What we Learned in a Large Undergraduate Health Sciences Class

Confronting our own implicit biases compels us not only to engage with abstract data but to understand that we are all embedded in systems that oppress some and privilege others. Discomfort is an “essential ingredient” in this work (Gonzalez et al., 2021), and it is also central to the process that we have described as “haunting.”  Our students have told us that their most important learning has happened not in the lectures or readings about implicit bias but in the “willing and curious discomfort” of engaging with the scenes.

With discomfort comes risk. As we have workshopped the scenes with groups of learners, we have asked questions about how we can create a space for this work that is culturally, psychologically and spiritually safer: but that is not so safe that learners are not challenged to grow. A further layer to this challenge is the reality that safety and risk will be experienced differently by different learners, especially as they engage from their own social identities of marginalization and unearned privilege.

In this next section, the Principal Investigator of our project, Valerie Michaelson, outlines what she currently does to prepare her students for Mirror Theatre’s workshop. This is an evolving practice. While this is written in the first person,  our entire team contributed, including Joe, Sheila, Mike, Kevin, and Nadia as well as the Mirror Theatre Cast and the Experiential Learning staff at Brock. We hope that this section will help you think about how to use the scenes in a way that creates space for transformative experiences and conversations and at the same time that mitigates the risk of causing harm.

Please take very seriously that the scenes can raise contentious, complex and emotionally charged responses. If your group does not know each other well or does not have a high level of maturity and trust, we suggest you start with the lower-risk scenes. Use these to build trust and relationships and to practice having challenging conversations before moving on to any medium risk or higher-risk scenes.


Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

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