Thursday, April 12, 2018

Sara Nelson


Liu recognized for research on critical societal issues

William Ming Liu’s research is more timely now than ever before. With recent protests like Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement highlighting racism and sexism, Liu, a counseling psychology professor in the University of Iowa College of Education, conducts research on topics such as men and masculinity, race and racism, gender issues, and classism.

A renowned scholar in multiple social justice domains, Liu takes a different approach to building understanding of race and racism. Rather than looking at these issues as an interpersonal bias or a psychological experience, Liu’s research shows that racism is about two facets: controlling white spaces and maintaining economic inequality. 

“Racism becomes a tool to create hostile environments and climates to such a degree that people of color have difficulty doing their job or finishing school,” Liu says.

This scholarship has become increasingly important in today’s environment, with protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Time’s Up movement bringing racism and sexism to the forefront of national conversations.

“The research is much more meaningful now, given the context of the world. It feels much more powerful,”says Liu.“The people who are explicitly racist, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic feel much more freedom to say and do what they want in this atmosphere.”

While Liu’s work is essential in today's climate, Liu says that this kind of discrimination is not new.

“It’s surprising for many people who are white that there is this level of racism,” Liu says. “But for many communities of color, it is just the most overt expression of a lived experience that they have had for a long period of time.”

These are also issues that Liu has studied for many years. In fact, he is nationally recognized as a leader in these fields. Liu is editor-in-chief of one of the leading journals of the American Psychological Association, Psychology of Men and Masculinity. A longtime provider of clinical services at Shelter House of Iowa City, Liu served as president of that organization’s board of directors from 2014 to 2015.

In 2011, he secured a grant from the Veterans Rural Health Resource Center, which led to the creation of the Iowa City Lodge Project, which provides permanent housing to homeless veterans, as well as psychological services for the residents via practicum clinical experiences and graduate assistantships.

Liu says that though discussion of racism and sexism feels much more urgent now, it has always been important to examine these issues.

This knowledge informs the way Liu teaches in the classroom, how he works with clients, and how he supervises clinical students.

Liu was recognized in fall of 2017 with an Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence. He was previously honored with the Audrey Qualls Commitment to Diversity Award, the UI College of Education Collegiate Teaching Award, and the UI College of Education Dean’s Scholar Award.

“I have very supportive colleagues. They recognize the time and effort that I am putting into my research and teaching,” says Liu. “For me, it’s a lot more reflective of the support and recognition that I am getting from those around me.”

Liu wants to teach his students that social justice work and advocacy are meaningful and important, but also require a long-term commitment and dedication.

“There’s never going to be an end to this research. It is always going to be a pressing issue,” says Liu. “You have to be optimistic that change can occur, but you have to be realistic about what is happening around you.”

Read more of the College of Education's 2018 Alumni Magazine.