New Harvey Mudd professor brings abundance of insights on BLM protests and racial attitudes

a man with a megaphone at a protest. signs read "Black Lives Matter" and "UVa Graduate Students in Solidarity"
A protestor speaks at a Charlottesville, Va. rally he helped organize as a University of Virginia graduate student in 2017. (Eze Amos photo, courtesy of Anup Gampa)

From coming face-to-face with members of the Ku Klux Klan to organizing counterprotests against the Unite the Right rally in 2017, Anup Gampa has spent almost a decade attempting to understand and fight racism. 

Joining Harvey Mudd College this fall as an assistant professor of psychology, Gampa recently received his PhD in social psychology from the University of Virginia. There, he conducted research on racial attitudes and actively organized students against white supremacist groups such as the KKK.

In 2018, he published a study examining how implicit and explicit racial attitudes changed during the Black Lives Matter movement. In an interview, he explained explicit thoughts are “conscious and deliberate,” while implicit thoughts are those which are “unconscious and automatic.”

The findings of his study, which he conducted from 2009 to 2016, suggested that antiracist social movements can contribute to social changes in implicit and explicit racial attitudes. White people became explicitly less pro-white and Black people became explicitly less pro-Black during the period, Gampa found. 

“There were three things we were looking at: whether Obama being president made an impact or not, whether Black Lives Matter itself had an impact or not, and whether we needed to be worrying about the backlash [to the Black Lives Matter movement],” Gampa said.

a man outdoors
(Courtesy: Anup Gampa)

Comparing the Black Lives Matter movement of the past few weeks to what he observed a few years ago, he expressed hope that the ongoing movement will have a stronger effect.

“One of the things that many of us were unhappy with in terms of the Black Lives Matter [movement] a few years ago was that we didn’t see many policy changes. We didn’t see as much movement at the state level or the national level as we’ve been seeing in the past six weeks. So I can only imagine that in the past six weeks, the effect would be much, much stronger both on the implicit level and the explicit level,” Gampa said.

He explained that anti-Blackness within society could be attributed to more than just racial differences; income inequality, poverty and gender biases all factored into the oppression and mistreatment of Black people. 

“Part of the motivation for the 2018 paper comes from my study of intersectional analyses of various forms of oppression. Race, gender, sexuality, class; none of these ever work in isolation. They always tend to exacerbate or build upon each other,” he said.

Gampa believes activists need to examine interlocking aspects of social oppression — not just race.

“So many working class white folks in the U.S. have been left out of the conversation. The destruction of their social safety net over the past 50 to 60 years has really impacted poor people across gender and race lines. The only channel many white poor folks have been given is to scapegoat other oppressed folks,” he said. “So we’ve stoked the fire of racism of white folks attacking black folks, rather than looking at rich people whose wealth has increased drastically. Income inequality in the past 30 to 40 years has just been getting worse and worse, and we’ve really only given channels of blaming each other on the lower income levels rather than seeing that it’s actually the economic elite — regardless of their gender or class or race — that should really be the targets.”

His psychology class, “Racism, Social Movements and Social Psychology,” focuses on dismantling racism and understanding how it continues to impact our lived experiences. For Gampa, though, dissemination of knowledge to his students goes well beyond the classroom.

“I want to be someone who’s in a direct relationship with the community, especially the students, and work with them to negotiate the world they’re going to inherit,” Gampa said. “The last thing I want to do is talk about this stuff but not help students fight an actively racist, sexist, misogynistic society.” 

His activism and teachings saw tangible results in 2017 when he organized counterprotests against white supremacy groups while completing his PhD at the University of Virginia. 

The KKK, in their robes and regalia, came to Charlottesville, Virginia and I was on the front lines of the counterprotest,” he said. “It was freaky to see those people in their robes. It was surreal. It just gives me chills to talk about it now that in 2017, these sorry excuses for human beings are still around.”

Gampa said he was inspired by the response the counterprotests received.

“The counterprotest when the KKK came was far, far bigger than those idiots. The number of people that I showed up with for the counterprotests was in the thousands and these fools were probably not even in the hundreds,” he recalled. “That’s a good thing, but the fact that there’s still these people who can take up space and waste our time is still a disappointing thing that we need to keep fighting.”

“I want to be someone who’s in a direct relationship with the community, especially the students, and work with them to negotiate the world they’re going to inherit.”

Beyond organizing protests and showing support on social media, Gampa believes that it is imperative for other people of color to debunk the “model minority” myth and practice solidarity. 

“One of the things we [as minorities] need to think about is how much we owe our privileges in this damn country to the struggles of Black people. Marrying someone from a different race was illegal at a certain point in this country. The fact that many of us are in relationships with people of different races is one reason why we should owe our solidarity to so many Black people,” Gampa said.

As someone who is ethnically South Asian and now living in the U.S., Gampa acknowledges the need for non-Black people of color to show solidarity with Black and Indigenous people and people of color. 

“One thing we lose so much in these conversations is the plight of Native Americans. Something that we consistently ignore and downplay is the atrocities that they experience as well. And as model minorities, that is absolutely something that we need to be in solidarity with; that’s the very first thing we need to do. Every time someone in our circle brings up that bullshit that ‘Oh, we did this, why can’t they’, we need to be able to sit down and acknowledge that it is our responsibility to break down this shit.”

He acknowledged the adverse effects social media can have on the Black community and suggests different approaches to showing solidarity with Black people. 

“Social media being used in an improper way can be triggering for Black people; for Black men, for Black women, for Black trans folks to keep seeing videos of them being murdered,” he said. “Those of us who are allies should have better conversations with them on how we can propagate information but at the same time [be] sensitive to their lived realities.” 

Gampa strongly supports police reform and is “in full solidarity not only with the call for defunding the police but to entirely abolish the police”.

Although it is unclear whether classes will resume in person or online for the fall semester, Gampa is nonetheless excited to begin teaching his first class at Harvey Mudd. 

“I’m looking forward to figuring out ways in which I can get integrated into the community,” Gampa said. “My experience in the past working with students at UVa was that they are amazing resources to getting integrated into the community. That’s honestly one of the things that I am most excited about.”

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