Equity and Diversity Conference examines bias, interpersonal interaction

Equity and Diversity Conference examines bias, interpersonal interaction

Equity and Diversity Conference examines bias, interpersonal interaction
March 01
10:24 2019

About 500 students, faculty and community attended the 19th annual Equity and Diversity Conference, which took place Thursday in the Union. This year’s theme, “Beyond the Surface: Examining Implicit Bias,” explored how unconscious bias affects behavior and interpersonal interaction.

The conference featured two keynote speakers and four separate concurrent sessions, in which attendees broke up into smaller groups and chose which workshops they wanted to attend.

Attendees gathered in the Union ballroom at noon for the luncheon keynote, Howard J. Ross, an author of bestselling books about unconscious bias. His newest book, “Our Search for Belonging: How the Need for Connection is Tearing our Culture Apart,” was available for purchase and signing at the conference.

A lifelong social justice advocate, Ross said he attended his first civil rights meeting at age 16.

“Belonging is central to human survival,” Ross said. “Those of us who are in the dominant group don’t have to pay attention to such distinctions.”

Ross showed video clips of social experiments that demonstrated conformity and other psychological concepts that contributed to implicit bias.

Ross, who said he is “trained” in the world of white supremacy, said that being right is one of the traps humans fall into. In order to escape, one must “be willing to acknowledge you’re wrong and apologize.”

Ross said that because fear intensifies bias, it is important to break the cycle. He encouraged the audience to take “the other”— someone with a different opinion — to lunch, to listen and ask questions.

“We tend to see the negative in people and have to clear it out to engage,” Ross said. “We always have to look inwards because everyone is susceptible to [bias].”

Kelli Golden, a conference attendee and marketing coordinator for the Union, said she enjoyed Ross’ speech and thought it was important that he talked about how every group of people will have unconscious bias, no matter how “woke” they are.

Reading headlines, the crowd of UNT’s Equity and Diversity Conference listen to stories of instances of unconscious bias. Image by: Matthew Flores.

“I think his talk would’ve been very humbling for a lot of people to recognize their own implicit bias no matter what less-dominant groups they’re apart of,” Golden said.

Golden has been affiliated with UNT for about 10 years and has attended the conference in the past.

“I love seeing how the university is committed to equity and diversity and how they continue to build on the things they’ve done in the past,” Golden said.

Golden said her favorite concurrent workshop session was “Storytelling as a Tool to Combat Implicit Bias,” which was led by Angela Downes, a UNT law professor, and Kay Elliott, who has also taught at the UNT law school.

“As a marketing person, I think stories are incredibly important,” Golden said. “Thinking about the way the Union tells stories, it’s incredibly important in terms of representation in terms of taking our own biases in mind so that everyone can belong.”

Jalane Schmidt, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and an organizer with the Charlottesville chapter of Black Lives Matter, wore a “Black Lives Matter” shirt under her blazer during her speech. Schmidt said she was a firsthand witness of the violence that broke out in Charlottesville in August 2017, which was coined “the summer of hate” by the media.

Schmidt recalled the moment she and other activists were told that “alt-right” groups were approaching the church they were in with tiki torches.

“It was the scariest thing ever, but we had this insistence on holding space,” Schmidt said. “A lot of us were crying because we knew that someone, somehow, one of us was going to get killed.”

Schmidt said white supremacy has been a constant threat throughout history, but the Ku Klux Klan is still active in Charlottesville.

“I wish I could say it’s ended,” Schmidt said. “But we struggle on.”

In regards to President Donald Trump’s statement that there are good people on both sides, Schmidt told the audience “there’s no both sides when one side is genocide.”

“Get comfortable making racists uncomfortable,” Schmidt said. “We need to make sure this bigotry and hate isn’t normalized.”

Featured Image: Keynote speaker and bestselling author Howard J. Ross speaks about unconscious bias, the topic of his book “Our Search for Belonging: How the Need for Connection is Tearing our Culture Apart.” Image by: Matthew Flores.

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Michelle Nguyen

Michelle Nguyen

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