Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown has just returned from a month in Guatemala, simultaneously conducting research on several topics while also working with local schools and presenting lectures. Ashdown first worked in Guatemala nearly 13 years ago, but has returned numerous times over the course of the last eight years for research and outreach efforts.
“Most of my research deals with racism between the Mayan Indigenous groups and the Ladino (mestizo) group here in Guatemala,” explains Ashdown, adding much of this work has been done in collaboration with Judith Gibbons, from Saint Louis University. “We are attempting to document the stereotypes of both ethnic groups and the disparity and discrimination that the Maya face here in Guatemala.”
This summer, he worked on three primary research projects. For one, he went to Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza and gave disposable cameras to 25 teenagers, asking them to take 10 pictures of things that symbolize religion for them. This fall, he will ask 25 teenagers in Geneva to do the same thing and then he will use this information in his coursework, working with HWS students to code the photos and examine them to make cultural comparisons.
Ashdown has worked with Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza on previous visits and noted the students were in desperate need of shoes. On his return trip this summer, he brought a large number of donated shoes with him.
In the U.S., Ashdown has researched academic entitlement on college students. He expanded that study in Guatemala this summer by collecting data to search for possible cultural influences on the issue.
He also had the opportunity to gather data for a project he is working on with Monica Skewes, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, that looks to see if people are more likely to label Maya individuals as “alcoholics” than they are to label Ladinos as “alcoholics.”
“We expect that even when Mayas and Ladinos engage in the same drinking behavior that Mayas will be labeled as alcoholics more often because of the existing prejudice,” says Ashdown. “In future years we hope to use this information to help inform possible interventions. For example, it’s possible Mayas don’t receive the social support to fight alcoholism because of the prejudice against them.”
While much of the work he did this summer involved research on topics of his choosing, he also helped a local Guatemalan therapist on a research project he’s doing to see if short term therapy can reduce the effects of acute trauma.
He also had meetings with a director of the local school in a small village, San Bernabé, to help him determine if his students are progressing in their reading comprehension.
Before returning home, Ashdown presented two invited lectures, one as a colloquium to students at a local college and the other to a professional organization of psychologists.
In the photo above, Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown meets with a student who took photos for his research.