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Identifying Educational Inequities

Utilizing a developmental psychology approach, Dr. Leoandra “Onnie” Rogers explores how cultural stereotypes and expectations shape the identity development of children and adolescents in urban environments.

As a student-athlete on the gymnastics team at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a past Diverse Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar, Rogers developed a sense of focus, determination and time management that has served her well from undergraduate school to graduate school to postdoctoral fellowship to her current position at Northwestern University.

Since becoming an assistant professor at the university in 2016, Rogers has called upon those skills to balance the many demands on her time. Juggling teaching, research and family (she is the mother of two young children) is still a work in progress, but she feels herself becoming increasingly adept. Building her lab has been ext remely rewarding. Grants from Northwestern and input from the university’s undergraduate research office helped her hire three undergraduates, who became the foundation of Rogers’ lab. Training them, getting feedback and seeing the work develop over the past year have all been exciting. Three more students have been added recently, and she feels like there is a team behind her work.

“Northwestern is incredibly well resourced and really intentional and deliberate about putting resources toward research on diversity and addressing issues of inequality and diversity,” says Rogers, who was hired in 2016 as part of a diversity science initiative.

The Chicago area is diverse and there are community-based organizations and conversations. The school district where Rogers’ daughter attends kindergarten is hosting SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) groups for parents, teachers and community leaders based on Dr. Peggy McIntosh’s diversity and equity workshops around race and intersectionality.

“I feel I’ve spent a lot of time this year figuring out who is doing what in the community so I can do work that is grounded and supportive of the work that’s already happening,” she says.

The first in her family to attend college, Rogers entered UCLA with a desire to become an elementary school teacher. Her academic adviser told her that education was only available as a minor at UCLA, suggesting psychology as a major.

The education minor was centered on urban studies and educational inequalities. Heading into graduate school, Rogers wanted to study how psychological processes intersect with educational disparities and inequality. Rogers’ interest is identity and how people make sense of external structures in their lives and how those structures are interpreted and negotiated. The developmental piece fascinates her in terms of thinking about change — both individual and societal.

“What are the mechanisms and processes by which these subjective interpretations of the world change over time?” says Rogers. “How can we think about that as a way not to just change the way individuals experience the world, but also to actually change the way the world functions around some of these social inequalities.”

The combination of teaching/mentoring students and being able to ask the kinds of questions she wants to ask makes academia the right fit. Rogers is currently teaching undergraduates. Some of her guiding principles are trying to get students to think critically and examine the ways science can perpetuate and disrupt inequalities.

“I center a lot of the conversation around context and inequalities — talking about the ways stereotypes, biases and structural inequalities are part of … basic processes of development,” she says.

Rogers is also a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, an interdisciplinary intellectual space where issues of equity and policies are researched and discussed.

One of Rogers’ ongoing projects is an analysis of children’s racial and gender identities. This is a school-based study of predominantly low-income, working class children who are racially diverse. She and her team have been analyzing how children talk about and construct the meanings of race and gender. There is also work around intersectionality and whether children are aware of their multiple identities.

Her newest project is “Black Girls Magic: The Social and Academic Lives of Black Girls,” a longitudinal study funded by the Spencer Foundation. Data collection at an all-girls high school began this past fall.

“We’ll be looking both at girls’ identity development and their experiences at an allgirls’ school as well as their aspirations and engagement in STEM,” says Rogers, adding that they will be looking at the processes and ideologies that the school engages in to support Black girls’ academic, social and emotional development.

Title: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology; Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Tenured: No

Education: B.A., University of California, Los Angeles; Ph.D., New York University

Age: 37

Career mentors: Dr. Bruce Barbee, University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. Christia Brown, University of Kentucky; Dr. Niobe Way, New York University; Valorie Kondos-Field, University of California, Los Angeles

Words of wisdom/advice for new faculty members: Take the Faculty Boot Camp by Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.

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