MSUPD Introduces Anti-Bias & Inclusion Unit

Monday, March 7, 2016, 7:00 am
Coleen Moyerbrailean

Shown above: Dr. NiCole Buchanan leading a training session on Implicit Bias.

The Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) announced on February 8 that it has formed an “Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit” to “proactively [address] police and community-related issues associated with bias.” MSU is the first university in the nation to create such a unit, according to Sergeant Florene McGlothian-Taylor a 26- year veteran of the department who heads the new unit. “We’re in the forefront on this,” says McGlothian-Taylor.

The MSU Police Department states on its website that “It is our mission to enhance the quality of life on campus, by building relationships, strengthening stewardship, and working collaboratively within our diverse community to reduce crime, enforce laws, preserve peace, and provide for a safe environment.” McGlothian-Taylor explained some of the ways the Department works to build relationships, work collaboratively with the University community, and maintain its commitment to proactively address issues.

After the start of a semester, explained McGlothian-Taylor, MSUPD digitally distributes a brochure entitled, “What to Do If I am Stopped or Contacted by a Police Officer” to the 70,000 members of the University community including students, faculty and staff. The information includes answers to questions like “What to do if an officer contacts you on the street”, “Why does the officer sit in the car for so long? What is the officer doing?” and “I’d like to speak with someone regarding the officer’s actions. What can I do?” The MSUPD is proud that they were “the first agency in the country to introduce a brochure such as this more than a decade ago”.

MSUPD uses a "Community Team Policing” approach to policing. This approach is a “manner of policing [that] involves close interaction between specific teams of officers and the community [they] serve.” The campus is divided into six neighborhoods and each team is responsible for two neighborhoods. This allows officers to get to know the students in their neighborhood and to be familiar to the students. A recently implemented program McGlothian-Taylor told me about is called “Conversations with Cops.” It brings officers into the dorms allowing students and officers to talk and to get to know each other informally.

McGlothian-Taylor and I talked about the Bias and Anti-Inclusion Unit, and how it adds to the Department’s existing programs. I was interested whether there had been any particular incidents that prompted the formation of the Unit, but McGlothian-Taylor assured me that the national climate of friction between police officers and community members, rather than any specific incidents, inspired the Unit. “We wanted to be proactive” in improving relationships between our department and the university community, she explained.

According to McGlothian-Taylor, the key to having trust between the MSU community and MSUPD is having “well trained officers” knowledgeable about “language barriers, and cultural differences”. It’s “extremely important” she said, “to have these conversations” about inclusion and anti-bias.

All members of MSUPD have been participating in training sessions focused on explicit and implicit bias. The sessions are facilitated by NiCole Buchanan, Ph.D. faculty in the Department of Psychology, and Paulette Granberry Russell, Director of the Office for Inclusion & Intercultural Initiatives. Russell also serves as Senior Advisor to the President on Inclusion at MSU.

Buchanan facilitates workshops on bias and microaggressions for departments and organizations on campus as well as for private groups and organizations. In a paper Buchanan sent me, microaggressions are defined as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership." (From Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014).

She explained to me in an email that the “MSU Police Department recognized that these types of workshops enhance everyone’s ability to interact effectively with all members of the public [and] consistent with that understanding, they asked me to conduct these trainings as a proactive step toward furthering officers’ awareness of these types of bias and willingness to reduce their incidence."

The first series of sessions focus on “Disrupting Bias: The importance of recognizing implicit bias and its impact.” Buchanan explains that “this is an introductory workshop defining implicit bias, explaining how it is different from explicit bias, teaching people how we come to hold these types of biases, and finally, ways we can begin to reduce having and acting on these biased beliefs.” As a follow up to the implicit bias workshops, Buchanan runs sessions on the topic of “Understanding Implicit Bias and Microaggressions.”

Russell explained to me that she has been giving workshops for 17 years on bias and its impact. “Bias may advantage or disadvantage” depending on whether we perceive the recipient to be “like us” or “not like us.” These workshops “raise awareness and provide strategies for eliminating bias.” In the case of someone who has been on the receiving end of bias, Russell notes that awareness of bias “gives a way to describe and name what they’re experiencing.”

The research on implicit bias that informs Buchanan and Russell’s work began in the late 1990’s. One of the tools to emerge from the research was the “Implicit Association Test” (IAT) out of Harvard University. Russell explained that people are typically aware of the explicit biases they hold, but are less aware of their implicit biases. Often, those implicit biases are linked to beliefs through learned associations. The IAT helps uncover the implicit biases and their connected associations. The results of the IAT (provided answers are honest with no self-censoring) provide an effective way to begin “disassociating” the bias from its connected associations.

I was invited to attend one of Buchanan and Russell’s training sessions, which I attended with a variety of people including officers and staff from the MSUPD along with members of the East Lansing, Bath Township, and Michigan State Police Departments. Part of the training included a test similar to an IAT test. Pictures were shown on a screen for ten seconds, during which time we were to write the first three words that popped into our minds. We did this with a total of 16 pictures.

Upon completing our task, we were placed in small groups of two or three to discuss our results. Everyone in my group of three was surprised by things we had written. Because we watched and listened to other groups, I know my group was not the only one surprised by the implicit biases exposed. I spoke with a Bath Township officer who asked not to be identified. He told me that everyone in his department will be participating in the training and that he thinks “it’s good to have this kind of training.” (You can try the IAT test at home, too.)

The Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit works in cooperation with the Office of Institutional Equity on campus. The Office, according to Director Ande Durojaiye, has a “Bias Incident Response Team” which coordinates across campus with departments and offices to “discuss and formulate appropriate responses” to incidents of bias. Durojaiye says the Team works with Human Resources, Resident Life, MSU Police, and “basically any office connected with employment or students,” to come up with “programs for proactive measures.”

It is through reports made to MSUPD and the Bias Incident Response Team that McGlothian-Taylor and her unit learn about relevant incidents occurring on campus that involve students. She uses the hypothetical example of a student discovering a derogatory comment written on a whiteboard in a dorm hall. The student can report it to the Resident Assistant who will contact MSUPD. Officers will take a report if it’s determined to be a crime, otherwise the officer will document the incident and help the student to formulate appropriate responses should the situation start to escalate.

Anyone wishing more information on the Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit or the Anti-Bias training sessions can contact the MSUPD at (517) 355-2221.