Some biases are explicit and we’re unafraid to tout them: Anyone who voted for candidate “x” is ridiculous; Millennials are constantly on their phones.

Some biases are implicit and often hidden deep in the subconscious: If they really wanted a job, they could get a job; women just aren’t as good at math and science as men.

Regardless of whether they are internal or vocalized, the Saint Mary’s University community was reminded this past week that biases can be hurtful to individuals, and—as we’ve all witnessed in recent events—can cause division on a national and global scale.

Saint Mary’s hosted a series of events this past week in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Each event was designed to bring about discussion and further the work of Dr. King—to foster solidarity, respect, and inclusion.

Dr. Tommy Watson with first-generation students at Saint Mary’s University.

Dr. Yvonne Cheek, president of the Millennium Consulting Group and a strategic change consultant, reminded students, “We are all predisposed to have biases. We get trapped in patterns that are familiar and comfortable. They can be relearned but it takes a concentrated effort.”

As an African American male, Chazz Robinson ’17 said he grew up with a bias toward the police. The shootings of Trayvon Martin and other African Americans only strengthened his distrust. After befriending someone who became a police officer in one of the worst districts in Milwaukee, Robinson came to a realization that there are biases on both sides. “My friend reminded me that you don’t know what you would do when placed in these tough situations,” he said. “He asked me what I would do if my only goal was to get home to my family at night. In the end we’re not all so different. Gang members will do what they have to do to feed their families … and police officers just want to feed their families as well.”

Brian Bansley, a junior Criminal Justice major, said he learned from Dr. Cheek that being aware of biases is important because “it can keep us considerate of the people around us.” And, he added, everyone should be careful about media stories because even when writers may try to stay unbiased, unconscious word choices can alter the meaning of the story.

Maetzin Cruz-Reyes ’17, a Biochemistry major, agreed. “Biases in today’s media can contort and shape how we view a group of people. The biases that arise in media can either join or separate the country.”

Briana Torres ’17, a Biochemistry major, added that, as a result, it is important for readers to choose news outlets carefully and remain critical.

Cruz-Reyes found the workshop helpful on a personal level. “It reminded me what bias looks like and how it can appear in our lives and to try to be more conscious about it,” she said.

“It is important for all of us to be aware of our biases so that we do not discriminate against anyone intentionally or unintentionally,” Torres added.

“Implicit biases can shape generations,” Dr. Cheek warned as she urged student leaders to “put up your antennae to catch yourself and others. Be an active bystander.”

Aldontae Guess with author William D. Green

Author, alumnus, motivational speaker, and former University of Minnesota football player Dr. Tommy Watson told his audience to have “willpower and WAYpower.”

Watson M’05, D’14 detailed a very difficult childhood, growing up with parents who were drug addicts and professional shoplifters. His mother was arrested 11 times during his first year of life while his father was incarcerated. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was homeless and had lived in nearly 30 different locations. Despite the many transitions and challenges, he was recruited as one of the top football players in the nation and went on to obtain four college degrees.

His latest book, The Resilience of Champions™: Secret Habits of Highly Resilient Individuals and Organizations, chronicles his personal experiences.

In addition to a public presentation, Dr. Watson addressed first-generation students at Saint Mary’s.

“You can’t be mediocre and do the bare minimum if you want to succeed in life,” he said. “You have to discover your purpose and passion.”

Mari Morales-Lozano, a junior International Business and Marketing major and a First Generation Scholar, said what impressed her most about Dr. Watson was his ability to not only build himself up—despite the odds stacked against him—but also his dedication to inspiring others.

“I learned that in actuality the only thing ever truly stopping me from reaching my dreams is myself,” she said.

Dr. Watson asked the audience to take a 30-day challenge: to live out their lives to their full potential for 30 days as if the life of a loved one depends on it. “This truly gave me inspiration since, in my case, my parents have dedicated their entire lives and made so many sacrifices so that I may be successful,” Morales-Lozano said.

Dr. Watson told first-generation students, “You set the tone for generations to come. You are role models.”

The week also included conversations with award-winning Minnesota author, William D. Green, author of Degrees of Freedom: Civil Rights in Minnesota 1865-1912. Green discussed the history of race relations in Minnesota.

Other events included Drum & Dance from Guinea West Africa; Tall Paul, an Anishinaabe and Oneida hip-hop artist; collections for the Winona Food Shelf; the movie, Selma; and more.

 

Photo caption: Dr. Yvonne Cheek met with student leaders to discuss various biases, how they can be identified, and everyone must work together to eliminate them.

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