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As a first-year student, Lia Mandaglio ’08 (Annandale, N.J.) knew she wanted to pursue undergraduate research at Lafayette. Her interest in how subtle racism exhibits itself led to a study that she will present at this year’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Mandaglio collaborated with Ann McGillicuddy-DeLisi, Metzgar Professor of Psychology, as part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“I became interested in aversive [unconscious] racism because I have encountered many instances in which individuals are subtly, often inadvertently, offensive,” says the double major in psychology and English. “Racist and sexist language is used surprisingly often. Unfortunately, racism and sexism are far from extinct, and I am extremely interested in how [those issues] affect our world.”

Mandaglio’s research evolved from a similar project McGillicuddy-DeLisi conducted with Rebecca Banchik ’05 for the student’s honors thesis. They examined how aversive prejudice is expressed in hypothetical healthcare allocations when funds are scarce. While providing a solid foundation, that study did not include enough male respondents.

“She [Banchik] found evidence of anti-Semitism when young-adult responses showed that as a group, undergraduate students had more negative decisions about patients described as ‘Jewish’ than other patient descriptions,” explains McGillicuddy-DeLisi. “Her research suggested that men and women react differently to these decision-making tasks, but her study had only a small number of male participants. Lia conducted the study with more participants, increasing the number of male respondents, and she is investigating the possibility that female and male college students differ in various aspects of decision-making, including aversive prejudice, and the different conditions that might affect [their] decisions.”

“Essentially, we are looking to see if individuals who may not necessarily admit to being anti-Semitic do allow implicit, or underlying, prejudices to affect their decisions regarding Jewish Americans,” adds Mandaglio.

According to McGillicuddy-DeLisi, their research touches on a widespread, but often ignored, phenomenon in American society. Several years ago, it was determined that African American and Latino American patients in the California healthcare system died younger and received a lower level of care than did their European-descended counterparts. She also cites another study that concluded doctors were less likely to recommend surgery and other forms of care to minority patients.

“It is so difficult to address these concerns when people believe they are acting fairly and are unaware of the injustices that occur in their everyday behaviors,” she says. “Research can bring to light and focus our attention on how real people’s lives are affected in innumerable and negative ways as well as indicate what types of interventions and education are necessary if we are dedicated to fairness.”

Mandaglio has been involved in every stage of the study. After reviewing studies on implicit and explicit attitudes against Jewish Americans and African Americans, she formed hypotheses regarding sex differences in implicit prejudice, created research materials, recruited participants, obtained informed consent, and collected and entered data into a complex analysis program. She is preparing to analyze the data and will write drafts of the study to explain her findings.

“Lia is a fantastic research partner with tremendous insight into research methods and implementing analytic strategies,” says McGillicuddy-DeLisi. “She works independently yet knows when to get advice and is very careful, a great attribute in a researcher. Mostly, I appreciate her enthusiasm about all aspects of the research process; I feel fortunate to have her working with me on this project.”

Mandaglio says that working closely with a faculty mentor has improved her research abilities and taught her more about design and analysis than can be learned in a classroom.

“My work with Dr. McGillicuddy-DeLisi has been invaluable,” she says. “She is very nurturing and helpful, as I am very new at [intensive research]. She is very educated and informative and an excellent resource for me. I do not hesitate to go to her with my questions. Lafayette offers a fantastic environment for undergraduate research. Students have incredible opportunities to work with professors and are always encouraged to pursue their own interests.”

McGillicuddy-DeLisi is editor of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. As a developmental psychologist, her research is focused on the development of spatial and mathematical knowledge in children and the influence of family environment factors on the development of children and adults. Institutions such as the U.S. Office of Education, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institutes of Health have awarded her grants totaling more than $1 million. She has given presentations at more than 25 conferences, edited two books, and authored or coauthored over 40 book chapters and journal articles.

Mandaglio traveled to Shreveport, La., over the January interim session, where she volunteered with InspireWorks by helping to organize a tutoring program and teaching first-grade level students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She is a member of the Reeder Scholars program and an advocate for Safe House, a division of Women’s Crisis Services of Flemington, N.J. She has served externships with The New York Times and law firms in New York and New Jersey.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty students have been accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

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