two boys and a girl with thinking caps
Thinking caps

Describing, interpreting, and evaluating

We can use describing, interpreting, and evaluating as a bridging technique when faced with diversity or differences. This bridging technique fosters a meta-cognition that helps us treat diverse others as they wish to be treated. It discourages stereotyping and unconscious bias.

The challenge is we are all human. We are all susceptible to stereotyping and biases. Stereotyping and biases usually influence our very first thought. Sometimes this happens unawares and unconsciously. What is important is not our first thought, but our next thought. What we do based on the second thought is critical. Our first thought dealing with diversity may easily be incorrect. When we describe, interpret, and evaluate, we take time to have an opportunity to think twice. We can then handle diversity in an authentic and appropriate manner.

In this course, I tried to be open and transparent. I shared examples, including my own stereotyping and unconscious biases relating to age, race, gender, religion, politics, family, communication, and national origin. I shared my first thoughts when dealing with diversities. I hope my second thoughts were better thoughts. I hope my second thoughts and behaviors were more inclusive.

Please allow me to be vulnerable again and share another story about my stereotyping and unconscious biases. This time I will share how describing, interpreting, and evaluating can work as a bridging technique in diversity work and perhaps lead to increased inclusion.

When I look at the diversity wheel, there are two types of diversities that jump out to me. These diversities are education and work experience. I come from a family of blue collar workers, steel mill workers, truck drivers, and retired military. Education was not stressed to me growing up. I made no effort in school. Not a day goes by when I wished I had not been more attentive in my middle school English classes. Some of you will readily agree. Perhaps my incorrect grammar and poor writing are bothering you. My flaw at the time in middle school was I thought incorrectly that I will never use this writing and grammar stuff.

My grandfather had a very responsible blue collar position in a steel mill. We have a bit of family lore which downplays the benefit of going to college. My grandfather apparently warned a team of engineers with engineering degrees at the steel mill that their project to replace the presses was not going to work. My uneducated grandfather explained their engineering design was flawed. The engineers reportedly mocked and belittled my grandfather in asking, “Where did you get your engineering degree?” My grandfather ended up being correct. The new presses at the steel mill failed due to engineering errors.

I grew up listening to criticism of academics and college graduates. In spite of all of this, I did earn a college degree and two graduate degrees. All of my children have college degrees. Some have graduate degrees. Two are professors or instructors in higher education.

But here is my confession, I have the only advanced degree in my family of origin. I worked the last 21 years in higher education as a professor or instructor. I work at Purdue University every day in spite of my unconscious bias to be non-academic. I love learning. This is probably the reason I have multiple college degrees. But my very first response, thought, and emotion when I meet a hard core “knows it all” academic is a biased response internally. I react negatively because my first biased thought is “This person thinks they know everything about everything … this person believes and prides themselves on being the smartest person in the room.” If I learn this academic person has a parent or parents who were Ph.D. academics, then my non-academic bias is increasingly multiplied because I wonder if this is a multi-generational trait passed from one generation of highly educated parents to their highly educated children. A coworker of mine even has a term for this bias. She calls it “PhD-ism.” This is short for “Doctor of Philosophy-ism.”

What is most important is not my first thought but my next thought. In this case, I ask myself what do I see? I describe what I see. I see a person who works at a university just like I do. I see a person who has multiple college degrees.

My next step is to interpret what I see. So in my mind I consider what meaning I am making from what I see in this person. Now I realize that their work experience and education may not fit the stereotype of an academic as I was taught growing up. I see a person who may come from a family where education was important and not ridiculed.

As I learn more about this person, I may discover they worked their way through college just like I did. I may learn we have interests and hobbies in common. I may learn we are a lot alike. I may learn we are not alike and I interpret this as OK. What I glean from this is my biases and interpretation from a first impression are not always accurate or reliable.

I next move to evaluate what I see. I evaluate my description. I evaluate my interpretation. As a result, my evaluation may be correct or incorrect. Some hard core academics always assume they are the smartest person in the room and know everything. I have learned that some do not. This process of verification using describing, interpreting, and evaluating gives me control over my own unconscious biases and stereotyping.

I have learned to build a bridge with diversity based on education and work experience. If a hard core academic insists on being the smartest person in the room, that’s OK with me. I can accommodate that need for their personal esteem. But you see I also am aware that some academics are very capable of conducting a great conversation with a steel mill worker, truck driver, or retired military. By using describing, interpreting, and evaluating in sequence, I can be self aware, aware of diverse others, and manage my thoughts and emotions. I can authentically and appropriately bridge diversity. I can choose to adapt or modify my behavior.

Your assignment in this step is to practice this bridging technique of describing, interpreting, and evaluating with a person different from you. Reflect on how this worked out and share your experience as a comment. Please join the discussion with a few other learners.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

Purdue University