Welcome to the
Learning Center.

Welcome to the Mentor Learning Center

1. Welcome to Our Brains on Race

By: Rachel Godsil and Aya Taveras

Expected Time to Complete: 20-25 Minutes

Perception Institute is a consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists who translate cutting edge mind science research on race, gender, ethnic, and other identities into solutions that seek to reduce bias and discrimination, and promote belonging. 

For the last decade, Perception Institute has been working in sectors where bias has the most profound impact—education, healthcare, media, workplace, law enforcement, finance, and civil justice. We have found that the people we work with in each of these contexts – activists, teachers, tech engineers, lawyers, and finance analysts – are all experiencing challenges in grappling with working across lines of difference. Our work has been to develop a shared language and set of practices to respond to these challenges.  We hope that the insights, research, stories, and reflection opportunities in these Monthly Learning Moments will be useful to you as a mentor to young people who are experiencing the complexity of identity dynamics. 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE MLMs:
  • 10 online lessons — delivered one lesson at a time 
  • Self-paced learning — with the option to revisit a lesson once you’ve completed it
MONTHLY LEARNING MOMENTS:
  1. Welcome to Our Brains on Race™
  2. What is Implicit Bias?
  3. What is Racial Anxiety? Talking Back to Colorblindness
  4. How to Challenge Stereotype Threat in Students
  5. Recognizing Micro-Aggressions in Relationships Across Lines of Difference
  6. Understanding the Difference Between Deficit and Asset Based Thinking
  7. Education Equity: Understanding the Difference Between Equality and Equity
  8. Current Barriers to Educational Equity: A Look at Disproportionality in School Discipline
  9. Recognizing Intersectionality in Ourselves and Others: Challenging the Default 
  10. Navigating Identity in the 21st Century

Many of the MLMs will be focused upon the insights from the social sciences – social psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and political science, but we will also rely upon stories and other modalities to trigger emotional responses that can’t be reached by the factual presentation of information.  We expect this first MLM will take 20-25 minutes to complete. 

To begin, watch the following by john a. powell to consider the broader aspiration of belonging.


In this clip, John is arguing that the challenges of the 21st century of othering and breaking can be overcome with bridging toward co-creation and belonging.  At Perception, we have broken down the essential components in any environment.  
 
Belonging: is creating an environment where all can share identity without risk.  
Respect: when each person is seen as a person of worth with insights and ideas to share.
Investment:  in a person’s chosen goals and aspirations.
Conversation: about challenging topics, including identity dynamics, as they arise.
Kindness:  genuine and authentic concern and warmth.
 

How does it feel not to belong?   Consider the experiences of the boy in this story:

A ninth-grade boy, not too tall with short hair and brown skin, climbs onto the city bus at 6:45 am to get to school by the 8:00 am start time.  He would like to get some reading done before school and sees an open seat near the front of the bus. It would be quieter here than the back where other kids from his neighborhood are talking and joking, but the white lady in the next seat over looks nervous when he moves toward the seat. Never mind. When the bus drops the kids off at school, the security guard makes him empty his pockets and looks in his backpack. Again? He keeps his eyes on the ground, ignoring the other kids streaming past. He is kind of looking forward to Humanities; they are getting back essays on Ancient Egypt, and he worked hard on his. The teacher hands back the essays. An A! But the teacher didn’t give any comments or suggestions. He looks at the kid next to him. He got an A, too. Did everyone? Did his work even matter? Biology is next. The worst. The teacher never calls on him or any of the other black kids. Today is the end-of-semester test. He studied most of the weekend and answers the multiple-choice questions quickly.  As he waits for the hour to end, he thinks about the material which he actually found pretty interesting.  Finally school is done. His mom is picking him up for his doctor appointment – his asthma has been getting worse. The doctor doesn’t ask too many questions, and the appointment is over quickly. No new medicine or anything. As they leave, the nurse smiles at him and his mom. He smiles back. Reference: Science of Equality, by Rachel D. Godsil, Linda R. Tropp, Phillip Atiba Goff, john a. powell (November, 2014)

Think about your own high school experience –this student’s experiences may resonate or not.  Reading the story, it is easy to critique the various adults the student encountered – the white lady, the security guard, the teachers, and the doctor.  The only positive moment is the smile from the nurse.  The story doesn’t specify the race or ethnicity of the adults other than the lady on the bus.  The science suggests that these adults may have been white – but also may have been Black or another race or ethnicity.  Whatever the race or ethnicity of the adults, they likely entered their professions with positive intentions – but their actions caused harm to him and likely countless other young people.  The story also has a structural underpinning – the student is taking a bus ride of over an hour to get to school, his schools contains a security guard, he has worsening asthma that isn’t properly treated.

The MLMs will share interventions that would have helped the adults align their behavior to their values and an analysis of the structures that as a society we need to address to move toward greater equity.  True belonging is more than an amelioration of harm. 

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

We invite you to think about these for yourself.

  1. What does belonging mean--and why is it important? 
  2. How is kindness expressed in supportive ways?

This might all seem straightforward and right – and so fairly obvious to practice.  Yet the social science suggests that the reason it may sometimes be more challenging than it seems is the degree to which our identity differences may create obstacles.   

LIVED EXPERIENCES -- HOW CONNECTED ARE WE?:

In the following exercise we’re going to ask you to think about your own racial and ethnic identities, recognizing that the boxes provided are limited. Think about where you most fit, as well as the people in your personal and professional networks. (Please note there is no sound in the following video.)

The vast majority of people in the United States – city, suburb, or rural area – have personal circles that are mainly of people of their race or ethnicity.  For some, their work provides more opportunities to engage with people from other racial or ethnic groups.  However, hierarchies often emerge where people in positions of power are more likely to be white than other groups.  In future MLMs, we will discuss why this is the case – when many of us want to be connected to people across race and ethnicity.

PERSONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL REFLECTION:

In your personal connections, did you find that you grew up connected to people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds?  What about now?  

CONNECTIONS:

Whether you identify with your mentee along lines of race or not, it is critical to recognize how the ways in which our identities show up inform whether or not we presume belonging, respect, and investment.  Our abilities to have meaningful conversations will also depend upon our experiences in identity navigation.  

In asking you to take an inventory of your professional and personal networks, we are asking you to think about what informs how you develop relationships. As john’s work suggests, we are often guided by the instinct to bond over similarities, rather than bridge, being open to establishing relationships that start from a place of difference. 

Almost done, click here to finish MLM #1!