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‘Conversion therapy’ predominantly perpetrated by people acting in name of religion, pseudo-healthcare

Persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about LGBTIQ people and the degree to which their lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.

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So-called “conversion therapy” efforts occur across the world and are predominantly promoted and perpetrated by people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, often instigated by family pressure.

This is according to a report released by OutRight Action International, which exposes the global reach of the so-called “conversion therapy” by drawing on data from survey results with almost 500 respondents from 80 countries, and in-depth interviews with experts and survivors from more than a dozen countries.

“Conversion therapy” is the most widely used term to describe practices attempting to change, suppress, or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It is also called reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, or, more recently, support for unwanted same-sex attraction or transgender identities.

The practices vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional contexts and range from overtly physically violent, such as electroshock or “corrective rape”, to psychologically abusive, such as isolation or psychiatric hospitalization, or more subtle forms of talk therapy or group therapy. Practices can also be religiously based, including extensive prayer, fasting and spiritual rituals. But regardless of the form they take or the name attributed, so-called conversion therapy practices are not a recognized form of therapy and certainly do not result in conversion. In fact, such practices cause deep, lasting trauma that affects every realm of life.

OutRight’s study found that:

  • The main perpetrators and advocates of “conversion therapy” are people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, with LGBTIQ individuals often coerced or pressured by family.
  • A third of the people who responded to this study who experienced so-called conversion therapy sought it out themselves.
  • While they may vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional norms and contexts, “conversion therapy” practices never work; instead, they cause deep, lasting trauma.
  • Persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about LGBTIQ people and the degree to which their lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.
  • Respondents from 80 countries showed that “conversion therapy” occurs in all regions of the world.

George Barasa, a survivor of conversion therapy from Kenya, said: “Conversion therapy is not a single event – it is a process of continued degradation and assault on the core of who you are. There are often repeated violations in the form of psychological and sometimes physical abuse… It is not one instance – it is a continued sense of rejection. The pressure is enormous.”

For her part, Maria Sjödin, deputy director of Outright Action International, said: “Our report paints a chilling picture of the global prevalence of these barbaric practices which constitute cis-gender, heteronormative indoctrination. So-called conversion therapy efforts hinge on the belief that cis-gender heterosexuality is the norm, and gender identities beyond the binary and/or same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force, through practices which have been recognized to be tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

Strides have been taken to raise awareness and even outlaw such practices in parts of the US, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. However, to date, only four countries have an outright ban on so-called conversion therapy.

“It is clear that the demand for ‘conversion therapy’ will only diminish when social, family, and religious condemnation of LGBTIQ lives ceases, and LGBTIQ people are free to live their lives with access to their full human rights. As such, we look forward to working across civil society, states and multilateral organizations to not only ban ‘conversion therapy’, but continually seek ways to ensure the sustainable, and genuine inclusion, acceptance and safeguarding of the human rights of LGBTIQ people,” Sjödin stressed.

Earlier studies actually also noted the role of family (particularly parents/guardians) in the implementation of this harmful practice.

For instance, a study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), dubbed “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts with LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment“, examined the sexual orientation change experiences for LGBT youth across several domains and asked about conversion experiences with both parents/caregivers and with practitioners and religious leaders. In the study published online in the Journal of Homosexuality, more than half (53%) of LGBT non-Latino white and Latino young adults, ages 21-25, reported experiencing sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence. Of these, 21% reported specific experiences by parents and caregivers to change their sexual orientation at home; and 32% reported sexual orientation change efforts by both parents and by therapists and religious leaders.

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Opposition to sexual- and gender-minority rights linked to support for Christian dominance

Opposition to sexual- and gender-minority rights was correlated with Christian and political conservatism, and with the belief that Christians should be the dominant group in society.

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Many Christian and political conservatives in support legislation to deny sexual and gender minorities the rights others enjoy: unfettered access to jobs, housing, services and public facilities; the opportunity to marry as they choose; and the right to adopt a child.

A study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology offers insight into the factors that correlate with support for such laws. The study asked 1,015 heterosexual college undergraduates who self-identified as either Christian (68%) or nonreligious a series of questions to determine their thoughts and attitudes about Christian privilege and power in society. The researchers also asked whether participants supported or opposed efforts to curtail the rights of sexual and gender minorities.

