In his doctoral dissertation, “Victories of the Heart: An Evaluation of a Transformational Men’s Retreat”, Josiah Miller, PsyD provides a useful and interesting look at at the issue of implicit bias.
Implicit bias is a widely researched process which shows that human beings have deeply held, unconscious bias which accounts for prejudice and racism in American society.
According to Ohio State University’s Kirwan InstituteÂ the key characteristics of implicit biases are:
- Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
- Implicit and explicit biases are related, but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
- The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
- We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
- Implicit biases are malleable. Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.
Implicit biases have a powerful effect on multiple levels. Many Americans on the right who support policies which overtly discriminate against people of color would deny being racist or biased in any way. They say the sort of things like we are supporting America and making America great again.
Josiah Miller’s research of the Victories of the Heart’s Breakthrough weekend offers a tiny, but very clear example of the implicit bias in the Victories leadership of the weekend studied and the the program as a whole.
As many people know, I was actively involved in the Victories program for several years and have observed and studied both the leaders and programs with both a supportive and critical view.
Along with Kurt Schultz, Rick Simon, a motivated team of volunteers, and lessons I learned from participating in Mankind Project’s New Warrior Program’s “guts trainings”, I was an instrumental part of creating a psychodrama training program which has been a very successful component of the Victories program since about 2005.
Not as widely known, Kurt Schultz asked me to help evaluate the Victories previous staff training mis-named the “spirit of generosity.” I learned very quickly this was a terrible program which left participants with mixed feelings and even resentments.
The reasons for the mixed feelings and resentments were obvious. Participants were asked by the leadership to bring an object of value to the day long training. They surrendered their objects at some point. What happened to the objects. This is sort of unbelievable and some may think I am making this up.
The objects the participants brought to the day were taken out of the room, onto the grounds of Techni Institute, then buried in a secret place. The participants never recovered their “valuable” objects.
One person I interviewed told me he brought a valuable and emotionally priceless piece of jewelry his deceased father had given him. He was not happy about what happened, but like many, chalked it up as some type of lesson he was supposed to learn on the way to personal growth and fulfillment.
Like replacing someone at work who failed miserably in their job, it was not difficult to create a more relevant, respectful, empowering and educational training event for volunteers. Many of the participants in those early trainings went on to leadership roles, including the two most recent Board presidents.
So, what evidence of implicit bias did Josiah Miller’s research offer about Victories? Research participants were asked to write about their experience after the weekend.
A gay man at the weekend makes several points about his perception the inappropriate use of heterosexist (everyone is straight) language:
“There was a certain tone that they were speaking from a place of authority and an absolute authority. There was a certain rigidness to whatever it was that was being communicated, there wasnâ€™t that sort of openness. There was a sort of absolutism about it in a way that felt false to me.”
“There were also moments when they used some more hetero-normative language. As a gay man, I would have hoped that they would have used more inclusive language. Like during certain activities, they would be talking about the men and their wives rather than the men and their partners or you know companions or spouses. Iâ€™m pretty sure that I was the only gay male on my particular weekend.”
“Although at the beginning I was certain that a couple of the other men were. Then one started talking about his wife and another was talking about his girlfriend. Well, seeing that I am a clinician and knew several of the men conducting the retreat, I knew that there wasnâ€™t anything negative meant by that. You know, I see a number of gay clients whoâ€¦I would question if they would you know, feel comfortable in hearing language that was somewhat exclusionary. And you know, itâ€™s not like I felt they were trying to single me out or intentionally exclude me, but it was just kind of something I noticed. I was also kind of wondering how Victories approaches transgendered or inter-sexed individuals and issues around their care and inclusion in Victories?â€ (Miller, 2016)
I write about his now because as early as 1993, I was a part of discussions both in Victories and the Mankind Project where the use of respectful cultural diverse terms like “partner” instead of husband/wife were actively discussed. It was part of the Basic Staff Training (the Psychodrama training) I helped design and implement in 2005 for Victories.
Why would a weekend program in 2016, 23 years after I know the issue was discussed, have staff using language that left a gay participant, apparently a mental health practitioner, feeling excluded?
Implicit bias offers the best explanation here. The staff leadership, if asked if they were biased against homosexuality, would say no, of course not.
However, this participant’s experience documents his felt experience of bias during the weekend. His words are a poignant description of how the LGBTQ community feels living in the dominant heterosexist American society.
There is no positive spin on this lapse in respect for cultural diversity within the Victories program. Their lack of sensitivity and self-knowledge at this time in history is inexcusable.
Although Dr. Miller notes the Victories principals were not happy with the results of his research, they have not disputed his findings or the comments of individual men, so we have to assume everything happeneds as described.
I think it’s safe to say, it was the staff leadership making the the lapse in respect for cultural diversity, not their evil twin brothers.
It goes without saying that the ethical code every profession has standards requiring the respect for cultural diversity.
We have to assume Victories, even though they have had the opportunity of over 30 years to evaluate and self-correctÂ problems in policy and procedures, has more work to do.
Why is this important for them? They have to ask the question about how enthusiastic the gay participant will be in making referrals to the Victories programs.
Certainly, I would never refer a gay participant to a Victories program.
I’ve written about the ambiguous way Victories leaders and program have addressed the issue of sexual orientation and it seems to be still too ambiguous.
At a Victories program in the mid-1990’s I heard Buddy Portugal try to reassure someone by saying “we’re all homosexual.” I was confused by this at the time and observed this mis-statement throughout my years of involvement and study of Victories.
No, we’re not all homosexual and to say this diminishes and disqualifies the murder, abuse, and discrimination experienced by members of the LGBTQ community.
Most importantly, we are not all heterosexual. To perpetuate this bias is wrong.