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Alapana Chibber Comes To Marvelwood

Alapana Chibber Comes to Marvelwood

Written By Armana Akhsambiyeva '24

Friday, December 2, 2022, Marvelwood had the pleasure of hosting Alpana Chhibber of Molina Consulting in Baltimore, MD., who worked as a middle school dean of Park School, and now is one of the lead facilitators of Molina Consulting. Alpana Chhibber offered a talk about implicit bias and microaggression within an academic and general setting. As Chhibber noted, implicit bias is the accumulation of subconscious biases against different groups of people. These biases are put into practice by people who hold those biases, as well as through media and an environment's influence on a person. Implicit bias becomes or can turn into a microaggression when the person does not acknowledge the bias, they are at risk of acting on the stereotype they accumulated. Some examples of implicit bias that Chhibber pointed out during the presentation were associating black men with violence, and equating women with maternity and family. Both of those examples are not representative of reality, but signal subconscious biases held by many people. Although implicit biases on their own do not have to be harmful, their danger lies in a person’s ability to utilize a bias harmfully and explicitly. Microaggressions, a term initially coined by Harvard psychologist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970’s and first used by Dr. Derald Wing Sue, psychology professor at Columbia University. The term as defined by Sue states “everyday verbal, non-verbal and environmental sights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Although microaggressions can be targeted at many people, these explicit biases are often targeted at particular groups and individual people much more often in contrast. Microintervention, or the interruption of implicit bias or a microaggression is a helpful skill for targets and bystanders in a hostile, daily life situation. Microinterventions come in a variety of forms; the most direct being calling out the microaggression to the person who committed it. Another example of a microintervention, in a setting where an insensitive or oppressive joke was made, is to ‘play dumb’ and press for the initiator to explain themselves, when put into those circumstances, the initiator most likely will feel uncomfortable . The most important rule of microinterventions, is that it is not always the responsibility of the target to defend themselves, it is also equally the responsibility of bystanders of the situation. An example of this is asking someone, “Where are you from?” This is a seemingly harmless question, but it can also be a microaggression in that it reduces a person to an ethnic, racial, or economic identity group. In a professional setting, this question could seem intrusive, but in a casual setting it might be acceptable. Being aware of one’s tone when asking a question is very important.

In her talk, Chhibber emphasized that the most vital step in unlearning implicit bias and microaggressions, is to acknowledge and understand what implicit biases you may have. Anybody can have an implicit bias; some people, for example, are unaware of their personal biases but can witness them in others. Also, focus on consciously seeing people as individuals rather than simply/only part of a particular group. Another factor is, after acknowledging your blindspots, practice reflecting on where this bias is coming from and actively working on dismissing it. A specific example mentioned by Chhibber was to acknowledge every person you hold communication with as individual people, rather than merely people who have membership or affiliation to marginalized groups. The last factor in unlearning implicit bias and microaggressions is to be respectful in interactions, like stating your intentions if the circumstances call for them. For example, if you are interested in a specific trait associated with a group of people, specify that you are curious (and have no other intentions) before asking!

After Chhibber’s presentation, students had the opportunity to disperse into smaller groups with faculty, to discuss their thoughts about the presentation and ask questions. In my group, for example, we discussed the importance of context and intention when asking particular questions. While some questions like “Where are you from?” can be registered by some people as an implication of not belonging, and assumption of one’s nationality, this question is a vital tool of communication in international schools such as Marvelwood. Our group understood the difference between circumstances when it is appropriate to ask, and when it is not, drawing us to the conclusion that with certain questions, the two vital points are the context of the situation, as well as the intention of the question being asked. During our discussion, we also learned that presentations such as Chhibber’s, centered around topics of cultural and social awareness are fairly new to many US schools. The faculty within my group shared their experiences with cultural and social awareness themes during their high school, and stated that throughout their education, they did not receive such presentations. One faculty member in particular, pointed out that even as recently as the early 2010’s, there had been no such presentations at their school. The faculty and the students alike agreed that the presentation was a huge step towards progress for Marvelwood’s diversity, equity, and inclusion values, and was a new and enriching experience for many in the audience. Thank you, Ms. Chhibber, for sharing your expertise and facilitating the ongoing Marvelwood conversation of social and cultural awareness!