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Letter to the Editor: the ‘Know Your Bias’ campaign won’t work

The following Letter to the Editor does not reflect the views and opinions of The Forum or its staff and has been lightly edited for clarity. For information about Westminster College’s “Know Your Bias” campaign, you can read this article.

Dear Editor,

Walking around campus last week, I stopped to read the new black and white anti-bias signs offering students polite phrases as an alternative to committing common microaggressions. In theory, the purpose of these signs is to allow those who still are locked in the intellectual dungeon of racist, sexist bias to free their minds by equipping themselves with less offensive rhetoric.

But the specious purpose of these signs falls apart upon closer inspection. If bias, especially unconscious bias, exists primarily as a manifestation of bad thoughts, how exactly are shiny new words going to change the bad thoughts? Are we assuming that people are actually going to see the signs and think, ‘Gosh! I have said something like that. I now realize I am biased and must correct my ways. I will do so immediately, and this correction will manifest in my espousing similar verbiage to these inspiring signs.’? If so, this seems like wishful thinking for several reasons.

First, I know of nobody who has had such a reaction to reading a sign on their college campus, and I highly doubt Westminster is teeming with racist, sexist bigots just waiting to have their minds changed by lawn posters. Second, there is substantial evidence that anti-bias training has the opposite of its intended effect, so even if these bigots were around, the signs won’t work. Third, grown adults don’t like to be told what to do or how to speak by peers or administrators. The very concept that we can get rid of bad thoughts by making signs to tell people which words to use is eerily reminiscent of 1984. It’s weird and totally misguided.

We’re at college, and it’s time to grow up. When somebody says something potentially offensive to you, rather than getting angry and hurt and painting a picture in which you see yourself as a victim of some vaguely constructed hierarchical oppression, either talk to them or get over it. I hear dumb stuff from men, and women, all the time. They’re not intending to offend, and I know that, so I speak up or blow it off. I don’t put up signs asking them to conform to my ideals of non-sexist or non-homophobic language, because I’m an adult woman who is perfectly capable of speaking and acting for myself.

To be human is to offend each other. We all do it. Stop treating people who ask questions or speak differently than you as though they are missing out on some fundamental aspect of being woke. If you’re interested in intellectual moralizing, go to church. In the meantime, let the rest of us make our word choices ourselves.


Elizabeth Emery

MAT Graduate Student

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1 Comment

  1. I recently attended the Peacemakers conference this past weekend where this campaign was discussed. What I took from it is that language is incredibly important in how people communicate and receive meaning. To me, the purpose of the signs and the campaign is directed more at being aware of the language that we use as a whole and recognizing that the language we choose to use could be potentially harming to others. The concept of unconscious bias is incredibly rooted to being human, but if we can recognize that and learn from it, then perhaps we can become better people. Isn’t that part of what “growing up” is?


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