Rachel Godsil Investigates the Dynamics of Discrimination

Rachel Godsil Investigates the Dynamics of Discrimination

NEW FACULTY VOICES
 
Name: Rachel Godsil
Title: Professor of Law and Chancellor’s Scholar
Department: Rutgers School of Law
Location: Rutgers-Newark
Education: BA, University of Wisconsin, Madison (Political Science); JD, Michigan Law School
Research: Investigating the causes of discrimination, including identifying interventions that address bias and anxiety linked to race, ethnicity, gender and other identity characteristics.
Fun Fact: “My guilty pleasures are sports movies of any kind and watching old seasons of America’s Next Top Model with my 15-year-old daughter.”

"The embrace of applied research, the social justice values and the engagement as an anchor institution working collaboratively with residents of Newark is really exciting."
 
– Rachel Godsil

Rachel Godsil grew up attending civil rights marches with her parents in the late 1960s and 1970s in Milwaukee. After seeing a trial firsthand in middle school, she decided she could best contribute to social justice work by becoming a lawyer.

Her work in civil rights began after her first year at the University of Michigan Law School, when she worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and investigated the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill proposed for a predominantly minority community in North Carolina.

Rachel Godsil, who joined the faculty of Rutgers Law School in Newark this fall,  has studied the presence of bias in popular culture, education, the criminal justice system, the media and the workplace.
Photo: Nick Romanenko, Rutgers University
“It was just at the point where studies had emerged that showed that hazardous waste sites were likely to be located in communities of color rather than white communities, holding steady for income or other possible explanations,” said Godsil, who wrote a paper about the issue for the Michigan Law Review. “That triggered my interest in environmental justice.”

After landing her dream job at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and then working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Godsil decided that teaching law school would allow her to research the legal strategies to combat social injustice.

While teaching at Seton Hall Law School, she began focusing on race, property, land use and educational issues. As a result of that work, she was appointed the convener of the 2008 Obama campaign’s Urban and Metropolitan Policy Committee, where she met john a. powell, the civil rights expert and author who shared her interest in exploring the phenomenon of why people who have egalitarian values act in discriminatory ways.

In 2009, Godsil joined powell and a group of law professors, social scientists and advocates to form the American Values Institute – later named the Perception Institute – a consortium that brought together researchers developing solutions from the mind sciences to reduce bias and discrimination.

“What the mind sciences help us understand is how people can genuinely reject racism and yet their behaviors are inconsistent with those values because of implicit biases, racial anxiety and stereotype threat,” Godsil said.

Working with the institute, Godsil has studied the presence of bias in popular culture, education, the criminal justice system, the media and the workplace. A recent study she worked on surveyed 4,200 people to determine whether they showed bias against black women’s textured hair, which can affect how black women are treated in classrooms or the workplace. The study found bias but also gave reason for hope since women who are part of an online natural hair community showed significantly different views.

Another key part of her work with the institute is presenting workshops on the mind sciences to judges, lawyers, educators, health care providers, members of community organizations and government officials. The workshops teach participants that even though they feel their beliefs are genuine, their behavior is often based on implicit biases – negative stereotypes that are influenced by the surrounding culture. Godsil and other workshop leaders also offer interventions that reduce racial anxiety and stereotype threat.

“After hearing about the research and experiencing the interaction, people are often really motivated to use the science in their own lives,” she said. “The findings suggest that the workshops increase people’s interest in addressing discrimination and their internal motivation to be fair.

Godsil joined the faculty at Rutgers Law School this fall, after teaching at Seton Hall for 17 years. She was recruited as part of a strategic cluster hiring process conceived by Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor; Provost Jerome Williams; law school co-dean, Ron Chen; and law faculty member Elise Boddie to build on the school’s strengths in a way that would also strengthen intersections with other schools/colleges and departments.

Godsil said she was attracted to Rutgers because of the research being conducted by professors in the law school and in other departments on social and racial justice issues.

"The embrace of applied research, the social justice values and the engagement as an anchor institution working collaboratively with residents of Newark is really exciting," she said.


Read more Faculty Voices.