As a part of Austin College’s recent TEDx conference, psychology professor Lisa Brown spoke on the prejudices that exist in American society and the barriers they create for an open dialogue between different groups. During her speech, which was titled “Who gets the Benefit of the Doubt? And Who Shouldn’t?” Brown discussed the kinds of prejudice that exist in America today.
“Part of what I am trying to do is get people to think about what people are given the benefit of the doubt or a second chance in society,” Brown said.
As an example of this benefit, Brown referenced the recent cases of Brock Turner, who was convicted this year of three counts of sexual assault and only served three months in jail.
During her talk, Brown discussed the many types of bias that are given in society. While addressing the audience, which was primarily made up of Austin College students, she said students as a whole are often given the benefit of the doubt. As an example, she said if a student is caught drinking while underage on campus, the infraction would likely be handled in house. However, someone outside the college community would likely be charged for the crime.
“I think when people hear of prejudice, they think of racism, when it can go much further than that,” Brown said.
These prejudices aren’t always negative preconceptions, noting a stereotype of the elderly and disabled. Often people will stop to help individuals in these groups out of a perception that they are weak or in need of help.
The best way to break these prejudices is through open dialogue and conversations, she said, referencing the contact hypothesis. By getting to know people of other groups, Brown said people can gain a level of understanding and empathy. These conversations must be grounded in respect as an equal, she said.
“It is not that we have to agree or such,” Brown said. “We need to understand that there are other perspectives. Too often, we are just talking to people that believe what we believe.”
Brown gave a personal example of a time when she was serving as a juror alongside a woman who had a deformed arm. Many of the other jurors stared, but no one brought up the issue out of fear of being rude, she said. After the woman brought up her arm in conversation, Brown said she asked about it, opening up room for conversation and dialogue. In the end, she said she learned something that she didn’t know, and no one was offended.