The elephant in the room: Dialogues about race within cross-cultural supervisory relationships

Tanya White-Davis, Emma Stein, Alison Karasz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Objectives For centuries, the concept of race, a uniquely pervasive social construct, has often complicated dialogue and interactions between groups of people. This study assessed perceptions and attitudes of faculty and trainees with varied racial backgrounds within graduate medical and psychology programs. Self-reported responses addressed potential barriers and facilitating factors required for meaningful conversations about race. Methods A brief 18-question survey was developed and administered electronically to three professional and academic Listservs within a large metropolitan city in northeast United States. Quantitative and qualitative analysis were conducted using SPSS Statistical Software and Text analyzer. Results Results revealed that among participants (N = 57) a majority experienced cross-racial supervision, and more than half indicated engaging in conversations about race within supervision. Respondents endorsed lack of comfort and lack of opportunity/time as significant barriers to discussing race within supervision. When race-related dialogues occurred, a majority of supervisees and supervisors found it beneficial. Most Supervisors of Colora actively initiated these conversations in supervision, while White supervisees endorsed the least benefit from these conversations. Contrary to our expectations, few respondents endorsed limited training as a barrier. Discussion The current study revealed cross-racial dialogues about race may be occurring frequently in supervisory relationships. Supervisees of Color reported benefiting from these dialogues, in contrast to their White counterparts, who endorsed the least benefit. Lack of comfort in supervisory relationships appears to be a significant barrier to having these conversations. Therefore, it is important for supervisors to create supervisory relationships emphasizing safety and comfort. Directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-356
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • cross-cultural
  • cross-racial
  • culture
  • race
  • supervision
  • supervisory relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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