One hundred people paired up and observed one another without saying a word.The group gathered at the Radcliffe Institute’s Knafel Center on April 24 had a purpose: to make written judgments about the other based solely on appearance. The point? Judging people solely on appearance, without further efforts to know them, can result in unconscious bias.Understanding difference requires looking beyond the superficial, said the actor, author, and activist Michael Sidney Fosberg, whose solo show “Incognito” has appeared onstage since 2000.Fosberg’s workshop, “Cultural Competence: A Best Practice for Neutralizing Bias,” demonstrated how being culturally competent, or having a better understanding of other cultures, can help create a healthy, more productive workplace.The event was the final installment of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Diversity Dialogues for the academic year and was sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, FAS Human Resources, and the Radcliffe Institute.“The one-on-ones with strangers in the [Knafel Center] elicited questions, assumptions, and judgments that, regardless of how innocent and harmless they are, can easily lead to a path of bias,” said Chirajeet Sen, recruiting manager at Harvard Business School.“The dialogue was very helpful and eye-opening,” Sen said. “As a human-resources professional, it enables me to be more self-aware and open to people with different personalities and from different backgrounds. Starting a dialogue and looking at things that we easily take for granted is why this event will be helpful in my workplace.”Deborah Valdovinos, events coordinator in the History of Science Department, agreed. “This and the other diversity dialogues have empowered me to discuss and deal with diversity-related issues in my workplace,” she said. “As an employee of color who has experienced different and challenging workplace realities, I find the diversity dialogues to be a safer venue, where the complex and at times highly charged issues around diversity can be productively discussed.”The dialogues “give me the opportunity to not only reflect on my own implicit bias, but to feel the power of coming together as a group to recognize how pervasive our inclination to judge others truly is,” said Heidi Wickersham, administrative coordinator with the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. “I appreciate that the University has taken the first steps in trying to ameliorate their impact in our work within FAS by encouraging dialogue. I hope to see continued dialogue on these issues with an emphasis on creating guidelines for staff and administrators to help improve attitudes and overcome bias, and toward a community commitment to proactively create a more inclusive environment for faculty, staff, and students of all backgrounds.”
Read Full Story “Isabel Allende is a Latin American writer who has become a household name in the United States,” began Erin Goodman, Associate Director of Academic Programs at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), as she introduced the famous novelist before a crowd of more than 270 fans at the Sanctuary Theatre in Harvard Square this past Saturday evening. The Chilean-American author engaged in a candid conversation with Goodman and with Diana Sorensen, James F. Rothenberg Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literatures, on the occasion of the release of her latest novel.Though she is best known as a novelist, Isabel Allende is also an activist. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, she established the Isabel Allende Foundation, promoting women’s and girls’ empowerment. As is characteristic of Allende, on Saturday she shared passionate insight on several subjects, ranging from the personal and lighthearted to the more serious, including human trafficking, immigration, and the refugee crisis.When Sorensen asked Allende about how social justice factors into her creative process, Allende stated, “there are many cases in which people have absolute power with impunity, and they are able to do horrible things. The imagination for atrocities is infinite.”In response to a question from Goodman about the recurrence of voiceless female characters in her novels, Allende reflected, “I am trying to explain what it means to be a woman and be permanently silenced, having a voice that is never heard.” In her new novel, “In the Midst of Winter,” the character of Evelyn, a migrant worker from Guatemala, has trouble speaking and sharing her traumatic past. “[She] represents the undocumented worker in this country that has no voice and no human rights,” Allende explained. “We penalize people who have escaped to save their lives.”Allende herself was a refugee in Venezuela for 13 years before coming to the United States. Regarding her own background, she expressed, “I do think a lot about my past, about my roots. I try to conserve my Chilean background as much as possible being an immigrant here, but it is very easy for me to imagine what it is to be a refugee or an immigrant because I have been both … When we talk about refugees, we think of numbers and how to lower the numbers of refugees—that doesn’t mean anything … if I can give that story, like Evelyn’s story, for example, to one reader, I might be able to touch that reader’s heart, not with my words, but with the story because it is a human story.”The Harvard Coop and DRCLAS presented the event, which was also supported by the José Mateo Ballet Theatre and the Harvard Square Business Association.