Claremont McKenna College



Being. On Purpose. Annual Women of Color Empowerment Retreat

A group of hand-selected students gathered in sunny Lake Elsinore on April 4-7, 2019, to learn from experienced facilitators about empowerment and their authentic voice. Sponsored by the Berger Institute and Kravis Lab for Social Impact, the students spent a full weekend together in a large, beautiful lake house and took part in a series of workshops. The facilitators, who are part of the International Cultural Arts and Healing Sciences Institute, helped them to examine their perspectives of themselves and others, especially in light of systemic injustices. They then shifted and reframed those perspectives through self-expression and dialogue. The workshops included music, visualization, breath work, film, theater, and active discussion. Students also bonded with each other throughout the weekend through additional activities, such as cooking meals together. At the beginning of the weekend, Gemma Bulos, the Director of Kravis Lab, had encouraged the students to not only be engaged and listen to each other, but to “connect in a way that we will be able to go back and have a posse of women who are going to help each other.” The students left with not only a better understanding of how to access and use their voices for effective communication and change, but with a network of peers who have a shared empowerment.

Special thanks to our facilitators: Gemma Bulos, Susan Callendar, and Amikaeyla Gaston Proudfoot!

How Early Conversations with Kids Affects Their Emotional Understanding

According to new research from the Berger Institute, the way mothers of different cultures talk to their children may affect kids’ understanding of emotions. In the past, research has shown that early conversations with children about emotions and mental states are instrumental in children’s later understanding of emotion.1 Researchers found that if parents talk to toddlers about wants and wishes, or preschoolers about what someone else might think or believe, these kids will score better on emotional understanding tasks over a year later.2-3 However, most of the families in these studies are White Americans. How do early conversations about emotions and children’s emotional learning look in other cultures?

We know, for example, that there are cultural differences between the East and the West. Americans tend to prize individual freedom and independence. As a result, they usually place a higher emphasis on individual beliefs and personal experiences. Meanwhile, those from collectivist cultures like China tend to value group harmony and emphasize the interrelatedness of all people.4 It would make sense then that children in a more collectivist culture would be trained to act in whatever way maintains harmony, regardless of what an individual is thinking or feeling.

And indeed, research shows that in America, Caucasian mothers talk with their children about wants, needs, and opinions much more than Chinese-American mothers.5 Another study observed that even when directly discussing emotions, American moms talk to their children about internal states—why people might feel what they do. Chinese moms, on the other hand, tend to have conversations about emotion that focus on expression—emphasizing social norms and discussing expectations for behaviors.6 Research also happens to show that Caucasian children are better at understanding the causes of emotions in other people and themselves.7-8

In the current study, Berger Institute researchers wanted to explore if these different topics moms discuss with their children explain the difference we see in children’s ability to understand emotions.

The researchers asked American and Chinese immigrant mothers to tell their children a story using a book with no words—they had to make them up! What they learned was that first, all moms talked more about behaviors when telling the story. However, Chinese moms used even less language about thoughts and emotions than American moms did. They also saw that, regardless of culture, the moms who talked more about thoughts and emotions had kids who scored better on a test of emotion understanding, and moms who talked more about behaviors had children who scored worse. Finally, when the researchers compared moms’ culture and mom’s word choice, they found that both help explain why American kids tend to score better on emotion tests, but culture plays a bigger part.9-10

So, what does this mean for parents?

If the goal is to increase emotional understanding, parents can work into their storytelling some conversations about what they, their child, and other people (real or fictional) may be thinking in different situations. This focus on thoughts and emotions (in addition to the usual focus on behaviors of characters) could help children learn about & understand the causes of emotions. This will not only help them better understand the their own emotions; it will help them understand the things their friends and family might be feeling. This understanding could help develop social competence and readiness for school. Whether this type of social competence is valuable may come back to culture and could be why mothers of different cultures talk to their children the way they do. It could be that one is seen as more socially competent in collectivist cultures if they know how to express emotions rather than understand them. Perhaps future research can tell us more about these cultural differences and how these early conversations with children and their related emotional understanding affect later life in various cultures.


1 Dunn, J., Brown, J., & Beardsall, L. (1991). Family talk about feeling states and children’s later understanding of others’ emotions. Developmental Psychology, 27(3), 448.

2 Taumoepeau, M., & Ruffman, T. (2006). Mother and infant talk about mental states relates to desire language and emotion understanding. Child development, 77(2), 465-481.

3Taumoepeau, M., & Ruffman, T. (2008). Stepping stones to others’ minds: Maternal talk relates to child mental state language and emotion understanding at 15, 24, and 33 months. Child development, 79(2), 284-302.

4 Tsai, J.L. (2007). Ideal affect: Cultural causes and behavioral consequences. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 2, 242-259.

5 Wang, Q., Leichtman, M. D., & Davies, K. I. (2000). Sharing memories and telling stories: American and Chinese mothers and their 3-year-olds. Memory, 8(3), 159-177.

6 Fivush, R., & Wang, Q. (2005). Emotion talk in mother-child conversations of the shared past: The effects of culture, gender, and event valence. Journal of cognition and development, 6(4), 489-506.

