects of how to design places for walking and biking. I later went to graduate school at the University of Louisville to study urban planning with a focus on transportation planning. After this I took a job with the U.S. Coast Guard in San Francisco for a few years, before going to UC Berkeley for my PhD in city and regional planning.

What made you come to USF?

San Francisco is a good example of urbanism. One can go out and study the city right through USF’s backdoor. When I was teaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I had to bring students to Los Angeles or San Francisco to experience and observe city life and city form; things like parklets which were first coming up in San Francisco, adaptive reuse, transit hubs and so forth. So, I felt San Francisco was great for what I research and what I teach.

I also love the incredibly diverse student body at USF. In comparison to USF, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is very culturally diverse. I am love interacting with this diverse student body, to be on a journey that nurtures global citizens, and I believe USF is well situated for that journey.

Plans for future research?

 I am continuing to work on transatlantic multinational policy for autonomous vehicles that function as shared assets and can operate within many urban contexts.  Autonomous vehicles need to be seen as complementary to existing transit systems. And in thinking about this, one has to also consider global business models for automated transit systems.

How does one pay for the infrastructure to support these systems? Can community members pay directly to support and avail of these systems or even directly invest in them? Creatively thinking about these questions has led me to look into disaggregated and distributed financial models for automated transit in cities. Given all this, my scholarship seems to be taking a somewhat different turn. While in the past I was more focused on discovery, I am now thinking about adaptation and application of systems.

I also have a book project that will be published in 2024. It tells the story of how the rideshare revolution came about; what happened to taxis when Uber and Lyft showed up, and how much it changed our perspective on how we travel. Having a ride in our pockets did not exist before 2012 and this new form of transportation has had significant impacts on how we access transport “on-demand” but also  on traffic patterns and labor in our cities. The book will tell some of that that story.

Affective Engagement in #StopAAPIHate on Social Media: The Role of Emotion in Driving Engagement for Counter-hate Content on Twitter

Zifei Fay Chen (Communication Studies, CAS), June Y. Lee (Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Strategy, and International Business, SOM), Shan Wang (Data Science, CAS), Diane Woodbridge (Data Science, CAS)


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic in early 2020, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have experienced an uptick of anti-AAPI discrimination, racism, and hate incidents. These hate incidents range from individual acts of shunning, verbal harassment, and physical attacks, to civil rights violations including refusal of service and workplace discrimination. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a total of 10,905 anti-AAPI incidents were reported from March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021, causing significant detrimental impact on AAPI persons’ mental health. Importantly, scholars and activists have noted that these anti-AAPI hate incidents are not only associated with the anti-AAPI rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also have their historical roots of anti-AAPI discrimination and racism, such as the “perpetual foreigners” and “Yellow Peril” stigmas, as well as the “model minority” myth that was used to delegitimaze and silence concerns from the AAPI communities.  

To cope with racial trauma, many AAPI persons have turned to social media to view related content, share information, participate in online communities/forums, and join discussions. Besides being a coping tool, social media can  also be a tool to advocate for counter-hate messages and facilitate social movement.  Previous social media research has highlighted the role of emotion, where it was suggested that by engaging with emotion-carrying content on social media, people can better regulate their emotions and reconstruct their emotional episodes. In this Interdisciplinary Action Group project supported by CRASE, we set out to explore if and how emotion may drive engagement in counter-hate content on Twitter during the #StopAAPIHate movement. 

We drew insights from the emotion theories, social media engagement literature, and used machine learning and computational methods to analyze data. To delineate a more nuanced understanding, we focused on two types of frameworks in our categorization and analyses of emotion: (1) the valence approach where emotion was categorized into positive, negative, and neutral, and (2) the discrete approach where emotion was further categorized into joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. 

Data Collection

Using Twitter API for Academic Research, we collected tweets between January 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. The retrieval search criteria included 1) tweets written in English and 2) tweets with at least one of the following hashtags: #StopAAPIhate, #StopAsianhate,  #IAmNotAVirus, #WashTheHate, #RacismIsAVirus, #IAmNotCovid19, #BeCool2Asians, and #HateIsAVirus, resulting in a total of 1,773,683 tweets. 

To identify sentiment (negative, positive, and neutral) and the existence of six discrete emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise) in the tweets, we used the RoBERTa model, the robustly optimized Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) Pre-training Approach. 

We then applied the developed models for sentiment/valence analysis and discrete emotion classification. Further, we developed a regression model and applied feature importance to understand the valence and discrete emotions affecting the level of engagement (likes, retweets, and replies) towards a tweet.

