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Implicit Bias Harms Campus

Duncan Hopkins ’19, Opinion Columnist

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Those of us who are sane can agree that racism is bad, but can we all claim not to be racist? Hardly. Just before I started to write this, I took a racial implicit association test (racial IAT), which tracks your association between pictures of white people, black people, positive adjectives like good and attractive, and negative words like bad and ugly. Without going too deep into the details of the test, the goal of it is to figure out whether the participant more easily associates a certain type of word with people of a certain race. My result for the test was “Strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American.” I am not proud of that result, but it is good that I am aware of it.

I think that oftentimes, white people distance ourselves from racism because it is hard to associate our actions with the extreme injustices that people of color face today and have faced for hundreds of years. We are consciously aware that white people and people of color should be treated equally but our implicit biases sometimes tell us otherwise.

Here at Dickinson, white people are not the culprits in incidents of police brutality and we are not the ones who write laws that undermine people of color in this country. But we are the people who exclude people of color (either intentionally or unintentionally) and we are the people who treat racial issues on campus as less important than losing off-campus housing.

When the Halloween Incident happened, there was mass outcry, for a while. It was quickly overshadowed by the announcement that off-campus housing was no longer an option. I have no data to back this up but the general feel on campus, to me, is that housing is more of an issue than race is on campus. Maybe that’s to be expected because so many of us perceive the new lack of off-campus housing as an issue that is closer to us than race. Even though white students on campus cannot feel what students of color feel, we also need to recognize most people do not seek off-campus housing for their senior year. There was a widely-attended Student Senate meeting in the Fall that primarily addressed housing but there was no meeting that did the same for addressing the concerns that people of color have on this campus. It is clear where our priorities as a campus are.

Whether we think that housing is more important than race is almost irrelevant, we have treated the issues so that racial problems on campus are below the problem of student housing. Just as my racial IAT results were unfavorable, I must also admit culpability in personally treating a lack of off-campus housing as a greater injustice than racial issues on campus. I do not want to excuse how Dickinson handled getting rid of off-campus housing options but (and this is a severe understatement) I do not think that I have been touched by that mistake in the same way students of color have been touched by the Halloween Incident, responses to it, and of course the great number of instances of racial bias and discrimination that people face daily. We need to acknowledge that some issues on campus are sensationalized and others are subjugated. Off-campus housing and race are perfect examples of these. As I said before, whether we will actually say that, after careful consideration, we need to focus on a lack of off-campus housing more than racism on campus is irrelevant. We have made that decision without careful thought and it has harmed us.

Everyone needs to take a racial IAT and treat it as a wake up call. Even if you don’t think you’re a racist, your racial biases can still have an impact on your thoughts, actions, and which problems you choose to recognize. We often treat issues of race as less important than other issues even though we may think otherwise after careful thought. If we know that we have a harder time associating people of color with positive adjectives than we do associating white people with them, then we know that we must fix our own flaws in addition to society’s.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Implicit Bias Harms Campus”

  1. Dr. Necessitor on May 2nd, 2018 2:48 pm

    Evidence supporting the existence of implicit bias and for the validity of the racial implicit association test (racial IAT) is crumbling. The primary developer of the IAT recently announced that the test is only useful for determining bias in large groups of people, not individuals, because the results often fail to replicate. So take it easy on yourself. Implicit bias does not exist and you’re probably a good person.

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Implicit Bias Harms Campus