Ants never sleep. True or false? Leslie Traub, nationally recognized expert in unconscious bias training, says the right answer does not matter. The important thing is who said it, she added, because if that person speaks with a familiar accent, people are more likely to believe it.
Traub led a workshop exploring this and other examples of unconscious bias for faculty, staff and students at the Center for Meeting and Learning on Jan. 28 called “Building Culturally Agile Leaders by Understanding the Nature of Unconscious Bias.”
She used a combination of film clips, personal anecdotes, scientific research and beer commercials to deliver a basic message: Everyone has unconscious biases and recognizing them can be helpful for teachers, students and administrators.
“It’s just patterns, but patterns that have a big impact,” Traub said. “There are patterns through which we interpret other people, even though it has nothing to do with them.”
Much of the workshop was devoted to exploring just what those patterns are. Every individual has their own biases, Traub explained. She devoted considerable time during the workshop to small group discussions, where people could discuss these questions on a more personal basis.
Miguel Valenciano, an expert in diversity training, co-led the workshop with Traub. Valenciano, originally from Costa Rica, drew upon his experiences as a young man when he was an exchange student in the small logging town of Riddle, Oregon. He pointed out the cultural differences he experienced, like how eye contact and firm handshakes that are normal in Oregon could be interpreted as disrespectful in Costa Rica.
Even though he was born another country, Valenciano emphasized that he is not an expert on bias. “I am also biased,” he said. “It doesn’t make me bad. It makes me human.”
Traub and Velenciano shared numerous studies supporting the existence of unconscious bias. “It’s just how we do human, it’s bias,” Traub said. But recognizing bias is only the first step. People also need to take steps to mitigate the bias, Traub argued, and reach out to engage with a more diverse group of people.“We all want to see [bias] so we can take responsibility for how it impacts us moment to moment,” Traub said. “If we can get behind our commitments, overcoming that moment of discomfort, that’s when we transform.”
Roberta Wong, retail manager at the Titan Store, said that she found the workshop to be engaging and informative. “Everybody has a bias whether they admit it or not and you have to be willing to accept it,” Wong said.
Heath Pierce, custodial services manager at LCC said that he attended the workshop to improve his leadership skills. He leads a team of 40 people and says that some of them have known each other for years, resulting in deep and complicated relationships. “You can always learn, especially about people and personalities,” Pierce said. He says that in the future he will try a few things differently at his job, like asking his team about what biases they notice. “Always remember to do the self-evaluation because if you do yourself first hopefully you won’t do others,” he said.