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In spring 2018, College of Education student Vida Nwadiei joined three undergraduates from other colleges on campus to compete in the inaugural university-wide program, the President’s Award for Global Learning. Now in its second year, the program promotes international research, social impact, and entrepreneurship in seven regions throughout the world.

What is Colorism?

Colorism is a form of prejudice that says a person with a slimmer nose, bigger eyes, straighter hair, and lighter skin has more value. People around the world believe that these qualities make people more desirable, successful, and intelligent.

Colorism creates a social hierarchy within homogenous communities of color that says the more European a person looks, the more acceptable they are to their community. These values are often internalized.

In South Korea one in three women between the ages of 19 and 29 undergoes double-eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty (nose job), or jaw reconstruction surgery. African American women in the U.S. straighten their hair. Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans take skin lightening pills or use skin bleaching creams on themselves and their children to lighten their skin.

In August 2016, Ghana placed a ban on skin bleaching products containing a harmful substance called hydroquinone. Despite the ban, the multibillion-dollar industry of skin bleaching products still dominates the West African cosmetics market. This creates a world of mixed messages for women. In Ghana, colorism is often most pronounced among professional and preprofessional women.

Nwadiei and her teammates Timia Bethea, Rebecca Chen, and Christina Cho competed to be one of seven teams selected to conduct region-focused research that would have a lasting impact on its citizens. Their proposal: explore the influences of colorism in Ghana through the lenses of media and businesses, identity and selfworth, the cyclical nature of skin bleaching in families, and social mobility.

Four women posed in a truck

Clockwise from top left: Timia Bethea, Christina Cho, Vida Nwadiei, and Rebecca Chen.

A pre-physical therapy senior majoring in exercise science, Nwadiei and her team were selected from a field of 28 and received a $25,000 grant to implement their two-year, self-proposed project in Africa: The Color Complex.

Nwadiei’s team has worked throughout the process with three faculty members that they selected to serve as subject matter experts: Kevin Cokley, Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor for Educational Research and Development in the College of Education; John Doggett, senior lecturer in the McCombs School of Business; and Minette Drumwright,associate professor in the Moody College of Communication.

We want to take this from a summer project, to a movement, to something that can be institutionalized. This is a global issue that we want to begin to tackle here at The University of Texas. —Vida Nwadiei

From Austin to Accra

Nwadiei, Bethea, Chen, and Cho spent the summer of 2019 in Accra interviewing Ghanaian women about their experiences with personal care products and their attitudes toward beauty practices. “Our time in Accra was part of our plan to create separate and specialized social media campaigns that will run at UT Austin and the University of Ghana to mitigate the negative effects of this serious mental health concern,” Nwadiei says.

When the team came back for the fall semester, they started working with two advertising classes, both led by Galit Marmor-Lavie, lecturer in the Moody College of Communication. “We want students to be able to talk about their own experiences, understand each other’s experiences, and begin a process of healing. We want to take this from a summer project, to a movement, to something that can be institutionalized. This is a global issue that we want to begin to tackle here at The University of Texas,” Nwadiei says.

Project Timeline

Spring 2019

Qualitative research in Austin with African-American and Asian-American undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin.

Summer 2019

Qualitative research in Ghana with Ghanaian women, including students at the University of Ghana.

Fall 2019

Develop campaigns and pre-test and post-test surveys with students at The University of Texas at Austin.

Spring 2020

Run campaigns at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Ghana.

If you would like to learn more about the cause, share your story, or just connect, go to thecolorcomplex.cargo.site or contact thecolorcomplexpagl@gmail.com.

Educational Psychology Professor Aaron B. Rochlen shares how the Joker movie connects to the Joker archetype and the shadow. Rochlen is licensed psychologist and a professor of counseling psychology and counselor education in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

Joker continues to crush box office records.  Reasons for the success and Oscar buzz have been frequently discussed. As a psychology professor I believe that the Joker provides a creative opportunity to take look within our own psychology and challenges our rigid views of good and evil.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist who split from his mentor Sigmund Freud, would have loved this movie. Jung wrote about the collective unconscious, a practical part of our genetic makeup we share with others across cultures and continents. At the core of the collective unconscious, are archetypes, with the “Joker” being one of the more interesting examples.

For Arthur Fleck, the main character, Joker is not only his name, but represents to the viewers a psychological significance worthy of reflection.

“The Joker” archetype lives in all of us, but may lie dormant in our minds. When activated, the “Joker” uses humor as a defense, covering up pain, and perceived injustices. Jokers resolve conflicts by bringing joy or a smile to others – momentarily deflecting their own pain.  Seeing others entertained brings relief to feelings of profound sadness or unresolved wounds.

As viewers, we may relate to Fleck. Questions to ask yourself may include: Where do you use humor to deflect pain or sadness?  When has comedy been a part of covering up tragedy or pain? And where can this style be healthy or unhealthy in your life and relationships?

The Joker also challenges our tendency to categorize others into “good” or “bad” – “hero” or “villain.” We don’t want to acknowledge how people who commit atrocious crimes can have positive traits.  Conversely, it’s hard to acknowledge that “good” people have destructive impulses.

Interestingly, this part of the movie is also the most controversial.  Some have frowned on how the movie creates an empathic audience response for the lead character. It can be disturbing to feel empathy toward those who commit heinous acts. And the Joker definitely does just that, evolving into one of the most legendary antagonists in motion picture history.

However, he is not all bad. None of us are. Bad people have good traits just as good people have dark edges. Fleck cared for his mother, entertained kids in a cancer ward, tried to make an honest living, and longed to love.

It’s natural to feel compassion or sympathy for Fleck for the abuse, bullying and humiliation he endured. This doesn’t mean we endorse his behaviors or murderous coping tragedies.

Having these feelings for the “bad guy” doesn’t cause anyone to head down a disturbing path. Doing so may even allow us to acknowledge our own “bad guy,” avoiding trouble, protecting us from harm to others and ourselves.  For Jung, this inner bad guy was part of our Shadow, the parts of ourselves that are harder to recognize or acknowledge.

This movie is a psychological primer for that lesson and others. And that’s a lesson for all of us.



Special Education has re-energized its Concentration in Equity and Diversity. The program explores the intersections of disability, race, ethnicity, language, social class, nationality, gender, and sexuality in education and society.

Listen in as Associate Professor Audrey Sorrels and Assistant Professor North Cooc, who lead the initiative, discuss why the concentration is needed, who the concentration serves and hopes to attract, as well as their own personal and scholarly interest in the topic.