Faculty Engagement in DEI

How do UofL faculty members approach DEI?

In Fall 2023, the Faculty Engagement in DEI Sub-committee started the DEI spotlight initiative. The goal is to celebrate the DEI work of faculty and serve as useful information for prospective students who may be interested in knowing about mentors’ DEI practices. Faculty were asked to respond to the following prompt: “Describe your approach to DEI in teaching, research and/or mentorship. Add specific examples of actions you take to promote DEI.” Faculty were encouraged to receive feedback from their mentees. Faculty will be offered another opportunity to provide a description next year so if you don’t see a submission, please check back next year!  

  1. Nadia Al-Dajani, PhD

Since immigrating to Toronto with my family at 9 years old, I have had to find ways to affirm my identity as a Palestinian-Canadian woman living in the diaspora without “ruffling feathers”. I was warned since childhood about sharing my identity - told by family and loved ones that doing so would lead to discrimination, erasure, and loss of opportunity. These fears were reinforced by my own experiences once I did decide to share that I am Palestinian - experiences that I found very difficult to navigate and also highlight my privilege as a white-passing minority who can choose when I share my heritage and with whom I share it. Given these experiences, I often feel immense anxiety prior to sharing who I am, preparing myself for the worst possible outcome. And yet, part of my own liberation is to unapologetically value who I am, irrespective of the response that I might receive once sharing my own identity. I value self-actualization and understand, through lived experience, that social humility and safety, prejudice awareness, and intersectional awareness are all foundational elements to creating inclusive environments and to building the relationships necessary to succeed in the process of decolonization.

As a teacher, I take several steps to ensure that the content in my courses infuses topics related to identity, marginalization and oppression. For instance, in my suicide research seminar course, I included: (1) socioecological models of suicide that highlight the unique experiences that minoritized populations face, ones that exacerbate suicide risk, (2) a social justice framework in suicide-related research, (3) culturally competent assessments of suicide risk, and (4) a chapter review of suicide-specific interventions for distinct racially minoritized populations. To increase inclusivity in my classroom, I included: (1) a land acknowledgement, (2) a statement about inclusivity in the classroom, (3) accessibility services information along with information for other resources (reiterated verbally); and (4) in-depth discussions about inclusivity and accountability throughout the course. I additionally use a collaborative approach with students (both in the classroom and during one-on-one mentorship) to ensure that they are gaining as much from my teaching as intended, and that they feel the space that has been created is a welcoming and safe space for all.

With regards to my research, I am excited to expand my examination of momentary risk and protective factors of suicidal ideation to consider the unique experiences of minoritized communities. I am collaborating with faculty members at UofL on a project focused on Black youth suicide risk and protective factors, with the goal of delineating unique race-related and general factors that increase (or decrease) momentary suicide risk in Black youth. Additionally, I am working with collaborators at Miami University and in India to better understand momentary risk factors of suicidal thoughts in college students at in a university in India - highlighting the importance of global mental health. 

In my personal life, I have been involved with numerous forms of advocacy, including volunteering with grassroots organizations, writing to and setting up meetings with political representatives, connecting political representatives with organizations overseeing education in refugee camps in Jordan, attending protests, and speaking about my own experiences to an audience interested in learning more about the Palestinian cause. Overall, I am committed to fostering safe spaces, providing a platform for individuals whose thoughts and work have been minimized and silenced, and interrogating my own biases to continue to live up to my values.

  1. Konrad Bresin, PhD

As a psychologist who holds many privileged identities, I aim to use my roles as a researcher, teacher, and mentor to combat inequality in my local contexts. Across my professional roles, my goals are to a) conduct research that elucidates the ways in which culture and diversity play a role in psychopathology, b) educate about the important ways that race, gender, sexual orientation, and other social identities influence the lived experiences of individuals, and c) provide service to the department, college, university, and community that promotes and institutionalizes a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

My program of research seeks to identify mechanisms that lead to the initiation and continuance of dysregulated behaviors, with a focus on substance use, nonsuicidal self-injury, and aggression.  My recent work has focused my research on understanding the disparities in dysregulated behaviors like alcohol use and NSSI in the LGTBQ+ community. Given my social location and the underrepresentation of so many social identities in academia, I see my primary role as a mentor to advocate, be an effective ally, and a source of support for people who experience marginalization and silencing in academia. 

