Un-learning Stereotype, Breaking Prejudice

How to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion?

(By Sabine Kortals Stein)

How can we better judge our own observations, and become active agents in fighting stereotype and prejudice?”

In 2020's atmosphere of uncertainty and social distancing, achieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as individuals and organizations was more important – and perhaps more elusive – than ever.

In response, Un-learning Stereotype – a project by ABCittà, together with TwLetteratura and 4iS–Plataforma para a Inovação Social – provides an online platform for sharing cross-field methods toward building cultures of respect and equal representation.

On 23 November 2020, the seminar and workshop by the same title – implemented with support from the Bosch Alumni Network and funded by the iac Berlin – drew more than 60 attendees for a lively conversation about how to build new social relationships in diverse contexts, such as workplaces and schools, public spaces and other arenas of everyday life.

According to co-organizer Maria Chiara Ciaccheri, a Milan-based consultant and trainer, “The big question is, how can we create a self-aware approach to diversity, especially with regard to biases, prejudices and stereotypes? From a stereotyped vision of human beings – in terms of gender, religion, sexual orientation and so on – to the impact of words and labels, how can we better judge our own observations, and become active agents in fighting stereotype and prejudice?”

To answer these complex questions, the Un-learning Stereotype project collects and shares examples of successful efforts against stereotype and prejudice across different disciplines and levels, and among various audiences, thus contributing to more collective awareness about these issues.

Among the zoomed-in seminar participants, iac Berlin Junior Project Manager Carlo Backes was hooked from the start. “The event began with input from Prof. Paolo Balboni, which was immediately interesting to me. Having studied political science with a focus on gender issues, I was intrigued when Prof. Balboni explained that stereotypes can be natural, necessary, and useful. I’ve always thought of stereotypes only in a negative way, and Prof. Balboni went on to confirm that, of course, stereotypes can be harmful and violent, too. I became curious to better understand and recognize the thin line between normal and destructive stereotypes.”

Backes was especially inspired by the variety of perspectives shared by other participants. “From the area of peace and conflict to hearing about a museum accessibility project that’s designing experiences for people with Alzheimer’s disease, it was inspiring to gain so many contexts for un-learning what’s negative about stereotypes and prejudices,” he says. Click here for a report on these and other working groups during the workshop, as well as related references.

Concludes Ciaccheri, “Our goal is to contribute to collective awareness against stereotypes and prejudices.” As such, the Un-Learning Stereotype website offers a range of possible strategies and tools for tackling and overcoming individual and organizational biases. The website will soon feature a digital publication of best practices on this interdisciplinary, intercultural topic.