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The Color Complex

Awards: President’s Award for Global Learning, Texas Global Photo Contest Finalist, TEDxUTAustin, interviewed on National Ghana Broadcasting Corporation Television

How can we mitigate the negative effects of colorism and increase self-worth in university students on a global scale?

With: Timia Bethea, Christina Cho, Vida Nwadiei
My Role: Co-Founder, Co-Researcher and Analyst, Co-Author, Creative Director, Web Developer


We saw that colorism had been tackled in siloed manner for communities of color, but never approached from a global perspective. We focused on looking at this issue from the standpoint of collective impact because we recognize that colorism is a complex, multifaceted issue due to the nature of each individual’s unique socio-economic-political-cultural experience. By hearing the stories of other communities of color, we are able to learn more about ourselves. 

The Idea

Through 4 phases, we decided to implement a self-initiated 2-year research, entrepreneurial, and social impact project by partnering with the University of Ghana and the University of Texas at Austin to run social campaigns over colorism. Our mission focuses on spreading awareness to encourage learning, healing, and advocacy.

︎ Launch Website Here


Spring 2019

UT Research

During the Spring, we conducted 30+ Qualitative in-depth interviews in Austin with African-American and Asian-American undergraduate students at the University of Texas at Austin. We went through IRB training and got our approval to do research. Then, we went through a few initial pre-test interviews, narrowed our scope, and revised our questions. Our interview guide was created with broad, open-ended questions that encouraged the informant to structure the account of the situation and determine what is important. This approach has been referred to as guided introspection, and it encourages participants to think out loud in an unrestrained manner. We arranged the protocol into two parts: part 1 gauged their level of awareness over colorism; part 2 introduced ideas of colorism and asked for informant’s opinions on them. We asked both population pools (African-American and Asian-American) the same part 1 questions, but tailored part 2 questions towards each community’s particular way of experiencing colorism.   


Summer 2019

Ghana Research

We conducted 42 Qualitative in-depth interviews in Accra, which included academic and medical professionals, university women and men, and a local fishing community in Chorkor. For the local fishing community in Chorkor, we partnered with translators and recorded interview responses by hand. For interviews at the University, we worked with our international partners, Dr. Boateng, a Social Work Professor at the University of Ghana, and Social Work students at UG, to tweak our interview guides so that it was culturally appropriate. We restructured our interview for UG students to include 3 parts: part 1 was an activity for informants to select images they found beautiful and less desirable; part 2 gauged their level of awareness over colorism; part 3 introduced ideas of colorism and asked for informant’s opinions on them. We inquired the same questions from UT; however, reworded questions to be in colloquial terms for UG.


I designed and launched our website in the Summer of 2019 as a way to inform people about colorism, document our project, write thought pieces during our time in Ghana, and also connect with supporters and others fighting against this issue.

Focus Group

In Ghana, we created a strategy presentation for a focus group with different potential concepts based off our research insight findings. The 5 main directions were: women empowerment, finding self-worth in religion (they’re a very religious country), education on health risks, tying skin bleaching back to colonization, and education over the misperceptions of skin color. People in the focus group resonated the most with the health risk direction because they saw it as an immediate impact that people would want to know about. They resonated the least with colonization. Their sentiment was “we’ve moved past that period in history, why bring it up”. This also ties back to what we learned in our conversation with the head of the sociology department. She told us that the issues of colorism exist in the lens of class, not race because Ghana is a homogenous country. Class is more of a direct link to issues they face rather than race because their proximity to white people isn’t as close as it is here in America aside from media and western products.

International Television

We had the opportunity to be interviewed on Ghana National Television on the Moomen tonight show where we shared our research findings and took call in questions.


Fall 2019

Developed Social Campaigns

We collaborated with two UT undergraduate ADV/PR classes and one UT ADV PhD class by acting as their client. Our goal was to integrate the topic of colorism into school curriculum, so we lectured to all 3 classes about our research findings and students spent the rest of the semester practicing their advertising course objectives with our research. The UT ADV PhD class created pre and post-survey tests to measure the success of the campaigns; whereas the two UT undergraduate classes developed integrative campaigns to run at the University of Texas and the University of Ghana campus. Collectively, 6 social campaigns were pitched for the UT campus and 5 social campaigns were pitched for the University of Ghana campus.

Partnered with the University Union Board

UT’s population consists of 20.9% Latino, 19% Asian, 4% Black, and 10.1% international. This is more than 50% of students at UT whom are persons of color. Meaning, over half of the student body may be questioning their value. We pitched and earned partnership with the University Union Board because we wanted to address an issue that’s affected many UT students. We were intentional about selecting the sponsored voice of the campaigns to come from the Union Board because it’s an organization that’s run by students. These social campaign messages are a sensitive topics about race and since UT is a predominantly white institution, it’s important for the source of these messages be given from students, to students. Additionally, we wanted to partner with an entity on campus so that we can take this conversation from something that could be a fad, to a movement, to something that’s institutionalized at UT and in our society.

Community Initatives

We extended outside our target audience of University Students by speaking to UT Staff and Faculty and also a local Austin High School about our research findings. Through these events we facilitated group discussions and brought awareness to the issue.


Spring 2020
This spring we will run our campaigns at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Ghana, relaunch our Color Complex website, and speak at TEDxUTAustin 2020.