By Dan Russo
WATERLOO — Despite all the progress in the decades since Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism in the United States continues to be a hot button issue that weighs heavily on the national conscience.
As racially charged incidents continue to make headlines, an often contentious national dialogue on race is taking place. It can be difficult for Catholic educators to know how to approach this topic among themselves and with their students. In an effort to provide guidance for school staff and other faith formation leaders across the archdiocese on how to respond to and oppose racism, the Archdiocesan Office of Respect Life and Social Justice is offering a new training program.
“Recently the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a new pastoral letter on racism titled ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’” explained Mark Schmidt, director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice. “In that letter the bishops called on all members of the Catholic Church to consider how racism is present in their lives, how they may be guilty or complicit in racism on an individual level as well as institutional levels. The bishops specifically called on Catholic educators and faith formation leaders to develop ways to educate the people of God about explicit racism as well as implicit bias.”
Schmidt has developed a training session titled “Surely, It Is Not I, Lord!: Reflections on Racism and Understanding Implicit Bias” that is available for schools and parishes.
“This presentation is a response to that call — helping those involved in Catholic education to recognize the persistence of racism in our world, within the church and even within the Catholic education systems,” stated Schmidt. “It also focused on helping educators understand the role that implicit bias plays in the education system. It is important that we all understand that good intentions are not enough; that we may intend to do good but still may be doing harm stemming from our implicit bias. The presentation reviews the theological teachings regarding racism as well as the scholarly research that is done in the field of implicit and explicit bias.”
The Catholic Church condemns racism and other forms of unjust discrimination in section 1935 of the Catechism, stating these are “incompatible with God’s design.”
Aside from explicit racism, Schmidt’s presentation also contains training on the implicit form, which is defined by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”
According to the institute, everyone has implicit biases and that: “We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.”
Schmidt visited Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo Feb. 15 to present the program for the first time to a group of staff members that work with Catholic school students in grades 6-12. Participants “were shown specific methods that can help reduce bias as well as learning about available resources to address bias in themselves, their classroom and even at an institutional level,” Schmidt said.
After receiving the training, Daniel Thole, principal of Columbus Catholic High School, discussed its impact in a written reflection he shared that day.
“As educators, it is absolutely vital that we actively work to overcome any bias we might hold towards a student or group of students because it keeps us from seeing them as they deserve to be seen,” wrote Thole. “Every child is a product of God’s perfect work, and no race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc… shall define a person’s dignity in any way. It is my job to make sure this is reflected in the operations of our school, it is the teachers’ jobs to make sure this is reflected in their classrooms, and it is the job of all of us in the (Columbus High School and Cedar Valley Catholic Schools) community to make sure this is reflected in how we represent our school, our system, and our church. Mark’s presentation to our faculty today brought this to the forefront of our minds, and he called on us to be instruments of God’s love to every student we encounter, just as Jesus did in the Gospels.”
For information on holding the program at your school or parish, contact Schmidt through the Archdiocesan Office of Respect Life and Social Justice: phone: 563-556-2580, ext. 287; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff who work with students in grades 6-12 have a discussion during the training on racism and understanding implicit bias held Feb. 15 at Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo. The program is available for Catholic educators in the archdiocese through the Respect Life and Social Justice Office of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. (Contributed photo)