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Rutgers Encourages Community to Speak Up About Prejudice, Bias and Bigotry With New Campaign  

Speak Up! Campaign
Rutgers Office of University Equity and Inclusion launched its Speak Up! Universitywide Bias Prevention Campaign this month.

Would you be able to recognize an incident of prejudice, bias or bigotry at Rutgers? Would you feel empowered to intervene if it happened in your lecture hall or work space?

Those are some of the questions that the Rutgers Office of University Equity and Inclusion is encouraging Rutgers students, staff and faculty to ask themselves as part of its Speak Up! Universitywide Bias Prevention Campaign, which launched this month.

Rutgers Today spoke with Joan Collier, senior director of Institutional Equity and Strategic Initiatives, to learn more about the campaign and its moderated discussion series, “Education as Disruption,” which explores themes surrounding religious, disability, racial, gender and sexuality bias on the first Wednesday of each month via Zoom. A recording of the first discussion in the series, “Repairing Harm,” is available on the campaign page. Registration is now open for the second virtual discussion about religious bias, which takes place on Dec. 1.

What is a bias incident?

A “bias incident” is defined as an act – either verbal, written, physical, or psychological – that threatens or harms a person or group on the basis of actual or perceived race, religion, color, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, atypical heredity or cellular blood trait, military service or veteran status. This seems like a long list, but it covers the many ways people think about and apply identity.

How would you describe the Speak Up! campaign?

The Speak Up! campaign is a call to action for the Rutgers community to recognize and disrupt bias and the harm it causes. The aim is to encourage students, staff, and faculty to actively foster an inclusive community where members feel empowered to “speak up” or intervene, in helpful ways, when indignities occur. 

Speak Up! also provides a banner under which Rutgers organizational units can align bias prevention education and skill-building opportunities that equip community members with the tools to speak up with confidence and knowledge. During our Education as Disruption series of moderated discussions, attendees will learn strategies for responding in the moment to everyday prejudice, bias, and stereotypes.

What questions can people ask themselves to help identify their own biases?

  • What don't you know, and why might you not know that? It can be comfortable to live within the bubbles of identity that make us feel safe. This question encourages people to explore what could be keeping them from broadening their understanding of other experiences.
  • Are you open to learning about experiences, histories, and realities that are different than your own? If not, why not?  This question highlights that differences can sometimes feel threatening to what we know to be true about our own experiences. It’s important to remember that a different perspective doesn’t make it an opposing perspective.
  • What skills and knowledge would you like to have to enable you to disrupt internalized bias (bias that targets your own group), personally held bias (bias held about groups you don't belong to), or observed bias (bias that you have seen around you)? Building capacity and gaining understanding about the many ways we internalize bias can help us combat them. Having this self-awareness allows for self-reflection and empowers us to disrupt those patterns.

What do you hope the Rutgers community takes away from this campaign?

Our learning and work environments on campus are not immune to hate and acts of bias. Ongoing growth in respect and understanding of differences among our university community is critical to the success of our pursuit of a beloved community. I hope the Speak Up! campaign empowers participants to affirm the value of each member of our community and reminds us that we have to be intentional and persistent in the rejection of hateful actions and rhetoric.