Why Race is Hard to Talk about? Insight & Strategies from Psychology

Concurrent Session 1 & 2 (combined)
HBCU Leadership

Brief Abstract

There is currently intense debate around topics of race and racism. University administrators and leadership are concerned about the risk of tension around these charged social issues surfacing and causing division and conflict among their students. At the same time, they may be reluctant to engage in the conversations needed for healing because of the concerns about being viewed negatively. In this interactive discussion, we will identify the psychological forces responsible for inaction, and conclude with recommended strategies to better foster belonging and support students’ needs at critical junctures during their college enrollment. 


Dr. Fotuhi is a social psychologist with a research focus on motivation and optimal performance. He is also a nationally recognized speaker, with over 15 years of experience in training students, athletes, and leaders to optimize their performance. Dr. Fotuhi earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Waterloo and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University. He currently holds an affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh. With a deep understanding of psychological theory and research methodology, Dr. Fotuhi has devoted his career to translating key insights from research on performance optimization into actionable strategies that help to improve critical outcomes in the domains of academics, athletics, leadership, and personal growth.

Extended Abstract

Communication breaks down when assumptions about intentions and beliefs color the way that we hear and understand others. In this social-media and mis-information driven world, where social injustices and blatant inequities inform our understanding of the balance of equity are clear and consantly in our face, we must nonetheless understand when, and how, to engage in difficult conversations about race, racism, and equity in this country. More and more, students are demanding that they be heard, and yet faculty, administrations, and institutions may not always know how to do so effectively. In this presentation, we uncover the core forces responsible for our perceptions of social justice issues, while rooting the discussion in research from pscyhology to help us understand the underlying motivations and strategies for being able to engage in meaningful and productive conversatinos about race and racism. Participants should come prepared to share examples from their own work, and be willing to engage in an authentic conversation--willing to listen and contribute with equal respect.