Collaboration is Key to Psychology Professor Sam Sommers’ Research on Race and Ethnicity

Collaboration is Key to Psychology Professor Sam Sommers’ Research on Race and Ethnicity

Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts
School of Arts And Sciences
August 2013

Anna Burgess

Doctoral Student Sarah Gaither and a Team of Undergraduates Focus on Biracial Perceptions and Identity Flexibility

“As a society, the way we think about questions of race and ethnicity tends to be over-simplified,” Professor Sam Sommers explains. “We like to be able to put people into categories. But what about the people who don’t fit into these categories?”

For Sommers, a Tufts professor and social psychologist, and director of  Tufts’ Diversity & Intergroup Relations Lab, this is not a rhetorical question–it’s a research question. He and 5th-year Ph.D. candidate Sarah Gaither, along with an undergraduate student research team, are trying to find some answers within this topic. Sommers has been studying diversity and its effect on group interactions for ten years, and he started working with Gaither a few years ago. “She’s interested in these same kinds of issues,” he says, “but from the perspective of multiracial people.”

Gaither explains that the projects she and Sommers are working on right now all focus on biracial perceptions and identity flexibility. “Growing up in a biracial family has made me extremely interested in interracial and intergroup relations more generally,” she says, “but in particular it has made me want to learn more about how biracial individuals are perceived and treated by others.” Gaither, who is the recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, is working with Sommers on several different studies, some focusing on biracial children and others on biracial college students. In terms of how student researchers factor in, Gaither says, “All of these studies involve training undergraduate research assistants on how to run the studies, since without them, I would not be able to be nearly as productive as I am.”…

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