Magazine Article

A Journey Into Change
“Together, we are powerful!” is the guiding light of the CFA Council for Affirmative Action

By Cecil E. Canton
CFA Associate Vice President, Affirmative Action
Criminal Justice, Sacramento

Last December, an intrepid band of CFA activists met as a task force to share their ideas about making that mantra—Together We Are Powerful—a more visible and vibrant part of our work.

The task force conversation revisited the original intent of CFA’s Council for Affirmative
Action and examined the work the CAA has done to diversify and further democratize CFA.

After all, making CFA a more inclusive and democratic union is critical to achieving the Council’s mission.

The task force decided to develop something big and bold, something not tried before in the history of the CAA or CFA. They decided to develop CAA-based diversity training workshops that would take our work to the campuses using the same successful delivery system used by the CFA Lecturers Council’s Nuts & Bolts and Pension & Benefits workshops.

These workshops would be focused on the disempowering force of hidden or
unconscious bias, also known as implicit social cognition. The goal is to create workshops that could be used at every CSU campus to help faculty members become aware of their own unconscious biases and preferences and, through that awareness, to transform the hiring, evaluation and retention process for all the faculty in the CSU.

Additionally, workshop participants who successfully complete the workshops may, as written in the Anti-Racist Cookbook, “Build a shared vision of how to create a truly inclusive and respectful sense of community with other persons, especially those whose backgrounds are different from their own.”

There was unanimous agreement that something of this scope is needed on our campuses. But were the task force members all on the same page with the definition? What is hidden bias? How could they actually uncover it, much less develop a training module to address it?

Their work was informed by research conducted by the American Values Institute and the Equal Justice Society. Those groups describe hidden (or unconscious or implicit) bias as that which we carry without awareness
or conscious direction.

Everyone has unconscious biases and preferences. Unconscious biases or preferences are hidden prejudices that we all have operating on a subconscious level. This could be related to race, gender, disability, religion, etc.

The hope is that through uncovering each of our unconscious biases and preferences we will become more aware of (and change for the better) the way we behave in the workplace and increase the effectiveness of our interactions with others, especially those who may be different from us.

This is especially relevant to RTP committees and/or hiring/search committees. The idea is to foster an environment wherein we can recruit and retain a more diverse faculty workforce and decrease incidences of workplace hostility.

Helping Our Conscious Values Prevail

Advances in neuroscience and other social sciences have helped us to understand that people can consciously believe in equality while simultaneously acting on subconscious prejudices they are not aware they harbor. By looking at the complexity of how our brains work, this research has given us a way to understand better how decision making happens in our minds. This understanding provides the foundation to disrupt the impact of hidden biases so that our consciously held values can prevail.

Implicit Social Cognition, also known as Hidden Bias or Unconscious Bias or
Implicit Bias, arose as a way to explain why discrimination persists, even though polling and other research clearly shows that people oppose it.

Initially, some researchers conjectured that people sought to hide their bias from pollsters and simply lied about their views for fear of appearing prejudiced. Neuroscience and the study of implicit bias allows us a glimpse into the human brain and an opportunity to unravel the mysteries of why we treat each other with cruelty or with care, and what ultimately leads us to create policies designed to help or to hurt.

The CAA task force decided early on that this was not to be your typical diversity workshop. This was meant to make the participant aware of the subconscious, hidden or previously unknown biases and preferences that exist in all of us.

This workshop would involve real and personal effort. This would mean sharing on a deeply personal level and going deep! The process would allow participants to gain insight and understanding as to how their personal cultural lens impacts daily decision making.

A workshop that is both engaging and creative was created. Participants will be required to take a few online tests that were developed using academic research methods to uncover each of our unconscious biases or preferences.

The tests, called Implicit Association Tests (or IAT’s), are short, easy and even fun. The IAT was invented by Anthony Greenwald and colleagues in the mid 1990s. Project Implicit, which allows individuals to take these tests online, is maintained by Greenwald (Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard), and Brian Nosek (Virginia).

The workshop is designed to allow discussion about the IAT test, an illustration of bias and exercises to uncover how bias has shaped participants’ individual lives as well as the organizations in which they work.

With this awareness, the workshop moves to a discussion methodology that guides participants through their past, present and future and helps them set goals for personal change while serving as facilitators of institutional change.

Initial feedback about this new workshop, gathered by formative evaluation has been very positive and shows exciting promise. The CAA seeks to introduce this yet to be named workshop, at CFA’s Delegates Assembly in April.

Ask your local CFA staff and leaders about scheduling a workshop at your campus soon.