Explicit Bias

July
2020
Jessica Ayo Alabi, Orange Coast College and ASCCC Guided Pathways and Equity and Diversity Action Committee

I am sharing my reply to an implicit bias post that I read on an education listserv.  I am having a very difficult time right now with what’s going on in the world.  As a sociologist, I do not get to separate personal from work on issues like this.  My community has always been in pain, fear, and survival mode, so I don’t really know how to describe what this moment in history is right now.

I have a picture of my 75-year-old mother at a prayer vigil for George Floyd in North Carolina.  She has lived in segregation most of her life and mistreated for at least half of it because of her skin color. She’s been chased by the Klan and survived many movements, and yet in the picture, she looks so calm sitting there because she knows that there has been progress. She also knows that it does not feel like progress for me, her grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is my hope that the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges stays the course on these issues in a bigger way, especially in faculty hiring practices, closing equity gaps with accountability measures, and consequences for racism and discrimination on campuses.

I want to urge my colleagues to be aware that this global uprising is not really about implicit bias as much as it is about explicit bias.  “Explicit bias” refers to the attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level. 

As an African American educator in California community colleges for over 25 years, I have been mostly wounded and hurt by explicit racism and discrimination by white folks who were intentional and knew very well what they were doing, the power they had to do it, and the protection they receive from the system.  In this historical moment, it is time to call out all the implicit bias professional development that we have spent a lot of money on, but still see and endure the same racism in our institutions because the people who do not need the professional development are the ones who show up to the trainings and the ones who absolutely need the professional development, DO NOT!  You get results when you call it what it is, and when there are consequences and repercussions for the behavior.  That is what these uprisings are saying to the world and our educational institutions are not exempt.  

I am very concerned that we are in some ways going to try to insulate ourselves from blame by viewing community colleges as “not the problem,” but the solution.  It will be much more authentic for us to admit being a big part of the problem and a necessary part of the solution.  For example, focusing on African Americans/Umoja students and Black athletes, we should be asking important research questions like the following:

  1. How does this data help us understand how this program is helping African American student completion rates?
  2. This program said they did these activities to support and improve African American student achievement, but there was no improvement, why?
  3. Why are we continuing to fund programs that show no progress in helping African American student success, but yet we keep doing the same support activities over and over and turning in the same reports?
  4. Why are we not collecting data from African American students about what they need to be successful? Why are we not funding departments to do those things and then measuring success?
  5. Why do we keep seeing all these programs closing the LOOP, but not closing the GAP? What is the point if the equity gap is not closing, but yet programs finish program review and colleges pass accreditation?  Why should anyone be worried about Black students continuing to fall through the cracks, if institutions will not be held accountable when Black students fail?
  6. Where is the qualitative data that shows student engagement with African American athletes and their attrition rates, thru-put rates, matriculation rates in math and English, and completion rates connected to the programs that support them and receive equity funds, AB705 funds, Guided Pathway funds, Umoja funds, and any other funds designed to help African American students?

These are direct questions we should be asking and rates we should be measuring.  I have been part of at least 30 Black student discussions on social media and Zoom meetings since these uprisings have started, including six at my own campus.  They exposed violent police trauma and disdain for lack of college support at many institutions, which I could not disagree with when I reflected on both my student and professional experience.  Sitting in shared governance meetings listening to folks rationalize and make excuses while blaming students for their own failure is disgusting to me.  We push growth mindset, but tolerate and reward deficit thinking all day long in our system.  Are we going to engage and listen to Black students about what they need?  If so, this is the real data needed at this time.

These are questions I am asking on every listserv I am on.  It’s personal and professional for me.

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