In the US for instance, “aAlthough same-sex marriage is now the law of the land… there continue to be problems with employment discrimination, housing discrimination and other types of discrimination against sexual and gender minorities,” said Nathan Todd, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who led the study. “One of the key barriers to those rights has been opposition from some Christian and political conservatives. We wanted to know whether people’s ideas about political power explain some of this opposition.”

Todd and his colleagues evaluated participants’ take on Christian power and influence in society. The students were asked to rank how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as: “To be Christian is to have religious advantage in this country.” Or, “Christianity is valued more in this society than other religions.”

The researchers also asked participants whether Christians “should have religious advantage in this country,” or if Christianity “should be valued more in this society than other religions.” These questions differentiated participants’ awareness of advantages conferred to Christians in the U.S. from the belief that such advantages are right and should exist, Todd said.

Because Christian practices and traditions are so embedded in life and politics, identifying as Christian confers a lot of privileges, he said.

“People who are Christian are not singled out or asked to speak for their religion on a regular basis, as members of other religions often are,” Todd said. “Christians (including the US) do not face systemic bias or violence based on their religion and they do not live in fear of this type of experience.”

Other advantages stem from the fact that government and school calendars revolve around the Christian sabbath and Christian holidays. A large majority of elected officials also identify as Christian.

“All of these factors work together to the advantage of Christians,” Todd said.

Participants also rated their support or opposition to specific sexual- and gender-minority rights, such as the right to marry, to adopt children or to have equal access to jobs and housing, and to use public bathroom facilities that align with one’s gender identity. They also rated how strongly they identified as political conservatives, and Christian students rated how strongly their religious beliefs aligned with conservative Christian views.

“Our analyses revealed that opposition to sexual- and gender-minority rights was correlated with Christian and political conservatism, and with the belief that Christians should be the dominant group in society,” Todd said.

Further analyses suggested that greater support for Christians being the dominant group in power in the society partially explains why Christian conservatives and political conservatives oppose sexual- and gender-minority rights, he said. These findings were consistent across Christian and nonreligious students.

“Our goal with this study is not to antagonize or demonize political or Christian conservatives, but to learn more about what drives them to support or oppose sexual- and gender-minority rights,” Todd said. “I also think it’s a mistake to characterize all Christians as thinking or acting the same way, especially as some Christians do support rights for sexual and gender minorities.”

Todd said he hopes the research will increase constructive dialogue by promoting a broader understanding of the relationship between Christianity, politics, and sexual- and gender-minority rights.

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73% of LGBTQ youth bullied for reasons beyond their sexual identity

Ninety-one percent (91%) of LGBTQ adolescents in a US survey report at least one experience of bias-based bullying.

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Ninety-one percent (91%) of LGBTQ adolescents in a US survey report at least one experience of bias-based bullying, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. This number is more than double estimates from previous studies with predominantly heterosexual youth.

By the time they reach middle school, sexual and gender minority (SGM) adolescents are at heightened risk of suicide, depression, sleep troubles, and eating disorders. These health consequences often stem from the distress of being stigmatized for their sexual and gender identities. Based on this knowledge, researchers wanted to learn whether being mistreated for other reasons (such as their weight, race/ethnicity, religion, disability status) also contributes to their health.

“When considering approaches to reduce health risk, we need to better understand the wide range of bias-based bullying experienced by SGM adolescents,” says Leah Lessard, postdoctoral fellow at the Rudd Center and lead author of the study. “Given that multiple forms of bias-based bullying can worsen negative health behaviors, it is critical to understand how school-based interventions, such as Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), may be able to reduce targeted bullying.”

The study reports findings from the LGBTQ National Teen Survey, a comprehensive survey conducted in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign to assess victimization, health behaviors, family relationships, and experiences of LGBTQ adolescents across the United States. Researchers asked participants ages 13-17 questions about school-based GSAs, their experiences of bias-based bullying, and health risk indicators, including stress, sleep problems, depression, and unhealthy weight behaviors.

