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MSU Training Program Uses Virtual Reality To Tackle Unconscious Bias

digital avatar of a woman in a wheelchair looking at a campus building
MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
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One of the scenarios in the program involves a woman using a wheelchair looking for an accessible entrance to a school building.

Recognizing someone else’s experience, whether it’s due to race, gender or ability, can be one step in building awareness around our unconscious biases.

A new virtual reality application from Michigan State University literally puts you into the perspective of someone who might be different from you.

It’s called, "A Mile in My Shoes."

Quentin Tyler is an Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at MSU. WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke to him about the program.

Interview Highlights

On How The Program Works

These are scenarios based on situations that happened on Michigan State's campus or even other classrooms across the country. You know, they will experience maybe some microaggressions, based on a certain part of their identity, and they have an opportunity to act through those situations. So again, it talks about ways to be an ally, ways to be an accomplice, and see things through the eyes of other folks.

On One Of The Scenarios In The Training

One in particular is an individual that utilizes a wheelchair. She's arriving to class, and she sees that she can't come through the first part of the building, so she has to go all the way around the building, right? And so then again, in that, there's difficulties in that, you know, in timing. There's also difficulties in accessing, you know, the doorways. And then when she arrives in the classroom, there'll be a situation in which the professor, you know, may even chastise her on being late.

On How The Program Will Help People Recognize Unconcious Bias

A lot of times we don't know what we don't know. So again, it brings people to the situation and also has, you know, real conversations that can happen. A lot of times when I interact with different faculty and staff, or even students, they say, "What do I say in the moment? You know, how do I advocate for folks?" And to me, this is the way to not only, you know, see and observe, but also to practice.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Recognizing someone else’s experience, whether it’s due to race, gender or ability, can be one step in building awareness around our unconscious biases. A new virtual reality application from Michigan State University literally puts you into the perspective of someone who might be different from you.

It’s called, "A Mile in My Shoes." Quentin Tyler is an Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at MSU. He joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Quentin Tyler: I'm excited and glad to be here to talk about our app.

Saliby: So, how does the program, the application work?

Tyler: Yeah, so basically, initially, we developed an app through virtual reality. We had it through utilizing the Oculus goggles, where folks actually get to experience the eyes through one of several avatars, which represent identities on Michigan State's campus.

And what happens was a student would actually be going through, faculty, staff or a student would actually go through, select one of the avatars then attend the class. And when they attend the class, they either could be through the eyes of these avatars or even through the eyes of a professor.

And so then what they would do is go through a specific scenario, and these are scenarios based on situations that happened on Michigan State's campus or even other classrooms across the country.

You know, they will experience maybe some microaggressions, based on a certain part of their identity, and they have an opportunity to act through those situations. So again, this talks about ways to be an ally, ways to be an accomplice, and see things through the eyes of other folks.

Saliby: Can you walk me through one of these experiences these avatars might see if you were using this application?

Tyler: So, one in particular is an individual that utilizes a wheelchair. She's arriving to class, and she sees that she can't come through the first part of the building, so she has to go all the way around the building, right? And so then again, in that, there's difficulties in that, you know, in timing. There's also difficulties in accessing, you know, the doorways.

And then when she arrives in the classroom, there'll be a situation in which the professor, you know, may even chastise her on being late, you know. So again, being able to act through those situations, you could either be an additional bystander in the class, you could advocate for the individual, but also even during the conversations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwE83PUV5-4&t=152s

Saliby: Why did your team select virtual reality to put this together?

Tyler: You know, there's a lot of different trainings out there, and we wanted to continue to be innovative and creative. And this started initially from an open house that I did with the [School of Planning, Design and Construction]. Dr. Linda Nubani specializes in virtual reality. And I saw this, and I was thinking, this would be a unique way for folks to see the world through other people's eyes.

Saliby: Is this program training for MSU, like students, faculty and staff or for use beyond campus?

Tyler: We had a goal in mind of focusing specifically on the College of Ag. and Natural Resources then branching out across MSU, and then also across the country. We've already been contacted by several folks and several institutions across the country on partnerning with this, and we have some things in the works now to partner with other universities.

Saliby: Can you explain how getting people to recognize unconscious bias will help in the fight against racism, sexism, ableism, [or] things like that?

Tyler: First, I also want to acknowledge the idea that even through this virtual reality, folks will be able to see videos on unconscious bias. So again, you know, to me, it brings people that are interested in virtual reality to the diversity, equity and inclusion space. A lot of times we don't know what we don't know.

So again, it brings people to the situation and also has, you know, real conversations that can happen. A lot of times when I interact with different faculty and staff, or even students, they say, "What do I say in the moment? You know, how do I advocate for folks?" And to me, this is the way to not only, you know, see and observe, but also to practice.

Saliby: Is there something you learned that you weren't aware of when it comes to unconscious bias when you were putting this together with your team?

Tyler: To me, you know, I have the ability to walk in the front part of a classroom, you know, up the stairs, you know, not thinking about, you know, the additional barriers that are in people's ways as they experience life as a faculty, staff or student on campus.

So to me, I think these conversations are helpful. They've been very helpful to my team to recognize the bias, even as we talk about the scenarios, and making sure all avatars are representative of the identities at Michigan State and across the country.

Saliby: Quentin Tyler is an Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at MSU. Thank you for joining me.

Tyler: Thank you for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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