I believe that the incorporation of diversity and multiculturalism is integral to effective teaching in any class. I make an effort to include topics and activities that emphasized the role of diversity and multiculturalism in psychopathology (e.g., suicide in LGBTQ+ individuals, acculturation and mental health). For example, in teaching research methods at the undergraduate and graduate level, I have emphasized that the scientific method comes from the European Enlightenment and thus, is embedded with values from the cultural and historical context. I contrast that with more qualitative methods, which have a great ability to include people with marginalized identities in the research process. With each new class and each iteration of a class, I am continuing to work toward imbuing my courses with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As a faculty member, I am serving my second year as the co-chair of the department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. I focused my efforts on the subcommittee tasked with developing policies and procedures. Prior to this point, there were no formal policies for the committee, aside from two sentences in the department bylaws creating the committee. We were able to develop clear policies and procedures and get them approved by the full DEI committee. This work is important in that it helps there be consistency in the committee as chairs and members change, which allows for continued impact.

  1. Sara Bufferd, PhD

  1. Cara Cashon, PhD

  1. Judith Danovitch, PhD

  1. Daniel DeCaro, PhD

  1. Marci DeCaro, PhD

  1. Paul DeMarco, PhD

  1. Brendan Depue, PhD

My current position and laboratory at the University of Louisville is home to many students of underrepresented groups and prides itself on supporting women in science. To date our lab has supported more than 40 individuals with diverse backgrounds (see nilcamp.net). These range from diverse racial backgrounds, first generation college students, LGBTQ, immigrants, and numerous cultures. Furthermore, I have trained and provided information concerning science to various individuals across a wide array of race, gender, and age groups.

 Specific examples include, mentoring a large number of female students and supporting their research as part of Women in Medicine and Science and Women in Biology, both University of Louisville programs. Both programs advance the successful participation and inclusion of women within academic medicine and biology by addressing gender equity. Additionally, I have supported first generation, low-income college students through the University of Louisville’s READY program that matches mentors and students for research experience. Similarly, I have supported two graduate students with competitive fellowships for first generation and minority students.

 Most impressively, my lab was one of the first to design and support a new initiative for Louisville Science Pathways. A paid research internship program for Louisville area high school students from diverse and low socioeconomic status neighborhoods to participate in research in various STEM disciplines. My graduate student received a Society for Neuroscience Career Development award for her work on outreach of this program under my guidance.

 All of the aforementioned programs are in some way supported and governed by the Society for Neuroscience – Louisville Chapter, of which I serve on the governing board. A large commitment of the chapter is to provide outreach and focus for diverse populations interested in science.


  1. Lora Haynes, PhD 

  1. Zijiang He, PhD

  1. Maria Kondaurova, PhD

Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in teaching, research, and mentorship is essential to creating a more inclusive and equitable academic environment. My approach to DEI in these areas is multifaceted and relies heavily on my personal experience as an international scholar and a non-native English speaker.

People may face discrimination based on their accents or dialects, particularly if they speak a non-standard or stigmatized variety of a language. This can occur in various social contexts, such as in the workplace, education, or interpersonal interactions. My goal as an educator and a colleague is to ensure that diverse voices and perspectives are represented in and outside the classroom. Here are several specific examples of actions I take to combat linguistic discrimination in an education setting.

In teaching: I integrate DEI and digital storytelling into the classroom. My students are asked to create podcasts that showcase their own linguistic experiences and/or experiences of patients from different ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, linguistic or LGBTQ+ communities. By highlighting the challenges, strengths, and unique healthcare needs of diverse patient populations who use specific dialects (e.g. African American English) or languages (e.g. Spanish) students foster cultural competency and sensitivity among their peers.

In research: I actively seek out research questions and projects that address cognitive mechanisms underlying speech perception and/or production in adult bilingual speakers as well as pediatric patients with hearing loss (see our lab website). I encourage diverse linguistic representation in undergraduate and graduate students who are a part of our laboratory research team. Currently, our research team speaks several languages (American English, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Hindu) that allows us to contribute varied perspectives and ensure a more inclusive approach in research.

In mentoring:  I strive to create an inclusive classroom environment where all students feel valued and respected. This involves setting ground rules for respectful discussion, being aware of microaggressions, including linguistic discrimination and stereotypes, and addressing them promptly and constructively. In addition, I adapt my teaching methods to accommodate diverse learning styles and abilities, ensuring that all students have an opportunity to succeed.I actively mentor and support underrepresented (e.g. first generation, African American, Hispanic) students using different funding mechanisms (e.g. Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Grant (MURC)) and provide guidance and opportunities to help them advance in their academic or professional careers.

  1. Melinda Leonard, PhD 

  1. Cheri A Levinson, PhD

I strive to maintain a lab that values and promotes diversity, which can be seen from the multiple NIH funded diversity supplements I have sponsored and the diverse and international team of trainees I have cultivated. My lab has diverse membership in terms of ethnicity, gender identity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, first generation status, and SES background. I am proud of the diverse lab environment that will enrich our science. 

