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NYU professor discusses implicit bias in lecture

| Monday, March 15, 2021

Dr. Dolly Chugh discussed the dangers of implicit bias in a lecture Friday as a guest speaker for “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary,” hosted by the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Chugh is an associate professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and her research focuses on implicit bias. She authored the self-help book, “The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias.”

In her lecture, Chugh mainly focused on racial bias, which she said is the most dominant form of implicit bias. In order to combat systemic racism, Chugh highlighted the importance of targeting personal implicit biases.  

Implicit bias, Chugh said, is making associations between people, ideas and objects without realizing it. 

“Most of our minds’ work takes place outside of our awareness,” Chugh said. 

To explain what she meant, Chugh asked moderator, and Klau Center associate director, Dory Mitros Durham what she immediately thought when she heard the word “peanut butter.” Durham responded with “jelly” right away. 

Chugh said that implicit biases, which develop as early as five years old, come from adult influences and are what psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum coins as “smog.” 

According to Tatum, smog is the content around us that we consume with our senses. 

“It’s everything we’ve ever seen, heard or observed,” Chugh said.  

Chugh also explained implicit bias in regards to race. She said that racial implicit bias is the most common form of implicit bias and she defined it as linking a person of a specific race to an idea.

Chugh said that of the 20 million people who have taken the Implicit Association Test — a commonly used psychological test that measures the associations people have — a majority of white participants associate white people with “good” sentiments and Black people with “bad” feelings. 

“Overwhelmingly, the U.S. data shows implicit race bias,” Chugh said. 

Chugh said it is difficult to overcome implicit bias, but she mentioned ways in which people can recognize their own biases. She encouraged viewers to look at the past 10 movies they watched, the past 10 social media accounts they followed, the past 10 books they read or the past 10 of any form of content they consumed, and identify a pattern among the content and the content creators. Do they all talk about sports? Are they all female? Is all of the content written by one political party? If the content comes from one voice or a few select voices, Chugh suggested mixing it up. 

She also recommended pushing boundaries and doing 10% more than before. She said it can be in any style — listening to a friend, speaking up to someone who makes an inappropriate comment or diving into history — as long as it challenges an individual’s current beliefs and exposes them to something new.

Chugh said it is the job of someone who has the “ordinary privilege” to stand up for those who do not have it. 

“Figure out a way to use where you have ordinary privilege to see, to notice things, you might not be noticing,” Chugh said. 

Chugh made it clear that whatever method an individual chooses to fight their biases, it’s important to always have a growth-mindset, or something she likes to call being “good-ish.” In her eyes, being a work in progress is essential to making the world a better place. 

“We want to activate a belief that we can get better,” she said.

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