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Diversity Day Focuses on Cross-Cultural Communication and Unconscious and Implicit Bias

Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee, an educator and diversity trainer, was the keynote speaker for Westminster’s Diversity Day Jan. 22 that involved the entire school community.
Lee is a faculty member at Seattle Girls’ School, serving in dual roles as a science teacher and as a professional outreach specialist. She has presented at numerous conferences and nonprofit organizations and worked with more than 200 public and independent schools throughout the U.S., as well as colleges and universities. For several years, she served on the faculty of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Diversity Leadership Institute, among other leadership roles.
The day began with Lee speaking to the faculty about the topic “What I Said and What I Meant: Cross-Cultural Communication.” She described the dimensions of identity and culture, including internal, external and institutional factors. She pointed out how aspects of who people are can result in experiences of marginalization and stereotyping. As part of the presentation, faculty members broke into groups to discuss variability in communication styles.
In an all-school assembly in Werner Centennial Center, Lee’s topic was “Unconscious and Implicit Bias: Bridging the Distance Between Professed Values and Everyday Behaviors.” She began her presentation by saying how much she enjoys working with adolescents. “It is a time when there is a lot of brain development and what is practiced now gets embedded,” she said. She shared examples of how the brain takes mental shortcuts because it cannot process the 11 billion bits of information that come into it every minute. She showed how these shortcuts can result in bias. “Our brain makes assumptions,” she explained, while outlining 20 validated cognitive biases that can affect decisions.
She described how implicit bias is a preference for or against a person or group of people that operates at the subconscious level. “We are not aware that we have them,” she said. She showed a video about hidden prejudice that featured Scientific American Frontiers host and actor Alan Alda speaking with a researcher at Harvard. She also gave examples of implicit bias in daily life and in schools. “There is no magic bullet to reduce bias in our communities,” she said. “It takes intentional work.”
She closed by outlining some strategies for moving from professed values to lived values.
Following the assembly, students in the Third Form and the Fourth Form met in peer-led groups that were designed to facilitate them thinking about themselves and their classmates as individuals with a unique story. Students in the Fifth Form and Sixth Form attended one of 17 sessions led by faculty members on topics such as affirmative action in admissions, collegiate athletics, danger of a single story, feminism, masculinity, powerful dynamics, music and civil rights, and more. The day concluded with advisory group meetings where students discussed the day’s activities.

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