Key findings include:

  • 73% of SGM adolescents surveyed reported experiences of bias-based bullying for reasons beyond their sexual or gender identities, such as being bullied because of their body weight (57%), race/ethnicity (30%) and religion (27%).
  • Each type of bullying was positively related to health risk, including depression, sleep problems, stress, and unhealthy weight control behaviors.
  • The presence of a Gay Straight Alliance at school was associated with less bullying of students for their weight, gender, religion, disability, and sexuality.

Given these results, GSAs have positive implications for not only students facing LGBTQ-related bullying, but also for those who experience other types of bias-based bullying. By reducing rates of targeted victimization, these organizations may help lower the risk of unhealthy behaviors in vulnerable adolescents.

“The harmful effects and wide range of bias-based bullying experienced by SGM youth calls attention to the importance of promoting broad-reaching inclusion and acceptance within schools, ” said Lessard. “Due to the breadth of stigma-reduction across multiple social identities, our results underscore GSAs as a promising avenue to support healthy outcomes for SGM youth.”

These findings are particularly important as schools face new challenges in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As smartphones and social media usage increase, the possibility for bias-based cyberbullying does too. Educators and student leaders can host virtual GSA meetings and utilize online learning platforms to continue to foster social inclusion for adolescents at risk for victimization in the absence of in-person meetings.

Study co-authors include Leah Lessard, Rebecca Puhl, Ryan Watson of the University of Connecticut.

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Study finds an unconscious stereotype linked to gender

People explicitly say that they associate women with brilliance. Yet implicit measures reveal a different story about the more automatic gender stereotypes that come to mind when thinking about brilliance.

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Men are more likely than are women to be seen as “brilliant,” finds a study measuring global perceptions linked to gender. The work concludes that these stereotyped views are an instance of implicit bias, revealing automatic associations that people cannot, or at least do not, report holding when asked directly.

The research, which appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was conducted by scientists at New York University, the University of Denver, and Harvard University.

“Stereotypes that portray brilliance as a male trait are likely to hold women back across a wide range of prestigious careers,” observes Daniel Storage, an assistant professor in the University of Denver’s Department of Psychology and the paper’s lead author.

“Understanding the prevalence and magnitude of this gender-brilliance stereotype can inform future efforts to increase gender equity in career outcomes,” adds Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the paper’s senior author.

Previous work by Cimpian and his colleagues has suggested that women are underrepresented in careers where success is perceived to depend on high levels of intellectual ability (e.g., brilliance, genius), including those in science and technology.

Less understood are the factors that explain this phenomenon. To address this, the new Journal of Experimental Social Psychology study explored the potential impact of stereotypes. For example, perhaps the qualities of genius and brilliance are associated in people’s minds with men more than with women–and, as a result, women are less encouraged to pursue these fields–or the atmosphere of these fields is less welcoming to women.

However, accurately measuring stereotyping is a challenge. People are often reluctant to admit they have stereotypes, so asking directly about these beliefs is unlikely to provide an accurate measure of whether they endorse the idea that brilliance is more common among men than it is among women.

To overcome this methodological obstacle, the researchers adopted a test that is geared to measure stereotyping indirectly. Here, the aim is to capture implicit stereotypes–or the automatic associations that come to mind between certain traits (e.g., brilliance) and certain groups (e.g., men). This is in contrast to explicit stereotyping, in which we knowingly and verbally ascribe traits to groups of people.

The team employed a long-established tool, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures the degree of overlap between concepts (e.g., brilliant and male) without explicitly asking subjects whether or not they hold stereotyped views.

The IAT is essentially a speeded sorting task. In the study, participants saw a series of stimuli (such as a picture of a woman or the word “brilliant”) on a computer screen and were asked to sort them into two categories by pressing either the E or the I key on their keyboard. For example, in some trials participants were asked to press E if they saw a stimulus that is related to either the category male or the trait brilliant. On other trials, the sorting rule was different. For example, the gender categories were swapped such that participants had to press E if they saw a stimulus that is related to either the category female or the trait brilliant.

The logic of the IAT, the authors explain, is as follows: If brilliant is more associated with male than with female in people’s minds, then participants will be faster to sort the stimuli when brilliant and male are paired with the same response key–because the stereotype makes these two concepts seem like they “go together”–than when brilliant and female are paired.

