Goshen College’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion launched its first webinar in a four-part series titled “Bias Matters: a campus conversation in four weeks” last Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The webinar seeks to provide space for those in the GC community to better understand bias and the implications of how it shows up in individual and community interactions.

“The whole series kind of evolved as an answer to the question that we've heard over the summer, or when other issues of social injustice have arisen, whether they are nationally or locally,” said LaKendra Hardware, director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “People are asking how do I enter [into] this conversation?”

Using the model of intergroup dialogue, Hardware, and her co-facilitator, Vanessa Kelleybrew, hope to educate campus about a social justice tool that interrupts pre-existing biases, specifically focusing on race this semester.

Kelleybrew, co-facilitator, is the new mental health and wellness educator at the college.

“It is a four-stage model that really is about building community, learning about social identities and structures and allyship,” Hardware said. 

In the first week, Hardware and Kelleybrew focused on defining bias and why it matters. Week two focused on stereotypes and stigmas, week three on principles of intergroup dialogue, while the final week will assess the impact of racial bias. 

For junior Ebtihal Abdelaziz, entering into conversations about race at Goshen College is important to her, as she finds drastic differences between the United States and her home country, Egypt.

“I notice all the different shades, but I fail at seeing how such realization contributes to my understanding of the person,” Adbelaziz said. “I have never had a prospective or even a notion about race before coming to the United States.”

After an incident of hate speech took place on campus last fall, the webinar appears to be a timely response.

But this four-week series is not a direct response to any event Goshen College has witnessed on its campus in the last year, Hardware said.

“We're talking about bias across many different formats, not as a response to what has happened at Goshen, but as an awareness that we need to be better educated across many platforms,” Hardware said.

Stephanie Miller, head women’s basketball coach, continues to affirm conversations about race at Goshen College.

“Goshen College is a place where we want our students to feel that they can have open discussions about the difficult and different experiences they may have as a result of racial and social injustices in the world around them,” Miller said.

“From a white woman's perspective, I don't feel comfortable going out and blowing the trumpet for something that I don't experience in the same way,” she said. “But as a white woman, I lead several black women on my team that I love and adore and mentor. And it matters to me that they have potentially different experiences and different frustrations that aren't necessarily being heard.”

The Bias Matters Response Team changed its name from Racial Misconduct Response Team in 2018, an intentional shift made to emphasize the educational responsibilities of the team. 

And education is at the heart of continued conversations about race at GC.

“I don’t claim to have all the answers; I just know that I am a leader of women of all colors,” Miller said. 

In addition to the four-week webinar, Hardware is also leading 11 faculty and staff members in a book read, looking at "Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences" by Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman.

“It's gonna be uncomfortable, but if we learn to be okay with being uncomfortable, in the hopes of advancing conversations and making space, or making space feel like home for people, I think that's the greater goal for all.”