Preliminary Findings

Emotional valence reflected in the counter-hate content on Twitter

Among all tweets collected, about 22.7% were negative, 25.3% were positive, and 52% were neutral. In this analysis, one tweet may only include one valence. 

Discrete emotions reflected in counter-hate content on Twitter

Among the tweets collected, about 21.5% contained anger, 17.4% contained sadness, 11.9% contained joy, 5% contained disgust, 2.1% contained fear, and 1% contained surprise. In this analysis, a single tweet may include multiple emotions or no emotion. 

The impact of emotional valence and discrete emotions on social media engagement

Emotional valence was a moderate predictor of the number of favorites, retweets, and replies, along with other tweet features including hashtag counts, referencing another tweet, multimedia attachment, and replying to other users. For discrete emotions, the emotion of anger, sadness, and disgust were predictors of the number of favorites, retweets, and replies, along with other tweet features including hashtag count, referencing another tweet, multimedia attachment, and replying to other users. Particularly for replies, joy was also shown as a predictor in driving the volume of replies. 

Next Steps and Implications

The current stage of the project has demonstrated the features that drive engagement in counter-hate content on Twitter. For the next steps of the study, we will continue building models that inform the direction and magnitude of the effects specifically from each emotional valence and discrete emotion. Using these research insights, we hope to achieve a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of the effects from emotional valence and discrete emotions in driving further engagement in counter-hate content. And in order to achieve this engagement, we will provide greater empirical communication evidence from the large data set to further support the #StopAAPIHate movement on social media.

Manuel Pastor in Conversation with Marisa Lagos: What the Bay Area Tells us about America’s Hopeful Future

Event audience in Gleeson Atrium

CRASE and the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good welcomed Manuel Pastor, author of State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future, to discuss his book and respond to the CRASE blog issue “Bright Future or Cautionary Tale? How the Bay Area Shapes the Future of the U.S.” where faculty across the university discuss recent social, legal, technological and environmental transformations in the Bay Area, some of which represent progress and others that signal deeper challenges moving forward. During this event, Pastor spoke with KQED’s Marisa Lagos about his book, current issues facing the Bay Area, his optimism about the future of California and the nation, and ways to bring about continued change.

Faculty Spotlight: Mary Donnelly

School of Nursing and Health Professions Mary Donnelly lived all of the world before she started working at the University of San Francisco. During our conversation, we discussed how working and living abroad informed her nursing and practice and how she approaches collaboration in research.

Mary Donnelly

How did you first start in the field of nursing?

When I was in high school and beginning to think about college and talked about my goals with my parents who were both public school educators, and they gave me a choice—this was back in the ‘60s—I could be a nurse or I could be a teacher. Trying as a teenager to find my own unique way, I chose to study nursing, in Villanova, Philadelphia, where I completed my undergraduate degree in nursing. While an undergraduate student, I became aware of the social factors, which created barriers to access to care. From that moment, I became aware of health disparities I wanted to be part of the solutions to increase access to healthcare.  I worked with the Panthers and the Medical Committee for Human Rights. We provided sickle cell testing at health fairs in Philadelphia, PA and provided acute care and health promotion interventions to antiwar and anti-segregation demonstrators along the East Coast.   I wanted to learn how health care could be utilized and provided beyond the walls of hospitals and clinics and I wanted to respond to the health concerns and needs of social activists working in urban areas.

I moved back to upstate New York soon after graduating from Villanova to work at a Community Health Center in Lackawanna. I worked with community health workers and made home visits to a unique population of Bethlehem Steel workers from around the world. Our Health Center treated people from Yemen, Puerto Rico, Mexico as well as Southern African Americans who had all come for the hope of better wages. I went back to school, attending State University of New York at Rochester while working. I graduated as an adult nurse practitioner, and became the first adult nurse practitioner in Erie County. I was still on a quest to learn how best to provide community health so I entered the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University to get my Masters of Public Health. My life has provided opportunities that were often unexpected.  After marrying a Navy officer, I had the opportunity to learn about health care in Europe and Asia. I worked in Japan and Italy, and with the National Health Service in London. When my husband retired, we came back to the United States in 2005, and I continued my nurse practitioner practice and teaching at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

How did working and living abroad inform your nursing and your practice?

Japan was so different, and I had to learn the language and culture to be successful. I was providing occupational health services through the Department of Defense, and many of my patients were Japanese. One of my patients did not pass the hearing test, so I could no longer qualify him to drive a forklift in the shipyard. A hearing deficit could be potentially harmful when driving. Soon after, all of his co-workers came to my office and said, “He’s got to work; what can we do?” I said that he needed a hearing aid, and while wearing the hearing aid, if he passed the hearing test, he could work. His work team bought him a hearing aid and brought him back to take the hearing test. It was a group effort. They cared for each other, worked together, and supported each other. This incident was crucial to my understanding of Japanese culture. Keeping the team together was important to achieve work goals.  Each individual of that group was supported by the group’s efforts.

