Gail Ferguson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Knox College, has just completed the first major phase of her research as a cross-cultural psychologist. She has been conducting research in Jamaica and the U.S. on a phenomenon called acculturation, which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “Cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture.”
In contrast to previous theories which state that acculturation is only influenced by two cultures—the heritage culture and the foreign culture—Ferguson’s research could be evidence of a new three-dimensional model of acculturation which accounts for remote acculturation, which is increasing as technologies such as the Internet and social networking allow for less prolonged contact between cultures.
Ferguson’s research seems to support evidence of the need for a 3-D acculturation model; according to her presentation, “Jamaicans and other Black immigrants in the U.S., but not the non-Black immigrants, report stronger orientation towards African American culture compared to European American culture.”
Overall, Ferguson’s research shows that, “People in multicultural societies acculturate towards multiple cultures [and] people become oriented toward cultures of faraway lands sans migration.”
According to Ferguson, “The findings of this study have also been presented at a professional conference and are under review at professional journals.”
The Knox Student (TKS): How supportive has Knox been regarding your research interests and projects?
Gail Ferguson (GF): Over my two and a half years at Knox, I have been happy as a researcher. As a clinical psychologist by training, I had a choice between a career in clinical work or in academia/research. I am passionate about the creation of knowledge especially as it regards to development of Caribbean Youth; therefore I decided to enter academia. I came to Knox with a clear plan for a cross-cultural research project, and thanks to faculty development funds and Mellon Foundation funds necessary equipment, fantastic academic support staff and very helpful business office staff, I was able to launch this large project a few months after arriving.
TKS: Do you feel Knox is an optimal environment to conduct research?
GF: The early Knox support for my research has helped me to successfully complete the Culture and Family Life Study, which will in turn make me more competitive when I apply for an external grant to continue this work. In addition, there are particular categories of federal grants that are set aside for faculty at undergraduate institutions, so in reality, I do not perceive myself to be disadvantaged in terms of funding by being at Knox as opposed to a large research institution. However, there is one particular way in which Knox is not ideal for my research: location. I study Jamaican immigrants and, well, they don’t live in Galesburg. So, I need to do a fair bit of travel to find them and this process is arduous and often unsuccessful. The only way around this problem would be to live and work in Brooklyn, New York or South Florida. I find that the pluses of doing research at Knox outweigh these minuses.