Preparing Boys for Life
Confronting Our Blind Spots
Dr. John Nagl

In this blog post, Headmaster John Nagl reflects on this year's summer reading for the faculty and staff: Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, written by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. Christopher Dial, who manages Professor Banaji's Implicit Social Cognition lab at Harvard, presented a discussion on the book's ideas at Haverford's opening meeting.  

Every school and college in America has seen an increase in racial tension over the course of the past year, and sadly, The Haverford School is no exception. We have dealt with the problem head on, holding assemblies to discuss our absolute abhorrence of racism, publishing student examinations of our culture and the challenges we face in our award-winning student newspaper The Index, and making “friendship” the keystone of our new school year.

Last year, I appointed Upper School history teacher Brendon Jobs as the School’s first Director of Diversity and Inclusion. In that role, Brendon will help to ensure that every member of our increasingly diverse community feels fully welcome to be a member of everything we do at Haverford. To that end, Brendon and our Director of Community, Donta Evans, suggested that this year’s summer reading for the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees be the New York Times bestselling book Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People. Written by two psychology professors who worked together at Ohio State University, Blind Spot examines the “mindbugs” that keep us from recognizing the talents and abilities of people around us. The book demonstrates that it is impossible to defeat racism without acknowledging that you suffer from bias. And we all do, every one of us. We are all biased, and we make unconscious decisions based on our biases that disadvantage certain groups and individuals.

This is an enormous problem. America is the most successful nation in the world in no small part because there are no racial, linguistic, or religious requirements to become an American. For centuries, we have welcomed to our shores the hardest working, bravest, and most talented refugees from around the globe. My own ancestors came here from Germany and Ireland in the decades after the Civil War, and I will always be grateful that they had the courage to leave their home and start anew, and that America gave them the opportunity to become full citizens of the greatest country in the world. That gratitude was part of my motivation to serve our country in uniform. Those I fought alongside in two wars were of every gender and race and religion and national origin – but they were united by love of the ideals of the United States and by a desire to preserve and extend the freedoms we enjoy to every corner of the globe.

Our boys here at Haverford, like the men and women I served with in the United States Army, come from many different backgrounds. They are of different races and colors and creeds. They live in 90 different zip codes all over the greater Philadelphia area. But they are united in their belief that hard work leads to success, that our band of brothers is stronger than any form of hatred or intolerance, that all of us are created equal and should have an equal opportunity to use their talents for the good of all.

Racism and bias in our Haverford School community hurt all of us and prevent us from achieving our mission. I found the ideas in Blind Spot about how to confront it compelling enough, to invite Christopher Dial, who works with the book’s co-author Mahzarin Banaji at Harvard, to discuss it with our faculty and staff at our opening meeting this year. We enjoyed that conversation, and look forward to an ongoing dialogue on how we can become a more diverse and inclusive community for all of our boys, as we prepare them for lives of meaning and service to all.

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