Humans of the U: Paul White

“I’m an Okla-Tucky. I was born in Langston, Oklahoma, and most of my childhood was in Kentucky, literally in the Daniel Boone National Forest. For some reason, I got interested in psychology. My high school guidance counselor gave me an intro to psychology book. She told me, ‘Read over this; take the class when you get to college. You’ll not like intro to psych, but keep with it.’

And she was right. When I got to Berea College, I took the intro to psych class; didn’t like it at all. But there were little things that kind of intrigued me, and I just kept going.

I was watching NBA basketball one Sunday in the mid-1980s when a commercial for McDonald’s came on, and every person in the commercial was black. Later in the week a very similar commercial came on, but everybody was white. Why would they show a commercial like that during an NBA game, but not during prime time? From that point on, I’ve looked at how prejudice issues, diversity issues and attitudes and persuasion can work together for, wow, over 30 years now.

I have to remember to give people a couple of beats to acclimate to my office. I have pictures of family and friends, and other items. The issues I study have real-world implications. So I want reminders that there is a world beyond my office. It’s one of the things that unfreezes me from ruts. Some things in the office are toys that I will play with, like my Godzillas.

Go out and look at sources of information that you may not agree with. We are here to learn how to think critically. And we’re here to try to be better people in our society. Remember that just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they’re bad, and just because someone doesn’t like the things that you like, maybe look and see what they like; you may find something new.”

—Paul White, associate professor, Department of Psychology

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.