Who Me? Biased? Becoming Aware of One’s Biases

By Mrs. Molly Wertz, Dean of Students

It’s like that old riddle: A father and son are driving when they are in an accident. The father is killed and the son is taken to the hospital. When the surgeon is about to operate, the doctor says, “I can’t operate, that is my son!” How can this be?

By now many of us are familiar with this riddle, but if you recall back to the first time you heard it, it likely was quite eye-opening. We are often influenced by our own unconscious biases and these seep their way into our decisions, language, and opportunities.

Recently, Mrs. Kristi Spies and I attended the ADVIS (Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools) Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Conference. It was fascinating. Held at William Penn Charter in Philadelphia, this conference was a wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues and to see the physical space of such a historic school. Fun fact: did you know that William Penn signed the charter for this school and for the city of Philadelphia on the same day in 1701?

For me, the most inspiring part of the day, however, was the keynote address given by Dr. Mahzarin R Banaji, Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard. Shining a light on how we often carry unintended biases with us, Dr. Banaji was able to strip back some of our hidden biases and address how we can take this understanding and use it to create more inclusive, supportive, diverse communities in our respective schools. We must identify and own our personal biases before we can take action steps to address them. York Country Day prides itself on its diverse student body. Our students represent diversity of faith, race, gender, orientation, and socio-economic background. We pride ourself on our inclusive culture; however, this does not happen by chance or without hiccups. We are committed to educate the whole child and that includes character. We will continue to address and grow our diverse community and hold ourselves to the standard of equity and inclusion for all students.

Earlier this month, we were privileged to welcome Dr. Darrien Davenport, Director of Multicultural Engagement at Gettysburg College, to YCDS speak with our upper and middle school students. In his “Say It to My Face” activity, students felt the power of hateful words and their biases. Sometimes students don’t realize the effect of their words. Sometimes they do. Dr. Davenport addressed the students language and intentions. He offered an opportunity for students to self reflect on their many identifiers and how many we share in common rather than those few that make us different. And what about those that make us “different”? Bring them on! It is our differences that make us interesting, that allow us to learn from each other’s’ experiences, and that strengthens us as a community.

So back to our biases. Kristi Spies and I will be working with students and faculty to grow and support our diversity initiative. Through guest speakers, assemblies, advisories, and sometimes woven into classroom lessons, we will help students identify biases. We will look at how biases hold us and others back from opportunities. We will strive to support a student body and faculty that embraces each other based solely on individual strengths and traits, regardless of gender, race, orientation, economics, or faith. We will celebrate our differences. We will encourage uniqueness. We will empathize with our classmates. We will listen to understand each other. We will lift each other up when we stumble. We will celebrate each other when we succeed. We are Greyhounds, and that’s what we do.

And the answer to the riddle…the surgeon is the boy’s mother, of course.