NASJE 2018 Annual Conference session: What Can We do to Address Implicit Bias?

Impressions of the Session by Rob Godfrey, Conference Coordinator in Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m not sure why I’m drawn so often to implicit bias sessions, but I seem to gravitate to them often at conferences. I found the recent NASJE Annual Conference session on the topic, taught by NASJE members Dana Bartocci of Minnesota, Cyrana Mott of Illinois, Jennifer Juhler of Iowa, and Joseph Sawyer of the National Judicial College, to be very impactful. What follows is my personal reaction to the session. I won’t try to recreate the entire session or to re-teach it but just highlight the parts that touched me and continue to stay with me.

Dana Bartocci started off the session by asking the question, “What should happen next?” First we must understand our own biases in order to facilitate the end goal – access to justice. I particularly enjoyed watching a video clip from a Jimmie Kimmel show during which he stopped people randomly in a park and asked whether they were on a gluten free diet. If they said yes, he stopped the video and asked his audience if they felt the person who was being questioned would know what gluten was. After the audience had voiced an opinion, the video of that interview continued. What we experienced was an intriguing look at the audience reaction as they tried to predict which person would or would not know what gluten actually was. Even though in reality, none of those interviewed knew what gluten was, the audience seemed to feel that one gender and/or ethnicity would know the answer. The audience was proven wrong, thus illustrating an example of what implicit bias really is.

What next? Session faculty encouraged us to try something and measure it. Whether relating to individual racism, institutional racism or structural racism, there are many different directions a study or experiment can take. Dana cautioned to plan for ample time to work through any program, citing a successful two-year program in her state.
Cyrana Mott from Illinois taught another portion of the class that made a strong impression on me, the social privilege experiential learning component. She gave us a handout with seven different privilege categories containing seven statements under each category. Seven different jars of colored beads were on the tables in the room. As we read each statement, Cyrana told us that if we agreed or identified with the statement, we should take a bead out of a jar. The categories were Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Class, Nationality/Citizenship, Religion, Sexual Orientation, and Ability. After we had reviewed all of the statements we sat down and counted up our beads. I was struck by the feelings the experiment evoked in me as I realized all the privileges I personally felt I had that others might not enjoy.

One person stated they felt that so much of what they have accomplished in their career was somewhat diminished after realizing how many doors may have been opened for them, and closed to others, simply because of who they were rather than because of what they had done to merit them.

To complete another activity we utilized a stretchy black thread upon which most of us strung our beads. Some of us made bracelets, while I made a necklace which I wore for the next couple of days. The conversations it provoked surprised me, from one with a server at the airport in Austin to another with the wife of the previous mayor in Salt Lake City, who, as an educational consultant, was very interested in this presentation. All were intrigued and wanted to know more about what I learned.

I think I know a little more why I gravitate to implicit bias sessions. I seem to take away a little more knowledge about myself each time I attend one and I hope it helps me navigate my way in the world in a fairer and more unbiased way.