Eastern Michigan University researchers are working to provide anti-bias training for professionals
YPSILANTI, MI – Dr. Anna Gersh’s philosophy on changing racist behavior is simple: politics is nowhere near enough.
Constant education is needed that motivates instead of scourging, she said.
“You can’t get someone to do something,” said Gersh, who has been an educator for 17 years and currently a researcher at Eastern Michigan University. “A man who is convinced against his will still agrees.”
Training against racist behavior is at the heart of Gersh’s work. Your current goal is to translate this research into a standardized curriculum for workers across the state of Michigan.
The initiative, which she calls the One Love Symposium, aims to train professionals who make important decisions for our society, such as doctors, teachers and police officers. The next step in the symposium is a public panel discussion and conversation on September 28th in the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.
The panel starts at 11:30 a.m. at 343 S. 5th Ave. in Ann Arbor. Participants can also join the library virtually through Zoom through the library website. The speakers include Dr. Wendy Burke of EMU’s College of Education, Rebecca Guzman of the Detroit Health Department, and Brandon Tucker, vice president of human resources development at Washtenaw Community College.
Gersh, who is white, was assisted by six minors – three blacks and three whites – to develop the qualities that make an effective human services professional. This term is Gersh’s label for the influential workers people interact with every day – the doctors, teachers, and police officers.
Because of the high volume of one-on-one interactions with people, Gersh and the group knew it was vital that recruitment agencies behave in a non-discriminatory manner, she said.
“All of these professions are given a tremendous amount of discretion in assessing human intent, behavior and circumstances,” she said. “You have the task of exchanging ideas personally and making decisions that will influence people for the rest of their lives.”
Gersh and the group also looked at traits such as situational awareness, respect, and interpersonal skills. They are collecting data that they will share on September 28th. You can find the survey here.
Expressing discriminatory behavior can lead to unjust results in the long run, she said, citing examples like higher incarceration rates, more police violence or lower high school graduation rates.
Gersh, who also serves on the 21st Century Policing Compliance Commission of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, was inspired to start the One Love Symposium after the assassination of George Floyd. She noted that the police violence continued despite attempts by law enforcement to work with education and health authorities to develop more compassionate methods.
The aim of the symposium is to improve this training by converting it into a job reference that motivates people to pursue professional learning as a path to eligibility. Implicit bias and similar training courses require ongoing attendance to be effective, Gersh said, for which companies do not have the time and resources to conduct them on their own.
“Anti-bias training unless it’s done on an ongoing basis and unless you get all of your employees to purposely change cultures is absolutely time consuming,” she said. “If you look at these jobs that require intensive training in dealing with other people … these jobs do not support extensive professional learning that is not linked to actually doing the job.”
After the ideas of the participants in the September 28th panel have been taken in, the next phase of the symposium is the Teen Writing Contest for participants aged 13-18. Students will submit writing samples by registered teachers by December 20th, with the option of a cash prize.
The writing sample can be as simple as a shopping list, Gersh said, or as complicated as a typical compelling essay. The writer must write about the values a recruiter should be, and it must include personal experience, something learned from someone else, an example from mythology or folklore, and something read in a book.
“The reason for these criteria is to prove that this universal value that you are describing (in a desired recruiter) is indeed universal,” she said. “In addition, that everyone can have this value.”
You can find more information about the competition here. Winners can read their pieces at the next stage of the One Love Symposium, an event in February 2022 at the Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor where panel discussions and performances are mixed.
Ultimately, the goal is for Michigan legislators to pass a resolution to create “a human service conference to develop common scholarship toward better practice.” The biggest pull Gersh saw in passing such a resolution was through Washtenaw County, she said.
At the end of the day, Gersh understands that the road to educating people against prejudice is long and often instantly unsatisfactory. However, because the policy does not eliminate cases of police violence against black residents or other forms of discrimination, it believes that this solution will eventually work.
“It’s not as immediately satisfying as other more aggressive solutions, but maybe because it’s not that simple, it can actually lead to more direct resolution of the problem,” she said.
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