Across a series of five studies, which included U.S. women and men, U.S. girls and boys (ages 9 and 10), and women and men from 78 other countries, the researchers consistently found evidence for an implicit stereotype associating brilliance with men more than with women. The magnitude of this stereotype was striking as well–for example, it was similar in strength to the implicit stereotype that associates men more than women with careers (and women more than men with the family), which was identified in earlier work.

The team also gauged explicit stereotypes, directly asking subjects whether they believed that men are more brilliant than women. In marked contrast to the implicit stereotyping measures, subjects reported disagreeing with this idea–and, in one study, explicitly associated the quality of being “super smart” with women more than with men. The finding is consistent with previous scholarship showing that people are unlikely admit to stereotyping, reinforcing the importance of measuring such perceptions through more subtle means.

Tessa Charlesworth, a doctoral student at Harvard University and co-author of the paper, notes that “a particularly exciting finding from this work is that, if anything, people explicitly say that they associate women with brilliance. Yet implicit measures reveal a different story about the more automatic gender stereotypes that come to mind when thinking about brilliance.”

The paper’s author team also included Mahzarin Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University.

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Focus on strengths that mothers exercise to protect children from domestic abuse – study

“A strengths-based approach is essential if we are to move towards more positive and empowered practices of safety and protection. Sadly, we cannot remove women and children from these terrible scenarios without taking a good look at the society which tolerates domestic abuse and blames women for being victimized.”

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As emerging data shows an alarming rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, researchers at the University of South Australia are urging practitioners to look beyond clinical observations and focus on the strengths that mothers exercise to protect their children from domestic abuse.

The call follows UniSA research that upends the perception that abused women are unable to adequately protect their children, instead revealing the ways that women think and act to shield their children from abuse, often at the expense of their own personal safety.

In the past 12 months, more than 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the globe, were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. In Australia alone, one in six (or 1.6 million women) experienced physical or sexual violence with 80 per cent experiencing coercive control by a current or previous partner since the age of 15. More than a quarter of the women said that children in their care had witnessed this violence and abuse.

Lead researcher and social worker, UniSA’s Dr. Fiona Buchanan, says practitioners need to recognize mothers’ protective behavior if they are to work towards increasing safety for women and children living in abusive environments.

“Far too often, women are perceived as passive victims of domestic abuse, who while enduring unconscionable abuse, are unable to protect their own children,” Buchanan says. “But what many practitioners don’t realize is that these women are protecting their children in many unseen ways, that hope to reduce the likelihood of an abusive partner lashing out.”

The mothers in the research talked about the things they did to avoid conflict with their partners, things like controlling the home environment – e.g. making sure dinner was ready and on the table; ensuring the children were clean and quiet; and by making sure the house was neat and tidy.

“By trying to pre-empt abuse, they sought to limit their partner’s aggressive outbursts, effectively managing his mood and behaviour to safeguard their children’s wellbeing.”

The study also showed that mothers intentionally tried to ‘keep the peace’ by purposely avoiding conflict with aggressive partners.

“Protective behaviors could span anything from keeping the children out of harm’s way when they thought an assault was likely to occur, to putting themselves physically close to their abuser to try and placate him,” Buchanan says.

“In this instance, despite wanting to put distance between them and their violent partner, they placed themselves closer to the danger, arguably increasing risk to themselves in order to reduce the risk to the children.”

Using interviews and focus groups UniSA’s Buchanan and Professor Nicole Moulding explored the lived experiences of 16 women who had mothered children in domestic abuse, hoping to better understand their thoughts, feelings and actions during that time. Each of the women had left their abusive partner at least one year prior to participating in the study.

Buchanan warns that practitioners who rely on attachment theory (the observed emotional bonds between children and caregivers) in child protection practice are at risk of overlooking invisible acts of protective agency.

“Despite the popularity of attachment theory in child protection, it does not offer much guidance about supporting women and children living in abusive home environments, especially as it categorizes the child-mother relationship without context,” Buchanan says. “Clinical observation downplays the protective role of mothers in abusive relationships and promotes a notion of ‘bad mothering’.

There is also no evidence to assume that abused women are worse mothers.

