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Students, faculty, staff reflect on Blind Spots

September 12, 2018

Those who stopped by the Check Your Blind Spots bus out of curiosity this week left ready to act, leaving their thoughts behind on a pledge board.

“Be open.”

“Stop and listen.”

“Slow down and think.”

Lines of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members awaited a walk through the bus, parked in the MLK Commons on Sept. 10 as part of a first-ever tour across the country to raise awareness of unconscious bias.

The Check Your Blind Spots mobile tour is a multimedia experience with video and interactive quizzes designed to help people recognize, acknowledge and minimize potential blind spots–those biases that can narrow your vision and potentially influence your behaviors.

“I didn’t know what a blind spot was. I was intrigued,” said 20-year-old Abby Wright of Carol Stream, a junior at NIU majoring in elementary education. “It was really mind-changing because I always thought I’m a very open person, and then you watch a video like this. It was kind of a way to give myself a mental check.”

Wright said the experience not only will help her shape how she views and treats those she encounters today, but also in the future as a teacher.

“I can actually integrate this into my passion,” she said.

NIU was one of 100 university and corporate stops on the bus tour, launched this fall by CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion–a group of more than 450 CEOs and 12 million employees pledged to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. As a lead signatory, PwC invested $10 million to create the educational tour.

PwC’s strong relationship with the NIU College of Business helped draw the tour to NIU, as well as Vernese Edghill-Walden, chief diversity officer and senior associate vice president for Academic Diversity at NIU, who pursued the tour upon hearing about it. Efforts to address implicit bias will continue throughout the year at NIU.

At least 430 people toured the bus this week at NIU.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to just open our minds and facilitate discussion,” said Alex Pitner, assistant program director in Student Involvement and Leadership Development, who stopped by the tour. “These kinds of things really do help.”

The event drew PwC employees as well as alumni who support the cause.

A 2017 graduate of NIU, PwC employee Brian Robinson said he hopes to see the conversation continue.

“I think it’s incredible,” he said. “As individuals in society, we’re so distracted by social media, TV, I think it’s really great when we start a conversation to open people’s minds and change their thinking for the better.”

Many were surprised to learn the human brain is overloaded with 11 million pieces of information every second. In that one-second window, the brain can only process about 40 pieces of information.

Experts believe about 90 percent of our decisions are made by our unconscious minds.

“I’m really interested in the unconscious mind,” said 26-year-old Majd Raslan, a senior computer science major originally from Syria, after walking  through the bus. “I know a lot of times we think we’re making rational decisions, but we’re not. Sometimes, a word can impact the rest of the world or make or break a future for someone.”

Raslan said he pays especially close attention to how he speaks to children. The multimedia tour furthered his awareness of how the unconscious mind impacts interactions.

“I’m just glad to learn about the initiative,” he said. “I’m glad there are people out there talking this way. I still believe if you know there’s a better way to go, you should go there right away.”

The event not only brought people together to walk through the bus and pledge, but also simply to chat while waiting in line, said event organizer Tamara Boston, a graduate research assistant with Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“People are excited, willing,” she said. “I even see them engaged talking to one another in line. I’m very pleased, the reaction we’ve gotten from students. I love it, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped us pull this together.”