How do you approach interdisciplinary research?

Healthcare is so complex that we cannot live and work in silos, and we really need to reach out to all stakeholders involved in the provision of high- performing systems. Microsystem analysis utilizes a failure mode effect and analysis (FMEA) for potential risk analysis. I see FMEA as a reasonable and evidence-based approach to teach our students and to identify areas of research. We owe a debt a gratitude to W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician who is credited with the rise of Japan as a manufacturing nation, and with the invention of Total Quality Management (TQM). Deming went to Japan just after the War to help set up a census of the Japanese population. While he was there, he taught ‘statistical process control’ to Japanese engineers – a set of techniques, which allowed them to manufacture high-quality goods without expensive machinery. Deming insisted that we create a work culture, which would create a constancy of purpose towards improvement. This means we do not wait for failure or an error but analyze where potential benefits or efficiencies could occur.  I believe this campus is unique because it fosters partnerships across disciplines. Here, I have the opportunity to work with someone in the School of Education, and we are able to collaborate on research.

What brought you to USF?

The USF is a perfect place for collaboration. For example, I needed help looking at reliability, so I approached a colleague and asked, “Will you help me with those statistics?” I also like to work in groups. Writing group members may motivate each other while providing various skills and qualities. Personally, I am not terribly interested in writing alone. I might have a good statistician or I might know a person who is a good editor and we can learn from one another, at least that is what I am trying to establish here. We can continually help each other to produce research.

When I came to interview, there was a discussion on the similarities between Malcolm X philosophy and Jesuit philosophy, so I knew this was the place for me. I was also concerned about diversity, and my daughter-in-law’s aunt went to school here. She’s from Afghanistan, and they left because of the Taliban. I asked, “How were you treated? How did you feel when you were accepted?” She gave me good answers and she highly recommended coming to USF.

What are your different research interests?

I look at primary care topics, which are of interest to primary care providers, and provide up to date standards and case studies for application. I published a few articles last year on hyperparathyroidism—and one on the use of certain antibiotics and the relationship to Achilles tendon ruptures. Fluoroquinolone is a very common class of antibiotics and with certain populations there’s an increased risk of Achilles tendon ruptures.

I’ve been commissioned by the American Journal of Nursing to write about hypertension and to discuss the best approaches to treatment of hypertension. One of the newer items we need to consider is motivational interviewing because hypertension can be addressed by motivating people to change their lifestyles, which are associated with risk factors. I talk about treatment standards, which are pretty well established, and how are we approach the patient and how we can help patients toward better outcomes. Motivational interviewing is evidence-based and there’s a lot of research indicating that this is an effective communication technique has the potential to effect changes in patients’ behaviors.

How do you bring your research into your teaching?

Teaching, writing, and working with our nursing clinical groups keeps us on our toes, and healthcare as a profession continues to change. Our population changes, and in primary care, we’re at the front line treating anything that our patients come in with. I try to teach my students that we need to look at our practices and at the evidence to support them. Motivational interviewing is supported by research. It takes a lot of time to learn it, and it’s hard in a busy primary care practice to develop those skills when you might only be given fifteen minutes to interview a patient and provide some intervention.

What are you thinking about with your research interests now?

I did my doctoral work on decision-making. One of my interests is looking at how we communicate whether it’s with a student, patient, peer, or other professionals. I’m looking at better ways to engage students in learning. I recently had an article published about the use of VoiceThread in graduate education, which uses audio or video to engage students with each other’s work. This method can help our profession because as a provider of care, you need to discuss cases in front of people. You need to be able to analyze and be clear and succinct. Our graduate students come from a variety of backgrounds—they can be in management, they might have been in the Arts and Sciences—so they bring a range of gifts. We’ve seen that these videotaped discussions increases engagement and the desire to learn, and also, it brings more confidence.

A Time to Break Silence: Resisting Islamophobia in the Trump Era

Professor Rhonda V. Magee speaking during the panel “Counteracting Anti-Muslim Discrimination in Connection with Other Targeted Communities”

On April 4, 2017, over 150 people attended A Time to Break Silence: Resisting Islamophobia in the Trump Era, a symposium that brought together USF students, faculty, and staff along with members from the community. More than 90 USF students attended. The event ​was inspired by ​the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” ​The interactive workshops​ ​connected ​the rise of Islamophobia with the increase in other forms of hate and discrimination against marginalized communities. This symposium was created and funded through the Interdisciplinary Action Grant sponsored by CRASE.

