Month: July 2017

Red Emma’s Coffee Shop Hosts Education Activist Katie Kissinger for a Discussion on Bias in the Education System

Red Emma’s Coffee Shop Hosts Education Activist Katie Kissinger for a Discussion on Bias in the Education System

On July 23rd, early childhood education instructor, author and founder of Threads of Justice, Katie Kissinger, held a discussion on anti-bias education at Baltimore’s Red Emma’s Coffee Shop.

Kissinger’s passion for social justice and activism started as a teenager when she attended a collaborative project which brought Chicago black and white youth together to reflect on the issues of racism and poverty. This first experience would become an initial step for Kissinger on a road that would lead her to activism against bias, particularly implicit bias, in school settings.

“I was exposed, for the first time, into the realities of racism and poverty and recognizing my part in that as a white person. And it kind of completely dismantled my world view in a way that allowed me to see injustice first hand,” said Kissinger. “We were assigned projects, one with a local organizing group and mine was the Welfare Rights Organization which was on the south side of Chicago at the time. This was 1969, they were a powerful group of African American women knocking door to door organizing folks on assistance, so, that was what I did day to day.”

After this experience, Kissinger returned home and informed her family she was “joining the revolution.” This led to her acquiring her B.A. in Sociology and a job at Head Start where she would begin to develop an interest in fighting implicit bias, specifically, within education.

“My first job with my new degree was working for a Head Start Program and, so, that’s when I sort of started to look at education as a different kind of vehicle for social change and social justice. I worked in Head Start for a few years and, then, I had an opportunity to go to Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena,” said Kissinger. “It was a Quaker-founded-college where they believed that what’s missing in teacher education is supporting the development of social conscious. So, all the theory and everything we looked at in that degree of human development was grounded in challenging the status quo, the white supremacist paradigm and that allowed me to combine my anti-oppression passion with education.”

According to the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias is “attitudes and stereotypes that affect people’s actions, perceptions and decisions”. In contrast to “outright bias”, implicit bias is more present at a subconscious level and many who rely on it are often unaware of its presence.

Kimberly Papillon, recognized as an expert on race and the national justice system, uses neuroscience to explain how implicit bias is present, even in those who claim to hold no prejudices.

In her implicit bias primer, Papillion explains that many studies have found the same areas of the human brain that light up when confronted by a spider or snake, become more active when exposed to pictures of African-American faces versus Caucasian faces.

Papillion writes, “What is truly remarkable is that many of the people who have this reaction state they have no conscious bias or prejudice towards others. They have no idea that these reactions are going on in their minds.”

Despite Kissinger’s good intentions and a plethora of research to support her actions, she has found opposition to anti-bias activism in schools.

“Particularly in early-childhood education. There are a lot of people, in fact, it’s probably the prevailing myth around this, is that a lot of people don’t think this is a topic for young kids at all. They think young kids don’t see differences which is completely not true,” said Kissinger. “So, this is a myth we come across where they think we are posing problems by talking about differences with young children and trying to get people to see that silence around these issues is actually laying the foundation for what we call ‘pre-prejudice.’”

Implicit bias takes form in the suspension rate among students of color versus their white counterparts, as well as, how teachers interact differently with male and female students.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found teachers have an implicit bias about gender and math skills, often giving female students higher scores on “name-blind math test” only to score them lower than their male peers when the tests were no longer blind.

However, the research goes beyond academic areas and explains how males and females are managed differently in classrooms.

According to “Time”, researchers Myra and David Sadker, as well as Karen R. Zittleman “found that teachers spend up to two-thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them. Teachers also tend to acknowledge girls but praise and encourage boys. They spend more time prompting boys to seek deeper answers while rewarding girls for being quiet.”

The short-term effects of implicit bias include higher suspension and disciplinary rates among students of color, as well an early ingrained lesson to girls that they are meant to be seen and not heard.

The long-term effects can include failure to keep up with peers due to constant loss of class time, increased drop-out rates, a wider gender-gap in STEM and a more detrimental school-to-prison pipeline.

However, Kissinger doesn’t let the statistics deter her. She believes even if a child doesn’t receive anti-bias education in the early years, it is never too late.

“I believe it’s never too late but it gets harder and harder. Their socialization has already happened to them,” said Kissinger. “So, for them it’s more similar to what happens to all of us adults is that we have to unlearn and heal from whatever socializations we have, whether we were socialized to participate in the oppression of others or whether we were targeted by it, there’s that ‘work to be done’ [mentality] that gets in the way of us being fully human and fully able to participate in the liberation of all human beings.”

Have a story you want to tell? Reach out to me at

Threads of Justice Website
Kirwan Institute-Understanding Implicit Bias
Equal Justice Society Implicit Bias Primer
“Time Magazine”-Teachers Bias Against Girls In Education
National Bureau of Economic Research Study
Kirwan Institute -School Discipline

What I Learned from “When Dimple Met Rishi”

What I Learned from “When Dimple Met Rishi”

I’ve been reading more young-adult contemporary lately and the more I read the more I drool over this literary category. Maybe because it takes me back to my teen years and ignites those feelings of uncertainty but longing expectation of the first love. Maybe I’ve just been reading some really good writing because with every YA contemporary I read; I find myself fangirling out over the author. Similar to how I reacted after reading “Elanor & Park”, I find myself wanting to learn any and everything about Sandhya Menon, author of “When Dimple Met Rishi.”
If you’re a big reader of YA contemporary you’ve probably heard of this book and maybe even read it already. For me, this novel was introduced via a Booktuber book club I’m a part of on GoodReads. It was the June pick for the club and based on my pre-reading “research” the text had a lot of hype around it. I try to avoid hype like the plague but when I saw the cover my interest peeked. Then, when I read the short blurb informing me the two main characters were Indian youth who were first-generation Americans, I knew I had to read it.
I’m a total advocate for more minorities in media (I have a few essays I should probably look into getting published), especially as the main characters. Additionally, I love cross-cultural reading and my college study abroad experience was in India, so, you could say I have a soft spot.
Like any reader, you go in with a few expectations based on the blurb. I knew there was going to be a little romance, some teen angst and the like. What I didn’t expect is to find myself laughing out loud in public as I devoured the novel like it was last Snickers Bar on earth. I didn’t expect to become so invested in the characters either but the fact that I did is a nod to the author’s ability to write characters readers actually care about. However, what was most unexpected was the lesson I learned after reading this novel…
“When Dimple Met Rishi” is not for me nor is it for “us”, meaning people who are outside of the Indian community. Now, when I say “not for me” I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the novel or that all the praise I gave above is false. What I mean is I feel like the story was written for all to enjoy with a special laser focus on American teenagers who are of Indian descent. The same way Beyonce’s “Formation” was written for black women but can be appreciated by all people; “When Dimple Met Rishi” was written for Indian teens but can be enjoyed by all.
As a black woman, this realization was both odd and interesting to me. So often in America race is talked about in terms of black and white.
Dominance and oppression are talked about in terms of black and white. And even though I’m a traveled person, have had friends of varying backgrounds, have stood in alliance with friends who are part of other marginalized communities, this book made opened my eyes even wider. In a way, it was a little humbling actually.
“When Dimple Met Rishi” isn’t for me and that’s okay! I still loved the novel, still followed Sandhya Menon on all her social media (I promise I’m not a stalker) and I still want to buy some WDMR merchandise. Because in the end, the biggest win here is that a minority story is being told by an author who is a part of that minority and she’s introducing groups of people to a culture they may have never encountered. In the process of doing this, she’s also humanizing people of color, particularly brown people, to readers who may not fit that description.
All I can say is I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.