Saturday was our biannual mentor training at First Exposures, one of two volunteer programs I work with.
Many people look at these trainings as a droll requirement of being a mentor. I look at them as an opportunity to get to know the other mentors and to find ways I can improve myself.
By being a youth mentor – even just part-time, as I’ve chosen to do – I have a commitment to be the best I can for any mentee I work with. That mostly equates to me trying to know myself better so that I can more easily find ways to support the student.
I know. Kind of kitschy, but it’s true. Why choose to attend something I don’t like when I can choose to attend something to learn?
A lot of the training was realizing how many implicit biases we each have, and how even a known bias can still have a profound impact on how we think and act.
A simple exercise was that we were each given a list of items for us to write down what we know about our mentees. Things like race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, socioeconomic standing, and even legal status.
The discussion quickly and obviously led to discussing which of these items and how much of each is necessary to know in order to successfully connect with and mentor a student.
But then Sarah gave out the same exact list – except the title was asking how much do the mentees know about us.
With the camera turned around, the focus on what was known and what was necessary shifted dramatically and even highlighted areas where we had bias without even realizing was there.
Now called implicit bias, an international group of researchers including many at Harvard Universityhave an online set of tests called Project Implicit. Take and test and find out where you might have biases you weren’t even aware of, or even be surprised that you might not have ones you thought you did.
Although the nature of a bias makes it essentially impossible to fully overcome it, knowing about it allows you to choose more carefully and have a different influence on your life and those around you.