Pharmacy Students focus unconscious front and center

Five VCU pharmacy students put the phrase “be the change you wish to see in the world” into action with an event aimed at addressing unconscious biases on March 28 at the School of Pharmacy.

Monica McLemore, Bianca Lascano, Precious Dadzie and Cooma Asonye created “Voices: Diversity and Unconscious Bias” as a way to increase awareness of how students respond, or don’t, to social events such as the 2015 Paris attacks or 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting due to implicit biases.

“The purpose of this event is to increase awareness of implicit biases and to ignite change in how students respond to cultural and social current events,” McLemore said.

The students’ concern ultimately led to the creation of a video series featuring interviews with fellow pharmacy students who were asked difficult questions about their reactions to such events, and primarily focused on whether the students felt personally affected.

Many of the interviewees said they immediately felt sadness when thinking back to the attacks, but many eventually said they did not feel personally affected unless they shared a specific commonality with the people who were attacked. These confessions opened the door for conversation about unconscious or implicit biases.

“This entire event was created after a group of five friends were simply just talking about their frustration towards situations,” Dadzie said. “Imagine if the conversation had never been started between my friends and I, or imagine if we didn’t have the courage to ask somebody what can we do.”

To much of the crowd, recognizing unconscious bias was a new idea. After each segment focused on a specific social event played, the room would open for discussion. Interviewees in the video series were also in the audience and contributed their opinions off-camera, too.

“Talking amongst ourselves we were throwing out ideas but one thing that we really highlighted was we wanted to do something that would actually have a lot of lasting impact,” Dadzie said.

The event lasted well beyond its allotted time slot, and the group said they are planning on hosting future events. Lascano said she considers the idea for the event “seeds” and the stories others shared as the “forest” that sprouted from them.
“All the beautiful voices that were heard tonight would still be nonexistent and all the powerful stories and experiences that were shared would still be locked away within ourselves waiting to be told,” Dadzie said.

Emma Sue Sims, Contributing Writer

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