Kimberly Diggles

Understanding race

Ph.D. student Kimberly Diggles studies how parents teach kids about identity

As a kid growing up in Dallas, Texas, Kimberly Diggles was always drawn to “horrible” TV talk shows that focused on people’s problems. Her mom said it was because she liked being in other people’s business; to some extent, Diggles says, she was right.

“I was the weird kid who was enthralled by shows like Jerry Springer,” she recalls. “I remember thinking how it would be an interesting job to listen to these people and try to give them some advice.”

Propelled by this interest, Diggles is earning her Ph.D. in the Department of Family Social Science’s marriage and family therapy track. After her planned graduation in 2012, she hopes to both teach at a university and run a part-time practice. “I know some of the faculty in our department teach and practice, and I like that idea because I think it will always keep things interesting,” she says.

Diggles is a McNair Scholar—a federal grant that supports students from groups that are underrepresented in graduate study—and recipient of an American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Fellowship. The University recently awarded her a Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) fellowship to help fund her research, which focuses on racial and cultural socialization in minority families. Simply put, she describes her work as honing in on how parents help their kids understand what it means to be of a particular race and culture. “At some point kids realize, ‘I’m black’ or ‘I’m white,’ and they assign meaning to that,” she explains. “I’m looking at how minority parents do that, especially in the social climate we have today that often sends the message that if you’re a minority, you’re not quite as good.”

Diggles, who has experienced being the only minority in a classroom, is curious about how parents navigate the challenges of race, identity, and children’s self-esteem. “It’s a complex dynamic to teach your kids to be proud of who they are even when everyone around them looks different from them,” she says.

As part of the Ph.D. program, Diggles is completing a practicum at West Suburban Teen Clinic in Excelsior, where she works with teenagers on sexual and reproductive issues. Once her coursework is finished, she plans to pursue her clinical internship in Texas so she can be closer to family.

Story by Meleah Maynard | February 2011