Research Spotlight: Dara Huggins (Psychology)

“Research Spotlight” is a new column highlighting the achievements of graduate and undergraduate researchers of color at Yale. To be featured, please email arturo.pineda@yale.edu.

by Laura Plata

After a year and a half of reading and researching, Dara Huggins ’17, a psychology major in Pierson College, concluded that the existing body of psychology literature contained no definitive analysis of the relationship between Blackness and womanhood. She has spent the past two summers attempting to fill this gap.

Intuitively, it would seem that since both women and Black people face a lot of discrimination, Black women must face the worst. The truth is significantly more complicated. For instance, a Black woman might not be punished for exhibiting “masculine” behaviors in the same way a white woman would.

Compelled to explore how Black women are perceived in relation to their womanhood and race, Huggins conducted a study this past summer to probe how locational context—a grocery store, the gym, etc.—influenced the speed at which participants classified Black women as “female” or “Black.” Crucially, people do not generally classify others by race and sex exactly simultaneously. Through the set-up of the experiment, Huggins hoped to uncover which category—race or sex—would be easier for participants to access.

Ultimately, locational context did not change the participants’ selection times. However, noted Huggins, “Across all location conditions, Black women were categorized most slowly, as compared to white women, Black men, and white men.”

“Female targets were categorized most quickly when white, while male targets were categorized most quickly when Black,” she added.

Huggins is in the process of conducting a second, follow-up experiment examining whether Black women will be seen as colder, warmer, more qualified, or less qualified (etc.) than other demographics in a variety of locational contexts. Moving forward in the field of psychology, she would like to see more thoughtful, intersectional work carried out. Examining only the categories of “Black people” and “women” is a major oversight.

Ultimately, further psychological research that takes into account the many factors intersecting with sex and gender will be required in order to understand the social implications of Black womanhood. With her work, Huggins continues to bring attention to a critical and underdeveloped area in her field.