“Instead of identifying deficits and assigning blame, practitioners should seek to understand the invisible behaviors that women engage in behind closed doors to protect their children from abuse,” Buchanan says. “A strengths-based approach is essential if we are to move towards more positive and empowered practices of safety and protection. Sadly, we cannot remove women and children from these terrible scenarios without taking a good look at the society which tolerates domestic abuse and blames women for being victimized.”

Other domestic abuses statistics noted by the study:

  • On average one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner
  • One in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15
  • 80 per cent of women in domestic abuse situations experience coercive control
  • One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15
  • Almost 40 per cent of women continue to experience violence from a partner while temporarily separated
  • One in six women have experienced stalking since the age of 15
  • Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and their children.
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Gay and bisexual youth more likely to abandon churchgoing as they reach adulthood

Because of stigmatization, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are less likely to affiliate with a religious group – but research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Old Dominion University suggests they are not abandoning their faith altogether.

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Religious beliefs have shaped societal attitudes toward sexual minorities, with many religious denominations vocally opposing expanded sexual minority rights. Because of this stigmatization, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are less likely to affiliate with a religious group – but research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Old Dominion University suggests they are not abandoning their faith altogether.

In a study, sociologists Brandi Woodell and Philip Schwadel found that emerging adults – from adolescence to early adulthood – with same-sex attraction are twice as likely to disaffiliate from organized religion than their heterosexual peers, but there was little change in prayer.

“I think that is something we expected, that there’d be a difference between affiliation on one hand and prayer on the other,” said Schwadel, Happold Professor of Sociology at Nebraska. “In the previous research on adolescent religion, in particular, and in later adolescence or early emerging adulthood, we see a lot of declines in the organized aspects of religion, but we see less of a decline in prayer. Prayer is something people can often do on their own at home or wherever they want.”

And, not in an environment that may be stigmatizing toward sexual minorities, the authors wrote in the paper.

The scholars used two longitudinal surveys, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, and the National Study of Youth and Religion to examine — for the first time — these declines in religiosity over time for sexual minorities in emerging adulthood.

“Almost all previous research was cross-sectional, only looking at, ‘do people who identify as gay or lesbian – are their religious activities and beliefs different?'” Schwadel said. “It didn’t look at how they change over time, especially during this stage of the life course, when individuals are really figuring out who they are.”

The study also showed a significant difference in religiosity declines between gay and bisexual individuals, further demonstrating that sexual minorities are not a monolithic group.

Woodell, a 2018 Nebraska alumna and assistant professor of sociology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, said this study joins a novel line of research examining the differences between bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals.

“Past research has most often combined sexual minorities into one group, and that was largely due to a lack of data that separated them, but some newer research has suggested there are differences, which led us to separate the groups out,” Woodell said. “We found that those who identify as bisexual show a greater decline in their religious attendance than gay and lesbian individuals.”

This difference could be explained by some research that has found bisexuals are less likely to be accepted than their gay counterparts, even in affirming denominations, Woodell said.

“There is newer research showing that bisexuals have experienced stigmatization in their congregation because their sexuality is viewed as a choice,” Woodell said.

While the study found little change in prayer among the sexual minority groups, there was a small decline among bisexuals. Schwadel and Woodell said they are pursuing this research further, breaking down differences among gender.

“We’re currently looking at how these things differ for men and women,” Schwadel said. “We know that gender is strongly related to religiosity, and we expect that gender plays a role in terms of how sexuality is related to religious change.”

Further research is also needed, they said, to examine how these declines in religiosity among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals continue to change in later adulthood.

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Showing pro-diversity feelings as the norm makes individuals more tolerant

Showing people how their peers feel about diversity in their community can make their actions more inclusive, make members of marginalized groups feel more like they belong, and even help close racial achievement gaps in education.

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Showing people how their peers feel about diversity in their community can make their actions more inclusive, make members of marginalized groups feel more like they belong, and even help close racial achievement gaps in education, according to a study.

Drawing on strategies that have worked in anti-smoking, safe-sex and energy-saving campaigns, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers decided to try to change behavior by showing people that positive feelings about diversity are the norm.

