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'The Voices Project' receives international recognition
04-24-13

Dr. Nordstrom will make her presentation in July.
Dr. Nordstrom will make her presentation in July.
Misericordia University psychology professor Alicia Nordstrom, Ph.D., has been invited to present her research from “The Voices Project,” a three-year study on stereotypes and prejudice in college students, at the International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology to be held July 25-27 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The presentation, “Stereotypes and Prejudices in College Students: Identifiable Patterns and Classroom Interventions,” involves her research that uncovered five distinct patterns of prejudice in students in her Introduction to Psychology classes. She will also offer empirically supported classroom interventions to reduce student prejudice. The annual conference regularly attracts hundreds of college, university and high school teachers of psychology from countries around the world, such as Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Hong Kong and Italy.

The research project was instituted when the associate professor of psychology saw many students in her Introduction to Psychology class become uncomfortable during discussions regarding people they considered as different or unlike themselves. Thinking of themselves as caring and understanding, they reluctantly admitted to occasionally having negative thoughts about those they considered “outside the social norm” – of another color, religion, ethnic group or with a health condition or disability.

She launched “The Voices Project: Using Narratives to Reduce Stereotyping,” in 2009. Hoping to counter stereotypes learned from the media and society, her assignment to her students was to interview someone from a stereotyped group and a write a first-person narrative of what their life is like.

“By talking face-to-face with African Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, people with AIDS, people in poverty and people with obesity, my hope was that the students would gain the knowledge they needed to inform their attitudes and be better prepared for their future in the workforce and in society,” Dr. Nordstrom says. “By hearing real-life stories, students were able to identify, empathize and critically analyze the prejudice and discrimination faced by people who are considered outside social norms.”

Assessments collected early and late in the semester suggested that the assignment effectively achieved its goals of reducing students’ stereotypes and prejudice towards stigmatized groups and successfully enhanced their critical thinking, cultural competency and attitudes towards groups of difference.

Dr. Nordstorm spent the past six months analyzing the data and determining if there were patterns of prejudice that emerged in the college students. “I ran a factor analysis to see if a student prejudiced towards one group might also be prejudiced towards other specific groups,” Dr. Nordstrom reports. “I found five different patterns that emerged that I will discuss at the Vancouver conference.”

She has presented her findings from the 2009 project at two conferences, the Best Practices in Teaching Introduction to Psychology Conference of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology in Atlanta, Ga., in October 2011, and the 120th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Orlando, Fla., in August 2012. Dr. Nordstrom also received the 2012 Innovative Teaching Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and a 2011 Action Teaching Award from the Social Psychology Network for her work. In addition, she wrote an academic paper on how “The Voices Project” reduced racism in college students, which is currently under review for publication.

“The Voices Project” elicited such a strong response in the participants, that Dr. Nordstrom introduced the second phase, “The Voices Project: Disability,” in the spring of 2012. It involved a class of freshmen teacher education majors, who she felt would benefit from the experience in their future classrooms. Dr. Nordstrom worked in partnership with the Northeast Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living (NEPACIL) in Scranton, Pa., to connect her students to individuals with disabilities and members of their families. The memoirs that were generated provided an honest and poignant look at a cross section of community members and their families about living with disabilities, including deafness, blindness, dwarfism, spinal cord injury, stroke, stuttering, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and arthrogryposis, and how it has affected their lives.

The staged reading of “The Voices Project: Disability,” took place on campus in April 2012. In an effort to expand the project’s circle of influence, Dr. Nordstrom received funding from the Misericordia University Strategic Initiative Plan and arranged for the readings to be recorded for radio and television broadcast by WVIA-TV and WVIA-FM, the local affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System. The one-hour television production was recorded in front of a studio audience and debuted on-air in November 2012 to a 22-county audience in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. To date, it has aired eight times.

Nordstrom says she will offer suggestions for classroom interventions that can help reduce stereotypes and prejudices in college students at the Vancouver conference, and may show a portion of “The Voices Project: Disability” video as an example.

Dr. Nordstrom is a child clinical psychologist who joined the Misericordia University faculty in 2004. She obtained her master’s degree from Purdue University and her doctorate in psychology from The Pennsylvania State University. She has done extensive research on how parent-child relationships affect parenting and child development and how social anxiety can impact a first-year student’s adjustment to college. She completed her predoctoral internship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

For more information about “The Voices Project” at Misericordia University, please log on to http://misericordia.edu/voicesproject or call Dr. Nordstrom at (570) 674-8008. Founded and Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County’s first four-year college and offers 36 degree programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels in full and part-time formats.

Caption: Alicia Nordstrom, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, oversees the video production of “The Voices Project: Disability,” a staged reading of memoirs regarding stereotypes and prejudice, recorded in front of a live studio audience at WVIA-TV in August 2012.