Arguably, all eating disorder research is in the realm of increasing diversity, inclusion and health equity, as most eating disorders impact women and underrepresented minorities. However, much of my research focuses specifically on decreasing inequities and health disparities. For example, using data collected in collaboration with the KY State Eating Disorder Council, my team and I published a paper showing mental health inequities in a medically underserved state and how to address these inequities could be addressed by a state-based council (Nicholas…Levinson, 2022). We recently finished a nation-wide study in collaboration with the National Eating Disorders Association and Project Heal identifying barriers to accessing eating disorder treatment in a treatment-seeking sample. We found that financial barriers were most common and that these were most pronounced for those with minoritized identities (Penwell…Levinson, in press). I have published on racial and ethnic differences in eating disorders, how to best treat transgender populations with eating disorders, and presented on several national panels on how to modify eating disorder treatments for diverse populations. One area I have become especially interested in and have published on is how weight stigma (the systemic barriers faced by people in larger bodies) impacts eating disorders, mental health, and receipt of treatment (Levinson et al., published in Behavior Therapist special issue on Harms of CBT). Finally, my DP2 New Innovator grant’s primary premise is that to successfully modify treatment we must incorporate systems of oppression and social context, such as food insecurity, racism, and sexism, into our treatment development efforts. Having worked personally with many patients, I regularly notice how these social contexts impact the success of treatment and my work is striving to incorporate these variables in an evidence-based manner so all people with psychiatric illness can recover. I hope it is clear the importance and value I place on diversity and inclusion as evidenced by my research and mentorship.

  1. Andrew Lynn, PhD

As a queer first-generation college graduate from a low-income family, I know firsthand what it is like seeing few queer people leading a research lab or lecture hall and the challenges of navigating higher education with minimal guidance and financial support. And as a white, cisgender, able-bodied man, I recognize I have an obligation to interrupt systems of oppression from which I benefit. Had it not been for mentorship from faculty members from marginalized groups, I would not have learned the “hidden curriculum” necessary to thrive academically. I work in solidarity with marginalized groups to eliminate systemic barriers for students to grow and thrive, with the support they need to learn and contribute to scientific discovery.

As a scientist, I believe it is critical to consider the political and social systems that marginalize and exclude groups of people to fully understand how children’s environments and experiences shape brain and cognitive development. This begins with ensuring that participant samples represent the general population and that marginalized voices are included in the research process. A key goal of the Attention in NeuroDevelopment (AND Lab) is to work with leaders in marginalized communities to better engage a more diverse population in the research process whereby the knowledge and experiences of parents, teachers, and community leaders guides future research, recruitment, and dissemination. 

As a mentor, I believe each student brings a unique set of learning needs and skills to the classroom and laboratory. It’s my goal, therefore, to leverage students’ strengths to meet their needs in a supportive and welcoming environment. This means taking a holistic approach to mentoring by having open and honest conversations about how our identities intersect with student and research life, situating lessons in the context of historical oppression, and discussing current topics surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion in child development. 

As a citizen, I value outreach to promote the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion at both the university and community levels. I regularly work to identify areas of personal growth and delineate actionable pathways to combat structural inequities. This means advocating for policies and practices that remove barriers and advance equity for all marginalized groups, educating myself of the best practices for creating and maintaining an inviting and safe workplace for members of all backgrounds, and amplifying the voices of historically marginalized individuals.

  1. Benjamin Mast, PhD

  1. Alison McLeish, PhD 

  1. Yara Mekawi, PhD

"The fundamental conflicts of human life are not between competing ideas, one 'true' and the other 'false'- but rather between those who hold power and use it to oppress others, and those who are oppressed by power and seek to free themselves of it." -Szasz

My interest in social justice began as a second-generation, American-born Egyptian adolescent growing up in various countries in the Middle East. I recall observing how my answer to the ostensibly simple question, “Where are you from?,” varied greatly depending on the context. As I matured, balancing my disparate national identities became increasingly challenging. As a means of reducing the consequent dissonance, I began to search for qualities my cultures had in common—a “sameness” with which I could wholly identify. For years, I witnessed the dehumanization of South Asian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the widespread intolerance toward dark-skinned Sudanese people in southern Egypt. It became evident that marginalization on the basis of race and ethnicity was endemic to all the cultural systems I experienced. When I eventually moved from Oman to the United States, I did not have to learn that there was oppression in this foreign city—I merely had to learn the structural power hierarchy of that particular setting. I realized that group histories varied in important ways, but the manifestations were the same: groups with relatively more power create complex, multi-level systems of oppression that to maintain their power and sustain inequity. Although the realization of the universality of racism was not the comforting “sameness” I hoped for, it drove me to seek higher education to better understand and address it.

