Education can function to control and contain students and maintain the status quo. Or, it empowers students to be critically engaged and active participants in society.
The future isn’t something hidden in a corner. The future is something we build in the present. – Paulo Freire
Before we begin, I want to break down the differences between privilege, bias, and racism.Privilege
Privilege (n): a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person (or group of people) beyond the advantages of most. Below are a just a few examples – one of male privilege that I have encountered through my research in transportation safety. The other, I was less aware of until recently.
The Automotive Industry – Male Privilege
Seat belts are less safe for women (like by a lot) – When safety regulations were originally imposed on automakers in the 1960’s regulators wanted to require the use of two crash test dummies, a 95 percentile male and a 5 percentile female meaning that only 5% of men were larger than and 5% of women were smaller than the crash test dummies. Automakers pushed back on regulators until the requirement was reduced to a single crash test dummy, a 50 percentile male (the average man). Women drivers were far more likely to be severely injured than male drivers in crashes due to seat belts. Since 2011, female crash test dummies have been required in safety testing, so we’re moving forward but we have been working with 50 years of dangerous design practice in the automobile industry.
The Cosmetics Industry – White Privilege
I’ve never had an issue finding band aids that match my skin tone (unless I’m at a friend’s house who has children, then its Elsa or bust, baby). [Additional info here]
Bias (n): prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
Explicit bias occurs at a conscious level. Expressions of explicit of bias (discrimination, hate speech, etc.) occur as the result of deliberate thought. Thus, they can be consciously regulated. People are more motivated to control their biases if there are social norms in place which dictate that prejudice is not socially acceptable.
Implicit biases however are inescapable – everyone possesses them. The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our outward beliefs or reflect what we endorse. We generally tend to hold favor toward our own “ingroup” though research has shown we can hold implicit biases (and interestingly in some cases explicit biases) against our own ingroup. The good news and bad news is that implicit biases are malleable – we can unlearn implicit associations we have formed through, though in some cases new biases can be developed over time and exposure.
Institutional/Systemic Racism (Discrimination)
Systematic racism – Systemic racism occurs when the way a society is structured systematically ends up giving advantages to some and disadvantages to others.
Systemic racism is something we can see every day – consider the following;
Systemic Racism in Higher Education
This is a fantastic article on institutional racism in higher education [here] you should read the checklist and see how many your favorite universities check off. I know one of mine is pretty high up on the list as demonstrated below – someday I’ll get to addressing the other offices at Tech, but this example will do nicely for now.
Now – I’m sure that by and large our past presidents have been lovely men (here’s lookin’ at you Sands!) but the fact of the matter is, they’re all “mature”, Caucasian, males in charge of this university. How would the mission of the university change if the face of Virginia Tech were a woman? A person of color? I suppose a homosexual woman of color with a physical disability would be completely out of the question, but what if? I bet faculty and staff would be getting more useful training that WebEx versions of Title IX and COI training that’s for sure. Follow on question – what if we had more empathetic leaders? Leaders who were willing to put themselves in to the shoes of the folks who are living, learning, and working here – it’s not too hard to imagine all it takes is consideration and a question, “What can WE do?”
“What can we do to create a more inclusive environment for our students?”
“What can we do so that all of our students feel safe on campus?”
Creating an Inclusive Environment in the Classroom and the UniversityBe aware and understanding
Be understanding of the needs of your students. If you should make yourself aware of the holidays and practices of religious groups. For example being hungry really stinks (Snickers said it best, “you’re not you when you’re hungry”) but it’s one of the main components several observed religious days of multiple groups. So it is important to be considerate of the changes in demeanor. If I had to get up super early to pray and couldn’t drink coffee, I’d probably crash pretty hard in my own class too. This requires educating yourself a little bit, but we tend to cater toward a special kind of privilege with regard to the holidays we celebrate in academia (and with regard to the American government as a whole), but again, educating yourself will help to mitigate any implicit bias. Check this calendar out from University of Missouri, THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!
In the design of systems we have to ultimately consider the user. For example – speech recognition systems are inherently horrible (with command prompts, etc.) particularly for people with accents. If you start dropping non-American slang into the SI forget about it. From a human factors perspective it would be a fantastic discussion point to bring up issues everyone has had with these systems (or any system in general) and how the designer could have been more inclusive in their design.
Encourage the use of “I statements” over “You statements”
This one may have come from many years in therapy, but hear me out. “You statements” are typically the way we communicate (e.g. “you are no help at all”, “you are insensitive”, “you are a bigot”). These statements are typically not well received and do not offer the receiving individual any grey area or time to reflect. You’re placing them immediately in an “I am right, you are wrong” situation. The use of I statements make the speaker take responsibility for their emotions, seeing as we only know how WE are feeling. When we are able to own and share our emotions we create a bridge to allow the person we are speaking with to then get in touch with their feelings.
When you focus on what you are feeling, rather than on your opinion on the matter (as is conveyed through a “You” statement), it is non-threatening and inoffensive. So the person is less likely to jump to DEFCON 1 and they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say. It is important to identify what you are feeling rather than what the other person is doing, or how you perceive their intentions.
If someone says something that offends you, tell them, but state it in an “I” statement, not a “You” statement.
Open door policy
My door will always be open for my students when they need me. I will continuously make them aware of that. Despite my generally sarcastic nature I genuinely care about the physical and psychological well-being of my students. I will not tolerate any discriminatory action being taken against them and I hope that they would feel comfortable to speak with me about any issues that are having.
This one gets all the “yeses”!: http://www.upworthy.com/when-men-were-edited-out-of-these-images-it-revealed-a-powerful-truth-about-equality?c=ufb1
A pretty solid list of the different types of privilege: http://amptoons.com/blog/2006/09/26/a-list-of-privilege-lists/
Table data: https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism
Strategies to reduce the influence of implicit bias: http://www.ncsc.org/~/media/Files/PDF/Topics/Gender%20and%20Racial%20Fairness/IB_Strategies_033012.ashx
Awesome blog: https://aspoonfulofsuga.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/ask-a-black-guy-friendly-edition-why-do-black-people-keep-bringing-up-slavery/
Times article – Gender bias: http://time.com/3705454/teachers-biases-girls-education/
Educational comics provided by: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/white-privilege-explained/