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Student Spotlight: Amy Westmoreland

Amy Westmoreland

Amy Westmoreland, Ph.D. Candidate, Psychology, Predoctoral Fellowship

Amy’s dissertation looks at diversity in the workplace and how racial stereotypes influence chances for upward mobility. She particularly focuses on Asian Americans and the model minority myth that portrays Asian Americans as competent and smart but lacking social skills, stereotyping them as fit for jobs that require competence and technical expertise but unfit for jobs that require leadership skills.

She explains, “Asian Americans have a unique history of race. I wanted to explore why you don’t see many Asians in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, technology firms or higher education. In one of my studies, I review a national data set from 1989-2010 and see trends confirming this over every single year of data collection. This is not a pipeline issue but is possibly something else. I want to do more experimental work to see if people do endorse the myth.”

Amy continues, “I want to determine if an employee who fits the model minority stereotype is judged in a different way than an employee who pushes outside that stereotype. I’m examining if Asian American employees who emphasize their warmth and social skills are then seen as being better leaders compared to someone who fits the stereotype. The purpose of this work is not to place blame on Asian workers or police their behaviors. Given that racial discrimination operates at a systemic level, the purpose of this work is to give Asian Americans a tool set to navigate systems of oppression; by identifying ways in which workers can highlight certain skill sets for leadership advancement.”

The implications of her research she hopes are two-fold: “I want to create practical advice for how Asian Americans or people of color in general can navigate race issues in the workplace, that this is not an individual level problem but a systemic problem. I want them to determine if they have to live in this environment what can they do to gain upward mobility. The other intent is to give hiring committees ideas of what we can look out for to prevent our biases or schemas from turning into racial stereotypes and discrimination.”

Her research began when she volunteered in a lab at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. “I spent a long time studying race, whether in the workplace or in other contexts. I think this topic is more essential that we realize.” Amy will be applying to academic and postdoctoral positions in psychology departments, and business schools and at schools of education. Keeping her options open, she is also exploring industry and policy organizations like RAND.

On her experience here, she claims, “Michigan is a good research fit. I have served on the diversity committee in my department and do a lot of diversity recruitment trips where I tell prospective students that picking a graduate school is kind of like dating: you need to find the perfect match in terms of an advisor.” Amy considers herself lucky, as she found two perfect matches: her advisors are Fiona Lee and Ram Mahalingam.

She has also served as a volunteer for a local community organization, Giving and Friendship Together (GIFT), which paired young girls adopted from Asian countries with Asian women mentors. In addition to being involved in her department, Amy is completing the certificate course in the Program in Survey Methodology, where she considers the training to be phenomenal. This summer, Amy served as a Graduate Student Staff Assistant (GSSA) at Rackham, working on the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) which is designed to give underrepresented undergraduate students research experience and exposure to the graduate school environment.

In her spare time, she takes advantage of cultural events as they come through Ann Arbor or Detroit, enjoying UMS offerings and driving in to Detroit to see performances like those recently presented by the American Ballet Theatre.