Anti-bias event held as part of Academy Speaker Series

Homero Bayarena hosted a seminar on how people can fight their unconscious biases. Screenshot by Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

As a continuation of the Academy Speaker Series, Homero Bayarena of the FranklinCovey Institute spoke to listeners on the topic of unconscious bias on Tuesday night.

After asking participants to put their own definition of “bias” into the Zoom chat, responses such as “prejudice,” “assumptions,” “perceptions” or “judgement” were some of the examples that students typed in.

Bayarena then defined the term “bias” in his own words as a preference in favor or against a thing, person or group.

“Something to keep in mind around a thing called a ‘bias,’ this preference may be held by an individual, a group or an institution, and it can be held about another individual, group or institution,” he said.

He then began discussing various types of biases that he sees around the world such as name bias when applying for a job and the fact that fewer men report sexual assault proportionally.

He said that while conscious bias is explicitly stated, individuals are often unaware of their unconscious bias. By engaging with audience members, he made the point that oftentimes the things that we are raised to believe can impact our immediate thoughts, decisions and biases.

“We have to realize that our world is changing,” he said. “And we constantly just keep making the same decisions based on what we know, we might be getting things wrong.”

He said that challenging bias matters because “there is no idea more fundamental to performance than how we see and treat each other as human beings.”

He said that in day-to-day life, we often think about others as human functions, resources or things rather than as human beings.

“Think of how many of us have biases, just about the people around us in our environment,” he said. “And think of, also, how many of us have biases about ourselves, and oftentimes we project our biases about ourselves onto other people.”

He then told audience members to write down ten “I am” statements about who they are, roles they play, things that are important to them and personal attributes.

He asked them to place an “X” next to the statements that have the potential to make them bias towards others and an “O” next to statements that make others biased towards them.

A group discussion followed where students discussed the statements they put as well as how this reflects the biases they hold and that others may hold.

“Most of you are familiar and know that oftentimes in an iceberg or a glacier, oftentimes what we can see of that iceberg and that glacier is 10% — whatever’s above the water,” he said. “The rest of the 90% that we can’t see, that’s where sometimes there’s a little big of danger that we’re not aware of.”

Students identified age, race and gender as their major personal identifiers before he shared a video about biases in the human brain. He said that information overload, placing feelings over facts and the need to act quickly are three major bias traps.

He asked audience members to write down the definition of empathy as “the ability to understand another person’s experience, feelings and emotions” and the definition of curiosity as “the desire to learn more about someone or something.”

“Empathy is more of an action, while sympathy is more of a feeling,” he said.

He ended his discussion by saying that the courage to identify, to cope, to ally and to advocate are four ways to overcome bias.

Mecia Lockwood, assistant director for Leadership Development, said unconscious bias recognition is important for leadership because of the responsibility to be aware of how our own blind spots show up.

“From this session, we just want to find different ways to continuously self-reflect and think about it, and we know that bias is something that is an area that each one of us can use,” she said. “Even if people feel like they aren’t biased, we know that bias is always going to be something that we need to continuously evaluate and make sure that it’s not impacting our actions.”

Dr. Mito Diaz-Espinoza, associate director for Civic Learning Initiatives, said that with the current political climate, it is easy to place labels on people.

“The reality is a lot of the things that we do and a lot of the choices we make, we aren’t really fully aware of them,” he said. “They’re just things that we kind of developed over time subtly. We don’t really think about that unconscious piece.”

He said that he feels many students, and adults as well, don’t always recognize these biases within themselves.

“If you’ve never been stopped and talked to about it or exposed to it through online or videos or anything, you don’t understand the language of it, and you don’t know that it’s happening,” he said. “It’s just kind of there, so students being exposed to this really gives them language and concepts that they’ve already lived and they’ve already experienced.”

A new line up for speakers for the Academy Speaker series will be posted on January 18.