BMCC’s first Diversity Day was hosted in Richard Harris Terrace and featured a student panel, guest speakers and a complimentary buffet luncheon with entrees from around the world.
Sponsored by the Office of Compliance & Diversity, the event opened with a slide presentation [in its entirety, below], The Bias Blind-Spot: Stereotypes and Their Impact on Verbal and Nonverbal Communication, by Communication Studies Professor Vincent Tzu-Wen Cheng.
Professor Cheng’s talk referenced studies that look at bias in a number of contexts, including bias toward a person’s name in job searches.
One slide asked, “Are Emily and Brendan more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?”
Another highlighted Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who used a male pseudonym to circumvent gender bias in publishing.
Bias directed at people’s accents was also addressed.
“Technically speaking, the only person who doesn’t have an accent is a dead person,” said Professor Cheng.
Bias is not just directed toward accents associated with countries around the world, he explained, but toward accents linked to boroughs of New York City or regions of the United States.
The slides also presented newspaper headlines that utilize stereotypes, and Professor Cheng explained the phenomenon of unconscious bias in visual processing—when a person sees what bias leads him or her to expect, and not what is actually there.
The Color Bind
Iyana Titus, BMCC’s Director of Affirmative Action and Compliance Officer introduced guest speakers Erica Gabrielle Foldy and Tamara R. Buckley, who co-authored The Color Bind: Talking (and Not Talking) About Race at Work, published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2014.
Among other topics, they discussed the paradigm shift in recent decades that has resulted in people striving not for “color blindness” but “color cognizance.”
“The notion of color blindness was promoted in the sixties,” explained Buckley. “It’s seen as problematic now—we think it’s impossible to be ‘blind’ about a person’s race.”
As Iyana Titus put it, “Color cognizance is the opposite of color blindness. Sometimes it’s called a multicultural view. It’s simply the belief that race matters.”
Students share diverse views
Diversity Day closed with a student panel facilitated by Professor Margaret Barrow of the English department.
Panelists included liberal arts major MacArthur Young; criminal justice major Kassandra Florentino; nursing major Kyle Nickens, and human services major Amar Sharif.
The students began by sharing how they have adjusted to the diversity of BMCC and the City itself.
“When I came to New York, I made quite a few adjustments,” said MacArthur Young.
“In St. Vincent’s, people of different sexual orientations are not tolerated, so I’ve had to develop a more open mind about that.”
Panelist Kyle Nickens, who identifies as gay, said, “Girls like me, and guys avoid me, snicker behind my back—but I just power through it, and now I get my hugs from them. I’m older, so I have a stronger constitution for dealing with it.”
Kassandra Florentino added, “If you’re fat, they’re going to judge you. If you’re thin, they’re going to judge you. We just want to shine in our own way.”
“I have a disability, a physical one,” said Amar Sharif. “I’ve noticed when I walk in the classroom the first time, all eyes are on me. But once I open my mouth, the stereotypes fade away.”
Young related a similar experience: “People see me with my cane and start talking to me as if I’m mentally disabled. I tell them, ‘I have a visual disability, not an intellectual disability’.”
Kyle Nickens called out to the audience, “Anyone who doesn’t have a prejudice raise your hand,” and no hands were raised. “We’ve got an honest group here,” he said.
Taking the Unconscious Bias Test
Participants in Diversity Day were invited to take “The Unconscious Bias Test,” also known as the Implicit Association Test, on computers set up outside Richard Harris Terrace.
This interactive e-tool measures how strongly a person associates a group of people with various characteristics or stereotypes.
Diversity Day participants took the bias test and continued their conversations while enjoying a complimentary buffet luncheon.
Yine Dejesus, a human services major, commented, “We need to learn how to respect the opinions and beliefs of others. When we are in a diverse environment, we need to look at the bright side and learn new things from each other about our cultures, music, food and language.”
“The students came up with the idea for a World Night where there is a sharing of cultures and traditions including food and music representative of world diversity. What a great idea!” said Professor Barrow. “They recommended a diversity event every semester.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Individuals who helped make Diversity Day possible include Edna Asknes, Diana Baez, Nickla Galloway-Brown, Sussie Gyamfi, Kanu Nagra, Anita Samuels, Abdramane Serme, Rosario Torres, Thomas Volpe and Shirley Zaragoza.