Office of Multicultural Student Affairs diversity ambassadors facilitated a discussion on implicit bias during a “Diversity & Inclusion Dialogue on Tour” presentation Oct. 15 in Ackell Residence Center.
Ambassadors Caden Haney and Raven Witherspoon gave a presentation on the effect of implicit bias on everyday decision-making and the campus environment. Haney described bias as “prejudice — or favor — for or against one thing or a group compared to another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”
“Let’s say you’re walking down the street and see a person of color walk by, and you clutch your purse a little tighter,” Haney said. “That would be considered an unconscious bias.”
In this scenario, bias refers to prejudice. However, bias could also pertain to smaller things such as favorite sports teams or food preferences.
“[Bias] can be good — like telling you not to walk alone in a dark alley,” Witherspoon said.
The presentation included videos about the effects of biases on children. These included two studies — one originally conducted in the 1940s, and an updated version of the same study from 2010. These studies analyzed racial bias in subjects given dolls of different skin tones.
Fifty-seven percent of the youngest children chose the two darkest shades when asked to point to the “ugly” doll. Elementary school students were also asked to point toward the “good” doll or the “nice” doll — the majority pointed toward the lightest shade.
When the ambassadors opened discussion on the study’s findings, media, environment and school were all proposed as causes by the audience. Attendees shared personal experiences and opinions on the matter.
“You don’t think these things resonate with [children] as much as they do,” said Aaron Holmes, an Ackell resident assistant. “Your early childhood development is your first dose of how you’ll interact with people, so it’s really interesting.”
Biases were also shown in school discipline — with young boys being more likely to be suspended from school than young girls and black boys more likely to be suspended than any other group. Black children were also three times more likely to be expelled than other races. This statistic tied into a discussion about racial bias in incarceration rates, which showed similar trends.
The ambassadors suggested the critical consumption of news through fact-checking and unbiased sources can combat bias. Using inclusive language and developing a good understanding of unconscious bias were also recommended.
Holmes explained that OMSA dialogues help him as an RA.
“When situations come up with residents, I can use these [presentations] to educate and inform people of things that they might not think is a problem,” Holmes said. “Being a black male, a lot of this information I unfortunately am already used to. But it’s never bad to relearn it, or hear it again, and make sure other people around you are receiving it the same way that you do.”
Witherspoon shared how she felt about the importance of having talks concerning implicit bias.
“I’ve always been really big in diversity and inclusion,” Witherspoon said. “It really isn’t supposed to be a lecture. It’s supposed to be a conversation. We want people to talk to us, but also talk to each other and generate a dialogue.”
For more information about future OMSA “D&I Dialogues,” visit omsa.vcu.edu.