AUBURN — Many people don't go out of their way to show bias against certain groups. But as a professor explained Tuesday at a workshop in Auburn, people still show bias unintentionally.
Dr. Paula Ioanide, associate professor of comparative race and ethnicity studies at the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity at Ithaca College, discussed this concept of "implicit bias" Tuesday at Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Ioanide spoke in front of a crowd of over 30 people at the workshop, which was hosted by the Adult and Community Task Group of the Human Services Coalition of Cayuga County.
Ioanide asked that some participants identify who they are, what organization they belong to and what interested them in coming. Tracy Verrier, with the Cayuga Economic Development Agency and the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce, said she feels that her organizations "are not exclusive, but I realize we need to be more actively inclusive and I'm trying to figure out how to to do that and how to have those conversations."
Ioanide said she believes the session will help participants pinpoint some issues they may see within their own groups. Small group workshops for participants followed the presentation.
"There are patterns that come up in all institutions, and so hopefully today while we may not speak very specifically to your organization and work setting, we will hopefully identify some patterns that tend to come up just about everywhere," Ioanide said.
The professor explained how implicit biases differ from explicit biases: The former are preferences or beliefs that impact someone's actions and decisions, and are displayed in an automatic, reflexive way without the person realizing what they are doing, or having enough time to think about it.
Ioanide said the session would focus on how factors like social upbringing, family, surroundings, institutions, media and more can develop those biases toward different groups of people. For example, studies have shown that most white people have an implicit preference toward other white people, she said. While some in the audience may have thought it normal to grow up in a "predominately white context" and learn a "white curriculum" in school, Ioanide continued, they may now associate white people with different qualities than people of other ethnicities.
"However, that becomes enormously consequential, right?" she said. "It means that it actually has deep impact in the way that we actually treat people."
These biases can reveal themselves without their holder consciously intending to harm anyone, Ioanide said. For example, studies have shown that people with "non-Anglo or non-European names" are often not called back for job interviews despite that person meeting the qualifications described in the organization's job application.
People tend to prefer those who fall within their "in-group," Ioanide said, which could even include an Auburnian preferring others from their home city. But these preferences are malleable, the professor continued. People are capable of realigning their perception of who belongs to their in-group with a great deal of effort — thereby changing one's implicit bias.
People also commit "microaggressions" — unacknowledged verbal and nonverbal insults, slights and generalizations aimed at a person in a marginalized group, Ioanide said. The people who commit microaggressions often don't intend any harm, she noted, but they can nonetheless weigh on the recipient, making them feel defensive and undervalued.
An example of a microaggression Ioanide gave is assuming one's nationality, such as saying, "You speak great English. How long have you been here?" to Asian or Latino students, even if that student's family has been in the U.S. for several generations.
During a break, Auburn Police Department Chief Shawn Butler talked about why he wanted to attend the workshop. "Police are ultimately seen as perpetrating implicit bias oftentimes," he said, so he believes it is important for them to attend sessions like Tuesday's. Butler added that his entire department underwent implicit bias training at Syracuse University in 2016.
"You don't have to be in the police profession to understand that we all unfortunately have some type of implicit bias that we display in our daily lives. (It) may not be intentionally — obviously (that's) what the (implicit) bias is about — but being in the police profession, it's more at the forefront and we're called out on it more often in regards to the job that we do," he said.