7 Wang, Q. (2003). Emotion situation knowledge in American and Chinese preschool children and adults. Cognition & Emotion, 17(5), 725-746.

8 Wang, Q., Hutt, R., Kulkofsky, S., McDermott, M., & Wei, R. (2006). Emotion situation knowledge and autobiographical memory in Chinese, immigrant Chinese, and European American 3-year-olds. Journal of Cognition and Development, 7(1), 95-118.

9 Doan, S. N., Lee, H. Y., & Wang, Q. (2019). Maternal mental state language is associated with trajectories of Chinese immigrant children’s emotion situation knowledge. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 43(1), 43-52.

10 Doan, S. N., & Wang, Q. (2010). Maternal discussions of mental states and behaviors: Relations to emotion situation knowledge in European American and immigrant Chinese children. Child development81(5), 1490-1503.

Health Disparities in an Era of Rising Income Inequality

Claremont McKenna College welcomed Thomas Fuller-Rowell, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Auburn University, to its campus on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, to discuss the extent of economic inequality changes in our country and the significance of these changes for public health. With a background in biochemistry, psychology, and population health sciences, Dr. Fuller-Rowell investigates differential life circumstances and health disparities. Dr. Fuller-Rowell discussed how the link between childhood disadvantage and later health problems has been increasing. This information is consistent with research showing widening gaps in life expectancy between income groups. He also discussed how unfair treatment between social classes is important to consider in health disparity research. Staying optimistic, Dr. Fuller-Rowell, stated that “it is within our reach to make positive changes in this domain” and that we can and should replicate studies, raise awareness of these issues, and monitor their impact.

In the future, he hopes to expand his research to include international contexts: “As my career evolves, I hope to take my research a little bit more international in scope and actually look at inequality in different contexts.” Given his diverse career across multiple disciplines, Dr. Fuller-Rowell also believes interdisciplinary training is essential for solving complex social problems.

For future Berger Institute events, visit our events page. To see the semester schedule for CMC Athenaeum talks, click here.

Creative Resistance: Artist and Activist Terisa Siagatonu

Art and well-being aligned in this workshop and performance with viral poet and community mental health leader Terisa Siagatonu. Known across the nation for her poetry videos, creative mental health workshops, and advocacy work, Terisa graced the Claremont Colleges with her presence on Tuesday, March 12, for an afternoon workshop, evening dinner, and open mic night with other student performers. The workshop focused on the power of healing from trauma with the unique perspective offered by Terisa’s experience as an Oceania artist and mental health clinician. After welcoming everyone into a relaxed space with a mindfulness body scan exercise, Terisa discussed the definition of trauma, who experiences it, and who we are afterward. “No one is exempt from experiencing trauma, but we do all experience it differently.” She described how trauma changes our physical makeup and how “the body is the one place that remembers trauma the most and the longest…connecting to our bodies is important for healing.” Attendees were also welcomed to participate in a free-writing activity where they wrote for a few minutes about a time they went through a fight, flight, or freeze experience. The open mic night later on featured some of Terisa’s riveting poetry, but students were also welcomed to perform their own works. This event was sponsored by the Berger Institute, CMC Asian Pacific American Mentoring Program, Pomona Asian American Resource Center, CARE, SCORE, Pacific Basin Institute, Ad Board, OID, Scripps Diversity and Inclusivity Chair, Motley Coffee House, IDAAS, Scripps Intercollegiate Feminist Center for Teaching, Research, and Engagement, and Scripps Humanities Institute.

Women in Law Panel Brings Insight and Intrigue

Aspiring law students had the opportunity to hear from powerful females in the industry on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. In an event that merged networking, insightful speakers, and a three-course meal at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, students were able to receive words of wisdom and talk conversationally with women in the field. Sponsored by the Berger Institute, the CARE (Civility, Access, Resources, and Expression) Center, and the Soll Center for Student Opportunity, the Women in Law panel consisted of a diverse group of lawyers with varying experience and backgrounds. Panelists included Immigration Attorney Meredith Brown (CMC P’22), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) Attorney Ruth Calvillo (CMC ’11), CMC Assistant Vice President/Chief Civil Rights Officer Nyree Gray, and Disability Attorney and Berger Institute Advisory Board Member Marci Lerner Miller (CMC ’89). “We need more female lawyers,” says Nyree during the informal networking reception before the dinner and panel.

As students and panelists moved to dinner and panel speeches, Meredith, Ruth, Nyree, and Marci had the opportunity to speak more about their experience in deciding on law school, the decisions they were proud of, barriers they’ve faced, and what it has been like navigating different types of practice while balancing family life and kids. “Try to be yourself. You don’t need to always do it the way it’s always been done or how it’s been done by men,” Marci advises. Nyree had similar advice: “Law is not the most inclusive space. . .really inundate yourself in that space would be my advice. . .and really follow through.” In talking about gathering experience when you’re starting out, Ruth stated that “mentorship is so important”. She described how it gave her the experience and confidence she needed. To hear more about future events through the Berger Institute, follow our event page or contact Courtney at