A New Online Course Unpacks Unconscious Bias
Defying Racial Bias in the Workplace: Individual Action and Accountability (ABUS 4545) is a new College of Continuing and Professional Studies course, offered entirely online. It takes a critical look at unconscious bias in both the workplace and our everyday lives and discusses what we can do about it. We sat down with two students who took ABUS 4545 to find out about their experiences.
Andree Aronson is chief operating officer of Liberty Community Church, a predominantly Black church in North Minneapolis that is the home of Northside Healing Space. In her role, Andree works with Black pastors, parishioners, participants, partners, and staff members, as well as white volunteers and faith communities, and many community partners.
Alexia Kilpatrick works for a large global company that has started having more conversations around unconscious bias. She is also having these tough conversations in her personal life.
We all carry some degree of bias. Because of this, Alexia believes anyone could benefit from the course and encourages people to go into it without preconceived ideas. Her classmates “had open minds to the learning and sharing with one another” even though they came from very different backgrounds.
She felt that the class materials and discussion boards were “life-changing. I have a completely different view of bias and its impact now,” she says. “I still have a lot to learn, but this course changed my mindset and helped set the stage for future learning.”
“Previously I only thought of bias in terms of discrimination,” she continues. “This course taught me about the many ways bias is present in our lives, and even in common, accepted business practices. It helped me get a better view of my own work and interactions and improve myself to be more inclusive.”
The course helped Andree realize that our biases can negatively affect how we show up in our personal and professional lives and can have financial implications in our workplaces.
She believes the course made her “a better employee, a better community member, and a better person that's doing this work.”
Creating a Respectful Classroom Space
One factor that helped make the course so effective, Andree says, is that the instructor, Phillip Hampton, “was really good at taking big emotional topics and really being clear.”
He presented the information in a way that was accessible and factual, she says. “You can take it and work with it as much as you're able to, which is good for me because… I have to have those conversations. So I learned how to do that and not feel so emotionally tied to the outcome of changing (anyone’s) behavior.”
Alexia agrees. “He did a fabulous job of presenting materials in a relevant way that was easy to absorb and apply. He also posted thoughtful questions in the discussion boards that encouraged students to share with one another but also respected our boundaries.”
“I think that the online format encouraged people to think more deeply about responses, giving them time to pause and reflect,” she adds. “Because the professor made great use of the online format, I think this course was better online than it would have been in-person.”
Facetime with the Authors
What delighted both students about the course was the opportunity to talk to two authors of the books they read in class, Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility) and Howard J. Ross (Everyday Bias).
“I got to ask (Robin) about my work, and she came back with some books and resources for me,” Andree says. “There was something about that that was humbling, that it's a journey we're all on... but we're working on it and it's an ongoing process. So it was really neat to see published authors taking the time to really talk to people, and that was... also a great model.”
“This was really helpful to gain their personal perspectives and helped me better understand the texts,” Alexia adds.
Putting the Tools to Work
As part of the course, Andree developed a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan for the staff at Liberty Community Church and one for its partners and volunteers, which the organization will start implementing over time.
“I’ve been rewriting some of our policies based on what I've learned, and I've shared a lot of the classroom materials with our staff and some of our partners.”
"This course helped me feel much more comfortable having courageous conversations."
“These can be difficult conversations, and we don’t always know the right words to use,” Alexia says. “This course helped me feel much more comfortable having courageous conversations. (It) exceeded my expectations and made an impact on my life outside the classroom. Thank you for the opportunity!”