Yesterday, WCS hosted a workshop entitled “Social Justice in Action: Small Steps Leading to Change” and led by Dr. Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting. Dr. Hollins is a very engaging speaker, and she made a point of introducing herself to everyone in the room and remembering all of our names. She began by telling us about her family and background, helping to set a context for our discussion and providing frequent examples of how she recognizes and applies these ideas in her own life.
One topic we discussed was how developing self-awareness can be a starting point for improving your interactions with people from other cultures and groups. If I start by considering my own story and motivations, I can better understand how I react to other people, interpret situations, and make assumptions. I can also acknowledge the contexts where I have privilege as a member of a dominant culture, and admit when I have biases about people of other cultures. Although most people want to believe that they’re fair and unbiased, we’re still all susceptible to unconscious bias (remember the study where male and female professors rated male applicants more highly than female ones?). And I can’t do anything about my own biases if I don’t admit that they exist.
Dr. Hollins also mentioned the importance of admitting how your assumptions about others affect your interactions with them. As an example, she told us about a time when she approached someone and realized he was in a wheelchair; she felt self-conscious and tried to act like she hadn’t noticed, which just made the conversation awkward. Trying to ignore others’ differences (in race, ability, or any other area) can make them feel like their experiences are invalid. These differences can have a huge impact on someone’s life, and acknowledging that is necessary for engaging with them – even if it also forces you to acknowledge your assumptions, which makes you uncomfortable.
Another point we discussed was the difference between equality and equity. While equality is giving everyone the same resources or treating everyone the same, equity is leveling the playing field and helping everyone have a positive outcome. Dr. Hollins used this image to sum up the difference:
Finally, someone asked for advice on what to do when you’re on the other side of the conversation – when you feel offended or discriminated against. Dr. Hollins outlined two common types of responses, which many of us could identify with: predatory listening (finding points to argue and being confrontational) and avoidance (waiting and venting to someone else rather than addressing the problem directly – I definitely do this one). She then advised us to get good at asking questions. It can be challenging to find real, curious, non-snarky questions that actually open up dialogue and engagement, but it is a worthwhile strategy to practice. Instead of treating someone as an enemy, I can help them learn, grow, and change.
Overall, Dr. Hollins led a really interesting discussion and gave us all a lot to think about. I’ll definitely be more aware of my own biases and their effects. on myself and on others, from now on.