To start the event, Dr. Clarence Jones, inaugural Diversity Scholar Visiting Professor, connected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to current sociopolitical and cultural issues, especially as they relate to Islamophobia. During the workshops and panels, speakers drew connections between Islamophobia and undocumented students, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-Black Racism. Dr. Suzanne Barakat discussed her personal experience and the tragedy of Islamophobia in her keynote speech. Performances from comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, spoken word artist Mohammed Bilal, Diana Kalaji, and the Lyricist Lounge closed the event.

Opening Remarks and Keynote by Dr. Clarence Jones

Dr. Suzanne Barakat’s Keynote Address

Artist Performances and Closing Comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh, Spoken Word Artist Mohammed Bilal, Diana Kalaji, and Rayan Mustafa.

See coverage from ABC7 News on Dr. Clarence Jones speech >

How the Orlando Shooting and Presidential Election Changed the LGBTQ+ Community

Lou Felipe discusses the preliminary results of research conducted with Ja’nina Garrett-Walker and Michelle Montagno through the CRASE Interdisciplinary Action Group Grant Award.

SF Pride 2015
Image credit: SF Pride 2015 by Thomas Hawk. This work is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The shooting that took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, on a night that knowingly attracted a Latinx community, pushed to the forefront the intersectionality of discrimination. Notably, the tragedy highlighted how queer people of color are uniquely positioned to be at the receiving end of hateful violence due to the enduring legacies of racism and homophobia. Many in the queer community wondered about our community’s investment in racial equity. As queer people working towards racial equity, Ja’nina Garrett-Walker, Michelle Montagno, and I were not only personally heartbroken by the tragic deaths of those celebrating at Pulse that evening, but we felt compelled to leverage our own resources and privileges to better understand the experiences of people of color in the LGBTQ+ community.

We were awarded the Center for Research Artistic and Scholarly Excellence (CRASE) Interdisciplinary Action Group grant to investigate LGBTQ+ individuals’ racial identity and connectedness to the community. Though we are still in the data collection process, preliminary results reveal the different experiences between People of Color (POC) and White people in the LGBTQ+ community. While differences in mental health did not emerge, POC generally reported feeling less connected to the LGBTQ+ community than their White counterparts (Garrett-Walker, Felipe, & Montagno, 2017). POC also reported greater discord between their sexual and racial identities than White-identified participants. These trends of the data perhaps suggest that lived experiences of communities of color are not well reflected in dominant queer culture. What we see in the data may be the reflection of what many of us who are queer and of color have experienced all along: that the legacies of white supremacy have permeated the LGBTQ+ community, whitening the queer experience in much the same way that the feminist movement centered White voices, pushing Women of Color to demand intersectional feminism.

However, the Orlando tragedy was not the only major event impacting the participants of the study, all of whom identify as queer or claim a space somewhere along the LGBTQ+ continuum. Shortly following the launch of our study, the presidential elections took place, and we were faced with an interesting significant event that created unique response sets: we had a number of participants who responded before the election, as well as a portion of the sample who participated after the election. In examining depression scores, those who responded just prior to the election had scores that were substantially lower than those scores recorded after the election (Garrett-Walker, et al. 2017). In short, LGBTQ+ people endorsed more symptoms of depression after Trump was elected into office.

The presidential election signified a serious threat to the civil rights of the entire LGBTQ+ community, and it arrived on the heels of a massive attack that left 51 people dead. The socio-political environment created an additional stress on the psyches of the queer people in the study, and this indication of increased depression emerged regardless of how the participant identified racially. While these findings are almost sadly obvious, there is another unique finding to consider at this crossroads of identity: the post-election respondents indicated feeling more negatively towards their own racial group, regardless of their racial identity (Garrett-Walker, et al. 2017).

Orlando and the election changed all of us in the community. The accumulation of attacks draws us into a space far too familiar – that of self-loathing. Unless we, as a larger America, take up each other’s causes with the same fervor for which we stand up for our own, we are headed down a terrifyingly divisive path, where we will not only hate one another, but will end up internally empty in the process. And though the mistakes of the past seem to be revived in modern times, the successes of the past have also paved our path for survival and resistance. We just have to listen to those stories and value our own.

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 http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2015/07/27/these-are-trans-women-killed-so-far-us-2015

National Equal Pay Task Force. (2013). Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/equalpay/equal_pay_task_force_progress_report_june_2013_new.pdf

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 http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/how-americas-top-colleges-reflect-and-massively-distort-the-countrys-racial-evolution/267415/

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.