Anti-racism is a fundamental part of who I am as a mentor, researcher, teacher, and citizen of the department, university, and world. As an anti-racist mentor, I approach mentorship with a focus on being attentive, responding to students’ needs,  understanding the contexts that shape my students’ lives, and being a source of unconditional support. In my mentorship style, I aim to avoid transactional approaches. This means, instead of viewing  graduate students as people who work for me, I view graduate students as junior colleagues. Given this, I emphasize power sharing about important lab decisions, I respect students’ choices and center their values and goals, and I encourage independence, trust, and mutual respect. Most importantly, I am committed to cultivating long-term, meaningful relationships with students characterized by mutual respect and trust. The Challenging Ongoing Legacies Of Racism (COLOR) lab’s overarching goals are to identify how  racial discrimination affects BIPOC’s mental health as well as how  racism is maintained. Our approach to research centers Black communities because we believe that centering Black  communities has positive implications for all people of color. I aim to do this work in a collaborative way; therefore, our research teams and approaches to authorship typically reflect the communities we center in our research. Anti-racism is also at the center of my teaching. In the two classes I have developed, “Race, Racism and Anti-racism,” and “Power, Privilege, and Psychopathology,” I aim to promote critical thinking about oppression, encourage perspective-taking, and cultivate intrinsic motivation for anti-oppressive work. I prioritize transparency, continual assessment and integration of student feedback, and using a personalized approach that accommodates diverse learning needs. In both teaching and my leadership of the COLOR lab, I avoid hidden curriculum issues by being thorough about expectations and centering the work of BIPOC scholars. Finally, my service work focuses on the assessment of racism and implementation of anti-racism at an organizational level. Having served as the DEI committee co-chair since my second semester at UofL, my approach can be characterized as collaborative and action-oriented with a focus on understanding the “root cause” of equity issues and working together to design effective, sustainable solutions that address those root causes. In terms of plans for the future, I hope to more meaningfully integrate intersectionality in all areas of my work, develop more meaningful community partnerships, and better connect the COLOR lab’s research to policy and change efforts. 

  1. Carolyn B Mervis, PhD

  1. Tamara Newton, PhD

  1. Nicholaus Noles, PhD

  1. Edna Ross, PhD 

  1. Barbara Stetson, PhD

  1. Christian Stilp, PhD

I strive to make my classroom an inclusive space. It is essential to me that the classroom be a positive, respectful, psychologically safe learning environment. To this end, my decorum is friendly and welcoming, but I also make my expectations explicit and concrete. I target different learning styles by using a mixture of activities and group dynamics (1:1 work / small groups / large group, in-person and online during class versus online outside of class, discussion and mini-experiments). I provide lecture slides online at least one day ahead of class to aid the different speeds with which students process information during lecture. I have unilaterally approved all requests for testing accommodations so that these students do not feel excluded or marginalized by my original plan for how the exams will be executed. Interpersonally, I solicit class participation explicitly (raising one’s hand) and implicitly (anonymous responses in Slido) so that everyone can contribute however they feel comfortable. I also make myself available to students a variety of different ways (in-person versus online) and at different times so students may interact with me how and when they are comfortable. I routinely reevaluate course content to ensure that the backgrounds, identities, and perspectives represented are diverse. Finally, I share with students that even though I strive to make the classroom inclusive, I remain a work in progress and that I welcome their feedback on my efforts.

My lab has benefited from mentoring many students from underrepresented groups (women, non-native English speakers, first-generation, sometimes combinations of this list). I welcome and invite diverse perspectives and experiences as we discuss how we hear speech, music, and other sounds. This routinely includes considering how results of an experiment might differ if the language (usually North American English) or the music (typically derived from European classical music) were different. I speak frequently and candidly about 'hidden curriculum' topics to share as much insight as I can to help students as they chart their professional paths through their undergraduate and graduate educations. Finally, I regularly ask lab members for research topics they wish to discuss in lab meetings. Sometimes the suggestions are within the hearing sciences, and sometimes not (our lab meeting on color-number synesthesia was memorable!), but this generates buy-in for all lab members and rewards their intellectual curiosity.

  1. Bernadette Walter, PhD 

  1. Pavel Zahorik, PhD

  1. Christina Ralph-Nearman, PhD

Eating disorders claim a life every 52 minutes, disproportionately affecting women and minorities. As a multi-disciplinary scientist engaged in the field of eating disorders, I deeply value, advocate for, and celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion on countless fronts. Whether in the realm of science, mentorship, or personal interactions, I wholeheartedly believe that the convergence of our distinct and diverse perspectives, experiences, inquiries, ideas, and methodologies, coupled with mutual respect, fortifies our ability to discover solutions, extend access, foster healing, enhance understanding, and cultivate collective growth. I take pride in the multidimensional diversity of our research lab, and I express gratitude for supporting and uplifting those within our unique community and beyond. My commitment is to actively listen, create a safe and respectful workplace for all, and recognize and amplify the strengths of those around me.