New UNIV 102 class to tackle bias
By Anna Gaynor
This spring semester, freshmen at Loyola will have a new chance to connect with one another—but it’s not through student groups or watching the basketball team play.
Instead, new sections of UNIV 102 will be devoted to helping students better understand themselves and each other. Titled Understanding Bias, these classes will tackle privileges and prejudices and help students navigate the difficult conversations they can face in college and beyond.
“Pretty much everyone here at Loyola regardless of their role—or everyone in the world—have had experiences where they’ve been uncomfortable because of something about themselves that they can’t change or don’t want to change,” said Robyn Mallett, an associate professor in psychology. “They’ve been made to feel ‘less than’ in some way—or they’ve made other people feel ‘less than’ in some way.”
Mallett said a freshman-level course can help students recognize their own biases, where those biases come from, and the best way to address them. She is one of many Loyolans who have stepped in to develop these new sections of UNIV 102, a weekly one-hour course where each class is dedicated to a different topic or major. Past classes have included everything from weird poetry to neuroscience to coping with failure. But next semester, five classes will be focused on understanding bias.
The new sections will bring together staff from Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs as well as faculty from the School of Education, the School of Social Work, and the Department of Psychology.
A new outlook
Chris Manning, an associate professor of history and assistant provost for academic diversity, coordinated the class’s formation. The idea came from a number of sources, including Loyola’s strategic plan, “Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World,” and from talking with self-identified minority students and faculty.
“Conversation after conversation on campus has revealed to me that we have a large number of people who have empathy but may be silent because they’re not sure of how to talk about things,” Manning said. “They’re afraid of being embarrassed, they’re afraid of hurting themselves, they’re afraid of hurting others.
“When you have that many afraids—and this is coming from people who are underrepresented minorities and also people who are in the majority—when we have that many people who are just worried about talking, well, you really can’t move forward at all.”
By reaching out to freshmen, Mallett believes this course can change students’ outlook and maybe even their path at Loyola.
“It can get them to make more friends from different groups, it can get them to appreciate more of the world, it can get them to seclude themselves less,” Mallett said. “It will make them more open to new experiences and ideas. Our world is increasingly more diverse and if they want to have a shot at being a full participant in that, they need to get comfortable with these conversations.”
A group effort
In the fields of education, psychology, and social work, students need to understand any small or large biases they might have. Even the unintentional ones can have a profound impact on their work in a community.
Bridget Kelly, an associate professor in Loyola’s School of Education, teaches graduate students about recognizing the privileges that can make them blind to others’ struggles. For example, a student might experience oppression because he identifies as a person of color—but that same student might not be able to understand the privilege he has as a heterosexual, Christian man.
In her class, Kelly stresses the importance of social justice and keeping educational practices inclusive for groups that have been marginalized or isolated. Kelly worked with Mallett and Jeanne Sokolec from the School of Social Work to develop the coursework for the new UNIV 102 classes. The course provides an opportunity for students to answer some important questions: What do they believe and why? How do they feel about issues linked to diversity and inclusion? Or international movements like Black Lives Matter?
“When you graduate from Loyola, what does it mean to be leaders for others, leaders in the world from a social justice perspective?” Kelly said. “I think having a course to specifically focus on that and give students the time to think about that is really important.”
By navigating incredibly difficult conversations, students can find a better understanding of what causes prejudices and the best ways to address them.
“It’s a lot easier to judge, to blame, to complain, to debate, and to try to get people to see the error of their ways,” Kelly said. “Those things come more readily to people than it is to just take the other person’s perspective and to look for the good in an idea you oppose.
“The more practice we have at those things, the more readily those skills will come as opposed to again the shaming, the blaming, and trying to get them to be more like us.”