Tuesday, July 9, 2013

7.9.13 Biases

When I was in my last semester at Humboldt State University (a good school for natural sciences, not-so-good at social justice issues), I noticed a rather disturbing program designed by the folks at the Sociology department.

They called it the "Bias Response Team."

Apparently, the goal of this project was to collect data regarding instances of "bias" at the university, and in the local community.  Seems a benign enough concept at first glance, helpful even, and as a social researcher, I can definitely get behind the need to collect data (I am a data fiend).  However, scratching below the surface revealed something more questionable and arguably sinister.

Just a heads up.  George Orwell's "1984" was supposed to be a cautionary tale, not a how-to guide.

The Bias Response Team launched a website where people could report instance of bias they observed.  Reporters had the option to submit completely anonymously.  They were also given the option to have someone of the Bias Response Team address the infractor directly (or have direct action taken on them), or to just use the report as part of the data collection.  In addition to their website, they also had business card sized handouts in various locations at the campus, which contained the website where people could report incidents of bias.

I admit I only used the program once.  I reported one of my sociology professors for using ableist language twice during the same class lecture.

I figured, hey, if you're going to devise this type of thought-policing program, you might as well own up to your own biases and maybe do some sensitivity training.

However, I wonder what types of things people are reporting, here.  No doubt I've made it on the Bias Response Team list as an infractor at this point because I, as an ex-trans person who embraces radical feminism, is now "transphobic" by default for daring to suggest that gender is a hierarchy and needs to be abolished.

This is unreal.  Everybody has biases.  Biases and judgements protect us from dangerous situations.  We pass judgements all the time.  You pass a judgement when you decide not to hire a certain babysitter because they give you the creeps.  You pass a judgement when you decide you want a female-only gynecologist because as a woman, you have the right to be treated by a female.  You pass a judgement when you see someone who is obviously on drugs and appears violent, so you take another route walking home.

We all have biases. And some of them are helpful.

To have a "Bias Response Team" means that meaningful discourse becomes stifled simply because certain things we say might hurt the feelings of others.  When really, college taught me that specifics aren't always the most important thing, as long as you have the overall idea downpat.

And speaking of biases....I want some chocolate.  I am seemingly biased towards chocolate ice cream in particular.  Perhaps this is just my strawberry-phobia.  Someone call the Bias Response Team! My opinion deeply offends ice cream aficionados everywhere.

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