Thoughts On Theses: Brian Royes
Issue   |   Tue, 10/25/2016 - 23:30

Brian Royes ’17 is a Psychology major. His thesis explores the relationship between black consciousness and stereotype threat. Royes attempts to use black consciousness as a positive force in academic performance to counter the decline that often accompanies stereotype threat. His advisor is Professor Allen Hart.

Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your thesis?
A: Most of the data on the relationship between black consciousness and stereotype threat is correlational, so my advisor and I wanted to push this one step further and see if we can establish a causal relationship by trying to manipulate black consciousness experimentally. This is what my research is about. Individuals will often internalize negative stereotypes, and by doing so, will hinder their academic performance on whatever they are focusing on. So my research tries to look at the opposite: can we help individuals focus on their positive experiences of blackness in order to help improve their academic performance and work against stereotype threat? By accepting ideologies of societal oppression, there arises an internal oppression as well, an internalization of the ideology that’s presented to individuals of color through social experiences and encounters — and, by doing so, work to reproduce the very system that is oppressing them. My research is aimed at finding ways to intervene and help end this.

Q: Why did you choose this topic?
A: I was inspired by my experience of studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve seen firsthand how individuals over there, particularly on college campuses, were actively creating atmospheres where black was viewed as powerful and blackness was being viewed as beautiful, so I wanted to create research that would parallel the uplifting characteristics of the movements I witnessed in South Africa and would be empowering to individuals who are trying to claim this sense of black excellence as an identity.

Q: How do you plan to manipulate black consciousness, specifically?
A: We would manipulate black consciousness by having individuals dwell on positive ideas of blackness as opposed to negative ideas and then testing to see if that decreases or does nothing to change the impact of stereotype threat. We want to, through a prompt, have individuals critically self-reflect on their experiences of blackness in society and in their upbringing that has made them think either positively and negatively of their sense of blackness.

Q: How do you view events like Amherst Uprising through the lens of your research?
A: Events like these have at their core the mission of challenging institutionalized oppression. Events like these attempt to shift the paradigm of oppression of people of color towards one that’s more uplifting. During Amherst Uprising, individuals of color had an open mic where they could voice their experiences and in a similar way that’s what my thesis is touching on — giving voice to people’s experiences of oppression, whether positive or negative. My hope is that giving voice to positive experiences of blackness can actually improve in a tangible way individual performance on tests.

Q: How does your identity as a minority inform or direct your research?
A: I’ve had to reconcile moving from Jamaica, the country of my birth, to America. I’ve had to confront and re-negotiate my sense of identity and self-worth based on how others around me viewed and treated me. I think my identity as a minority in America connects me to the sense of oppression and feeling out of place in predominantly white spaces and navigating these realms of perceived social power and has undoubtedly helped lead me towards this type of research. In addition to viewing students in Cape Town who wear their blackness proudly and who are unashamed of being proud of their blackness and working to reclaim spaces for themselves, my own identification as a minority certainly helped spark my interest in this field of study and helped me to start looking at black consciousness.

Q: How do you think this type of research can be used by social psychologists, teachers or others?
A: Assuming that we find that performance can improve through a concentration on positive experiences of blackness, my research could provide potential intervention applications. I think this is pretty important, particularly because if we can, during middle school or high school, start getting individuals of color to start reflecting on their blackness in positive terms, this could provide a huge shift away from the internalization of negative stereotypes by youth in schools. And since school is a place where we start building relationships and gaining a stronger sense of identity, this would be a prime place to execute the applications of my research, but at the same time help increase academic outcomes in order to push back against inequalities that have perpetuated throughout the educational system for years.

Q: Do you think that your research could be extended onto women and other minorities?
A: I would hope so, but I do believe we have to look at this through a lens of intersectionality — where we define ourselves not simply racially or through gender or sexuality or any other form of identity, but through an intersection of all these forms of identities. But at the moment my research has only truly focused on blackness, or racial identity. So sociologically, I want to say that my research would extend, but at the same I haven’t been able to prove that empirically just yet.

Q: What are the implications of your research? What does this all mean?
A: I think that if we can show that black consciousness does indeed relate to academic performance, we can begin to target younger audiences in elementary, middle and high schools and begin the transition away from the dangers of stereotype threat onto a dwelling on black excellence. That could potentially have far-reaching implications into how children and adolescents negotiate their identities and see themselves, their potential and their own self-worth. It speaks towards a broader societal movement about how we see and treat people, and how they in turn achieve for themselves based on an awareness of these perspectives.

Q: How has your relationship with your advisor developed throughout your thesis?
A: I love Professor Hart. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about the field, was instrumental in helping me figure out how to approach my thesis and how to navigate some of the more problematic areas of race research — overall, he’s just been incredibly helpful and insightful.

Q: What advice do you have to those who are currently considering a thesis?
A: Consider your motivation for writing it. Don’t do it to be that guy who’s always busy, but to really consider why you want to look at what you want to look at, because it will get stressful. Your undying interest in what you study will be what takes you a long way.