Picture this: you’re walking down the Einhorn Family Walk, same as always, and the never-ending stream of commentary in your head is making judgements about each and every person that crosses your path.
“Wow, he needs to work out.”
“Yikes, she looks a little young to be pregnant.”
We’ve all been there. Hundreds of these sniping judgements run through your head, and sometimes you’re not even aware of it. This is the result of a little thing called bias, which is hostile behavior towards a person because of their age, ethnic origin, ability status, gender expression, race, religion or sexual orientation—and the list goes on. Bias shows up explicitly, like swastikas being drawn in the snow, or implicitly, like teachers immediately believing that their Black female students have an “attitude.” If you look at someone and automatically have an opinion on them just by looking at them, then that’s most likely a product of bias. Whether bold and direct or on the low, one thing is for sure: bias can hurt, and in extreme cases, it can lead to violence or death.
Now that you’re probably going over every thought you’ve ever had about a person, it’s important to know that just because you’re not committing an act, you’re still not necessarily in the clear. You could be a bystander, somebody who witnesses a discriminatory act and has the opportunity to either help, do nothing, or even add on to the discrimination (seriously, don’t be that person). If you sit by and watch people on your dorm floor mocking someone’s pronouns, you’re an inactive bystander. If you let your friends make fun of your roommate because they have an accent when they speak English, you’re an inactive bystander. If you see a group of people harassing a girl because she’s trans and do nothing, you’re an inactive bystander.
We have the power to protect each other, and we have a mandate to aid those who are more vulnerable in society. One way to do this is to be an active bystander, someone who intervenes in a bias-related incident. When deciding whether or not to intervene and how to do so, there are several things to consider:
- Start with potential risks and benefits. There are definitely more benefits than risks when it comes to intervening in a bias-related incident, but people do not always realize that when one is happening. Oftentimes, people focus more on the potential risks, which could be that they would face physical, legal or social consequences as a result of intervening or worry that they will make the situation worse because they don’t know how to handle the situation or are disrespecting someone’s privacy. But often, it’s worth the effort of intervening. And even if the offender doesn’t listen to what you had to say – you still made them think about their actions and helped them to potentially correct their bias.
- Seek out educational resources to prepare to have productive difficult conversations and learn how to be an effective active bystander. Trainings such as the Wellness Leadership Institute’s STOP Bias workshop on recognizing, reporting, and stopping bias, watching YouTube videos and TED talks about bias, and having conversations with diverse groups of people will help you learn how to recognize bias related incidents and what to do when one occurs.
- Always consider your personal safety first. If a situation becomes too dangerous, calling the authorities is a safe way to diffuse an incident.
- Utilize the people around you, including strangers or friends, as a way to rally around and provide comfort to the person being targeted.
Why should you be an active bystander versus one who simply observes a bias-related incident and minds their business? Bystander intervention in bias-related incidents creates an inclusive and safe environment for all students, staff and faculty. There are multiple benefits in creating a safe and inclusive campus, like an increase in student engagement and overall sense of belonging. Imagine if someone intervened every time a bias-related incident occurred on campus – how different things could look, feel and be. It is all of our responsibility to do our part in creating such an environment, and being an active bystander is one part of that.
So next time, call your floor mates out, because pronouns aren’t a joke. Ask your friends what’s so funny about having an accent—the answer: it’s not. Call for backup or alert those with more authority to get the group to stop. If you can say something, then say something. If you can do something, then do something. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Being women of color on campus, we can tell you that a sense of belonging and inclusivity is what most of us who belong to marginalized identities crave. Acknowledging acts of bias (asking where I am really from, calling me Spanish, picking a man over me because I am a woman with an accent, etc.) and taking action is a first step in creating the Orange Community we all need. Please have the courage to step in and show your support by being a consistent challenger of bias.
Learn more on how to recognize, report and stop bias on the STOP Bias webpage.
Written by STOP Bias Peer Educators Dassy Kemedjio ’21, Sofia Rodriguez ’24, Nia Williams ’24 and Berkley Morgan ’22