Dr. John Dovidio discusses racial bias with UConn students

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Dr. John Dovidio, Professor of Psychology and Dean of Academic Affairs at Yale University, discussed the causes of racial bias and its effects on job procurement and the healthcare system to a packed crowd of students and faculty Wednesday evening. (File/Hartford Courant)

Dr. John Dovidio, Professor of Psychology and Dean of Academic Affairs at Yale University, discussed the causes of racial bias and its effects on job procurement and the healthcare system to a packed crowd of students and faculty Wednesday evening. The talk was part of a colloquium titled “Racism Among the Well-Intentioned,” held in the Weston A. Bousfield Psychology Building.

Dovidio said, early on he changed the focus of his research to encapsulate a more pervasive question in human culture and communities.

“What I tried to do (in research) was not ask the question of who is prejudiced, which was the dominant question at the time, but why would prejudice exist in the first place,” Dovidio said.

Dovidio went on to explain why prejudice and racism might exist in American society, whether it be in local communities, the corporate climate or the healthcare industry.

“We automatically categorize people into social groups, and at least initially, we do so based on appearance,” Dovidio said. “We do this because we need to simplify the world, and understand the world. It would be chaotic to try to understand every person as a unique individual.”

Racial bias, Dovidio said, can be grouped into two distinct categories: explicit bias, which affects verbal behaviors, and implicit bias, which affects nonverbal behaviors. Dovidio said these categories of bias may have formed within social groups during the evolutionary process.

“One of the ways we can maintain the power and status of our group is by resisting the progress of other groups,” Dovidio said. “This theory may have an evolutionary basis, where we tend to value the survival of our group over other groups.”

Dovidio said, in conclusion, although it is impossible to change the culture or behaviors of an individual overnight, there are solutions to counteract bias in society.

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“The solution is to make people more aware that they have implicit bias and helping them come up with the tools to counteract that bias,” Dovidio said. “People want to do the right thing. If you give them the tools, you just have to say ‘go be better than who you are,’ and that’s what they will try to do.”

For UConn senior Ziwei Mao, an international student, Dividio’s topic confirmed some of her own thoughts on racism in America.

“I think there is racism in some of the language used in society,” Mao said. “This discussion provided us with tools to possibly combat implicit bias and racism.”

Mora Reinka, a graduate assistant in the social division of the Dept. of Psychology and coordinator of the colloquium, said non-typical, subtle racism and bias can greatly impact society.

“I think what Dr. Dovidio’s work shows is that, even if you’re not a racist in the typical ways we perceive racism, you still may be enacting damage in society,” Reinka said. “I think that once we recognize that there are many more subtle racists in the world than explicit racists, we can begin the work to dismantle systems of white supremacy.”


George J Penny III is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached by email at george.penney_iii@uconn.edu.

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