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On systemic racism and systemic change

Greetings from the US,

The summer of 2020 found my country in the midst of protests and uprisings in support of Black Lives. The movement reverberated around the world. As a Black American woman residing in the United States, these were very impactful moments. I remember tuning the television to a protest march in New Zealand where throngs of people marched through the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter”. The moment was profound and deeply moving on a personal level. I was struck by people so physically distanced from me, speaking out against the systemic racism and police brutality levied against Black Americans in the US.

The experience also had me thinking about how academics, within our professions, can dismantle systemic racism. For teachers of psychology, there are many ways we can begin to dismantle systemic racism and other inequities within our organizations and institutions. The first step (I believe) is in the discovery and revelation of systemic inequities. Powell (2008) describes inequities across racial categories as racialized outcomes. As academics, it is important to assist organizations and institutions with 1) understanding the dynamics of racialized outcomes and 2) creating processes by which to discover and address those outcomes.

There are plenty of organizations that achieve diversity but fail at achieving equitable outcomes among its membership. Relatedly, an inclusive organization means equitable outcomes alongside norms which ensure members from all backgrounds have their voices heard, are able to openly contribute to the organization’s goals, and have full access to the organization’s resources.

We should also be supporting our colleagues who are Black and other minority ethnic (BAME) and therefore more likely to experience inequities in professional and academic settings. Here, two studies come to mind. A group of researchers (Roberts, et. al., 2020) found systemic inequities in psychological research – and systemic change is necessary in order to make an impact. Another study (Ahluwalia, et. al., 2019) found that faculty of color teaching intercultural competency courses may experience burnout as well as negative impacts upon tenure and promotion. While both studies were conducted in the United States, these types of inequities may also exist in other countries.

Several organizations responded to calls for anti-racist action with statements and plans for dismantling systemic racism. The Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) statement on dismantling systemic racism is exemplary and is offered as a template to be used by other academic institutes and organizations. Additionally, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), based in the US (I am also affiliated with STP), has created a plan of action for moving forward to confront systemic inequities in our organization. The Statement on Addressing Systemic Racism highlights our values for diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as our desire to assess and critically reflect upon organizational outcomes in these areas. Both of these resources might be useful to academics pursuing systemic change and action at their institutions.

I have highlighted only small steps that demand long term commitments and possibly widespread organizational and institutional transformation. True solidarity among academics in the fight to end systemic racism and other inequities will require much effort. The work will also require academics to step outside our classrooms and into our communities once in a while to make real impact on larger systems. Meaningful systemic change in our organizations and institutions will often be difficult and uncomfortable. However, the current time calls for doing the hard work necessary to create professional and learning spaces that are inclusive and truly equitable for all.


Kelley Haynes-Mendez


Ahluwalia, M. K., Ayala, S. I., Locke, A. F., & Nadrich, T. (2019). Mitigating the “Powder Keg”: The Experiences of Faculty of Color Teaching Multicultural Competence. Teaching of Psychology, 46(3), 187-196.

Powell, J. A. (2008). Post-radicalism or targeted universalism. Denver University Law Review, 86(4), 785–806.

Roberts, S. O., Bareket-Shavit, C., Dollins, F. A., Goldie, P. D., & Mortenson, E. (2020). Racial inequality in psychological research: Trends of the past and recommendations for the future. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Author bio: Kelley Haynes-Mendez, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in the United States. Kelley’s teaching and scholarship interests include intercultural and cross cultural issues as well as global citizenship in psychology learning and teaching. In addition to being a member of ESPLAT, Kelley serves as the Vice President for Diversity and International Relations for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP). STP also serves as Division 2 of the American Psychological Association. For additional information please contact Kelley at:


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