On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Ms. Jessica Devin, Academic Support Teacher and Cushing’s Diversity Director, took to the Chapel stage and spoke on the topic of bias for our first Diversity Forum Series event of the 2017/18 academic year.
The Diversity Forum Series is held three times each year and is the brainchild of Ms. Devin and a former faculty member. In keeping with Cushing’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Action Plan, this series exists to promote individual growth and reflection that will, in turn, strengthen the greater community.
Ms. Devin explained in her speech that bias can be divided into two categories: explicit and implicit. Explicit bias is conscious, voluntary, and obvious to spot. Implicit bias is unconscious and unintentional.
To compare the two forms, Ms. Devin used the metaphor of an iceberg. The top of the iceberg (explicit bias) is visible in our everyday lives and, if mindful, more easily addressed and avoided. The mass of iceberg underwater (implicit bias), however, is hard to spot until it’s too late. Ms. Devin shared one of her experiences with implicit bias to further highlight its insidious nature.
Late one evening, Mr. and Mrs. Devin were stopped at a traffic light in the city. A young black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt was walking on the sidewalk, drawing nearer to their car. Without thinking, Ms. Devin reached to her side and quickly locked the car doors. The gentleman walked past their vehicle, unaware of her action. The light changed.
Feelings of immense shame and disgust consumed Ms. Devin as she realized she had judged the young man based on his dress and the color of his skin. Although she had spent years educating herself and others, there was an entire realm of implicit bias beneath her view, waiting to be discovered. “No one is exempt,” she explained, “We all have biases.”
The nature of the human brain, which develops associations and patterns to coalesce enormous quantities of information, is in part to blame. The unavoidable influence of family and societal messaging also contributes to our biases, which become internalized at a young age. Biases can form around any group of people. Therefore, no matter where we come from, we are all prone to them.
Ms. Devin introduced a primer to combat bias: Accept, examine, educate, and act. Questioning our actions, listening to others, and speaking out when we see injustice are just some of the ways we can help ourselves move forward. “I regularly reflect in situations I’m in,” she said, “When I get a gut feeling, I stop and ask why.”
“We’re better together,” Ms. Devin concluded, “We can do better, go further with the full participation of others.”
After her speech, different advisories were paired together in classrooms for in-depth discussion. These small groups provided space for dialogue between students who might not know each other. When asked to reflect on the day’s programming, Allison Green ’19, Co-President of Open Doors expressed that, “it's extremely important to recognize the biases you have and the fact that everybody carries them.” She added, “We are the future leaders and we need to do the best we can as a generation, as young people, to learn the most we can and improve upon what we have.”