“In any other domain of public health — saving for retirement, sustainability, eating healthy — it’s the key thing to communicate: It’s the right thing to do, your peers do it, and your peers would actually approve of you doing it as well,” says Markus Brauer, the UW-Madison psychology professor whose lab designed the pro-diversity intervention.

It’s an effect that’s reflected in attitudes about ongoing protests over Black people killed by police officers. Exposed to larger crowds, more frequent news coverage and the opinions of friends and neighbors, more people have expressed support for Black Lives Matter groups and activities.

“People are heavily influenced by finding out what their peers have done,” Brauer says. “But in the diversity domain, we haven’t been trying this.”

The researchers, who published their findings today in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, conducted extensive focus groups with UW-Madison students.

“We asked them — students of color and white students, students of the LGBT+ community: What actually is it that decreases your sense of belonging? What are the kinds of behaviors that hurt your feelings, that make you feel excluded?” Brauer says. “And then please tell us, what are the behaviors that would make you feel welcome?”

The non-white students felt like they were kept at a distance from white students — not included in class groups or projects, not included in activities, not invited to participate in simple interactions.

“When we asked about what decreased their sense of belonging, they didn’t complain so much about racial slurs or explicit forms of discrimination,” says Brauer. “It was the distance, the lack of interest, the lack of caring that affected them.”

Brauer, graduate student Mitchell Campbell, and Sohad Murrar, a former graduate student of Brauer’s who is now a psychology professor at Governors State University in Illinois, used what they learned to choose their messages.

“We used a social marketing approach, where we identify a target audience, we decide what our target behavior is, and then we show people how their peers support that behavior,” Brauer says.

They designed a relatively simple poster, covered in students’ faces and reporting actual survey results — that 93 percent of students say they “embrace diversity and welcome people from all backgrounds into our UW-Madison community,” and that 84 percent of them agreed to be pictured on the poster. They also produced a five-minute video, which described the pro-diversity opinions reported by large majorities in other campus surveys and showed real students answering questions about tolerance and inclusion.

In a series of experiments over several years, hundreds of students were exposed passively to the posters in brief encounters in study waiting rooms or hung day after day on the walls of their classrooms. In other experiments, the video was shown to an entire class during their first meeting. Control groups came and went from waiting rooms and classroom with no posters, or watched videos about cranberry production, or other alternatives to the study materials.

Then the researchers surveyed subjects to assess their attitudes about appreciation for diversity, attitudes toward people of color, intergroup anxiety, their peers’ behaviors and other measures.

“When we measured 10 or 12 weeks later, the students who were exposed to the interventions report more positive attitudes towards members of other groups and stronger endorsement of diversity,” Brauer says.

The differences for students from marginalized groups went further.

“The students belonging to marginalized groups tell us that they have an enhanced sense of belonging. They are less anxious in interactions with students from other ethnic groups. They tell us that they’re less and less the target of discrimination,” Brauer says. “They evaluate the classroom climate more positively, and feel that they are treated more respectfully by their classmates.”

The researchers tested the effectiveness of their diversity intervention in a series of UW-Madison courses in which white students have historically received better grades than their non-white peers. In course sections that viewed the 5-minute video during their first meeting — classes including more than 300 students — the privileged and marginalized students’ grades were equal in the end.

“We know the marginalized students experience discrimination; we know their feelings are valid. But we know, too, from the campus climate surveys and our own extensive surveys, that their fellow students report real appreciation for diversity, and tell us that they want to be inclusive,” Brauer says. “They stay socially distant, though, because they worry about putting themselves out there. Our experience is that this intervention is changing those perceptions and experiences, and possibly the behavior, of both groups.”

It may be the first result of its kind for such a long-running study with so many participants, and the researchers are hopeful that future work will help better reveal whether students actually change the way they treat each other.

“Promoting inclusion and dismantling systemic racism is one of the most important issues of our times. And yet, it turns out that many pro-diversity initiatives are not being evaluated,” says Brauer, whose work was supported in part by funding from the office of UW-Madison’s vice provost and chief diversity officer. “We really need evidence-based practices, but for a long time we’ve had no idea whether the things we do in the diversity domain actually have a beneficial effect. We’re hoping to change that.”

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