Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Zoom Conferences Vehicles For Bias, Academics Say

                Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have allowed many businesses to keep functioning and stay in contact with their customers and employees. They have been instrumental in countless training and informational sessions and have literally taken the place of school classrooms, particularly in the case of colleges and universities. They have helped many students to graduate on time during the era of coronavirus lock-downs and shelter at home orders. Thank goodness for them, right?
                Not so fast say some. Michigan State University recently published an article highlighting claims from MSU Professor Amy Bonomi and University of Colorado Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion (can’t understand why your tuition keeps going up, kids) Nelia Viveiros that an “unconscious bias” haunts many video conferencing meetings. The duo say that virtual meetings are rife with microaggressions, unconscious biases and other boogeymen boogeypersons that can “minoritize” students and coworkers.
                Bonomi states: “Unconscious bias includes using language, symbolism and nonverbal cues that reinforce normative social identities with respect to gender, race, sexual preference, and socioeconomic status. For example, when the virtual background of a Zoom meeting attendee has pictures of his or her wedding, it unintentionally reinforces the idea that marriage is most fitting between opposite sexes.
                Egads! We would hate to have marriage between the complimentary sexes be seen as normative, since we know sexual preference is akin to one’s preference in breakfast cereals or hair color. Men, women, kids, robots, goats, goat kids, it’s all the same. After all, everyone is welcome in DiversityandInclusionville. Well, except for conservative Christians, obviously, but that goes without saying. The truth is, his or her wedding picture doesn’t reinforce any idea except that he or she loves her partner and treasures that moment. Also, many gays and lesbians have wedding pictures, too.
                Viveiros noted: “In a recent videoconference, we were asked the ‘most fun thing you’ve done with your family during quarantine.’ Participant answers ranged from ‘gardening with my husband’ to ‘dance parties with my family.’” She added that sharing these types of experiences can “crowd out the experience of people with minoritized social identities” and that “asking about ‘fun family things’ prevented several Latinx attendees from sharing their experiences of losing family members to novel coronavirus.” No and no. Minorities can garden, even with their spouses. And they certainly can have dance parties. And many more non-Latinx people than Latinx people have lost loved ones to the coronavirus.
                Michigan State’s post hectored people to “Be conscious about what your ‘virtual environment’ might symbolize. While virtual backgrounds may be a way for participants to express themselves, it is important to understand who is being excluded and included with these types of actions.” Pictures of your kids might offend and minoritize abortion zealots. A certificate, trophy or award is likely to be seen by some as an ode to “ableism.” It might be best if the federal government mandated that all backgrounds visible on videoconferencing meetings be basic black. Nothing is better than anything else, right? Or at least less offensive.
                Bonomi pointed out that “to mitigate the potential of exclusion, some organizations are guiding participants to consider background choices to reflect the organization’s values, as opposed to personal choice.” Ah, there it is. Another attack on personal choice. It’s not your personal choice to leave your home anymore. It’s not your personal choice as to whether or not to wear a face mask. Or to decide what family pictures might conceivably be visible to others on the Zoom meeting you are attending. Far better to subtly espouse the “values” of Amazon, Twitter or Michigan State University.
                MSU also instructed students to use conference calls and video-conferences to “challenge microaggressions.” Great advice. “Ms. Johnson, I know, like, you’re the boss and everything, but that picture of you with your wife and dog renders lesbian couples with canines as the normative, optimum family model and minoritizes heterosexual cat owners like myself. And I don’t like it.”
                Good luck with that.

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