Salem State University Professors Anne-Marie Hakstian (Management) and Sophia Evett (Psychology) have been research partners since 2004. Together, the two have examined from legal and psychological standpoints how people of color experience the retail environment. In the early 2000s, a conference presentation led by Dr. Jerome Williams introduced Hakstian to legal cases pertaining to discrimination in retail. This presentation motivated Hakstian to investigate this area of legal studies and share her findings with the Salem State community. Professor Evett was inspired by a talk Hakstian gave on retail discrimination, resulting in the research partnership the two would embark on in the years to come.
Most recently, Professor Hakstian and Professor Evett’s work has been published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies investigating “Racial Diversity and Group Decision-Making in a Mock Jury Experiment.” The framework of the study is based on a theory proposed by Tufts University social psychologist Sam Sommers in 2006. The model suggests that in the courtroom, racially mixed juries that include Black jurors tend to be more thorough, thoughtful and effective when considering pieces of evidence than all-White juries. Putting this theory to the test, Hakstian and Evett chose to investigate Sommer’s findings within the context of a civil court case, where race was a central component of a discrimination lawsuit in the retail environment.
Throughout the research process, which involved staging a mock trial to be viewed by mock juries, Professors Hakstian and Evett were met with tremendous support from their academic communities. With directorial and production assistance from Salem State’s Theatre Professor Peter Sampieri, actors, including SSU students, reenacted the trail, acting as attorneys and witnesses to produce a 42-minute video that was shown to 30 separate mock juries in the study.
Professors Hakstian and Evett worked closely with Dr. Jerome Williams, a marketing professor at Rutgers University’s business school who held the Prudential Chair in Business and formerly served as provost of Rutgers University-Newark and who provided significant financial support for the study. Williams connected Hakstian and Evett with a jury consultant to gather the pools of mock jurors who were representative of individuals eligible to serve on real juries. Williams also provided the space for the mock jury participants to gather at Rutgers, where Hakstian and Evett observed the groups as they engaged with the recorded mock trial and deliberated their verdicts. Even though Williams passed away before the research was complete, he played an integral role in the research and is credited as a co-author of the study.
The findings of this study partially supported the theory that Sommers articulated in his research: juries with Black jurors were more generous in awarding compensation to the plaintiff. In the context of courts across the United States, Professors Hakstian and Evett note that most juries are overwhelmingly White and therefore not representative of the communities they serve. The pair believe their study could help to improve the representation of people of color on juries while also recognizing that people who serve on juries have diverse attitudes on the importance of race in society, and in legal cases, that should be considered.
When discussing the implications of this study in her social psychology and prejudice classes, Professor Evett recognizes that there is often a sense of reluctance among students to discuss race. However, by participating in research that specifically looks at the racial dynamics of jury decision-making, Evett has been able to find ways to incorporate real-life examples to facilitate classroom conversations about biases that exist. In Professor Hakstian’s Business Law course, she conducts an abbreviated version of their mock jury experiment as an in-class activity. The exercise serves several purposes as it introduces business law students to the reality of retail discrimination, provides them with insight into what it might be like to serve on a jury, and encourages them to think about the role of juries in society. In Hakstian’s upper-level courses, she uses the trial re-enactment video as a prompt for discussions on how managers or business owners should handle retail discrimination situations.
Professors Hakstian and Evett are grateful for the ways in which they have been supported over the years, including the fantastic graduate assistants who have played integral parts in their research development. These contributions include assistance in designing the study, adapting the case testimony into a script, supporting the filming of the mock trial, overseeing mock juror groups in New Jersey, and coding the deliberation transcripts to uncover themes in the jurors’ discussions. The coding scheme was developed by School of Social Work graduate assistant Jane Marshall, who assisted Hakstian and Evett presenting their work at SSU Research Day 2022. That work, Qualitative Analysis of Juries’ Deliberations of Race in a Civil Discrimination Trial, is available to access in the digital repository. Additionally, one of these graduate assistants Samantha O’Connor in the MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology program spoke with CRCA about her work on this study. O’Connor notes how interesting it has been to engage in research pertaining to diversity, a theme often emphasized in her psychology courses. She notes, too, that it has been fascinating to learn about discrimination cases within the retail setting, since this space was not one she was previously familiar with.
After publishing their initial findings last fall, Professors Hakstian and Evett continue to work with the data they collected in the study. Currently, O’Connor is assisting Hakstian and Evett to revisit transcripts from the mock jurors to delve more deeply into the ways in which the mock jurors navigated their conversations about race and racism during deliberation. Hakstian and O’Connor will be travelling to Puerto Rico to present their paper at the Law and Society Conference in June. In addition, Hakstian, Evett, and O’Connor will be presenting a poster at this year’s Faculty and Graduate Symposium, which celebrates Salem State faculty members and graduate students academic work as part of Research Day 2023.
Congratulations Professors Hakstian and Evett on your publication!
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