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NEWS | Jan. 21, 2016

Leaders Course Activity creates biases awareness

By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood 84th Training Command

FORT KNOX, Kentucky - Eight people are in a “sinking raft in shark-infested waters.” In order to make it to a nearby island, six of the occupants have to go overboard, the raft is getting smaller by the minute.

How do you determine who stays and who doesn’t?

That was the dilemma faced by selected students enrolled in the U.S. Army Reserve’s 84th Training Command’s Equal Opportunity (EO) Leaders Course held here in November, 2015. The Command partnered with the EO Central Community.

“The course’s intent was train soldiers to become EO Leaders in accordance with AR 600-20, Chapter 6,” said Master Sgt. Arlene Lindsay, command equal opportunity advisor.

The students were divided into two groups of eight and boarded a “masking tape” raft. Each student was given a badge and a pretend “identity” to role play before getting cozy in the small confines. Some of the identities included a 70-year old Native American man, a male hairdresser, a young Hispanic male infected with HIV and a 21-year old Soldier.

When the exercise ended, a 21-year old soldier and a male doctor were in one “raft” and a 21-year old soldier and a 35-year old African American mother of four were in the other “raft.”

One of the “survivors”, Sgt. Sarah Fischer, Company F, 1st Battalion, 124th Aviation Regiment, 11th Theater Aviation Command (TAC), said the exercise was interesting because students had different reasons for removing people from the raft.

“Those opinions changed once we found out more details about each person,” said the merchandise coordinator from Monongahela, Pennsylvania, who played a male white doctor.

Some of the reasons to remove them were because of age, survivability and disabilities. Each “raft” also was surrounded by fellow students listening intently and taking notes.

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Barker, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky, one of the note takers, said he noticed that the criteria to throw people overboard was based on an emotional appeal.

“It was interesting no one mentioned the race of the characters until it started getting heated at the end,” he said. “That never got brought up until the stress came out.

“In the beginning, they were laughing but toward the end, they became more serious and the appeals to the emotions became stronger. They had to have some rationale to throw somebody off to cover up the real reason they wanted to throw them off.”

Another note taker, Sgt. 1st Class Monica Waldron, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, United States Army Recruiting Command, Fort Knox, said she noticed the survivors with disabilities, medical conditions and the elderly had no value.

Yet Sgt. 1st Class Jermaine Westley, 5th Recruiting Brigade, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, United States Army Recruiting Battalion, Fort Knox, noticed that the thought process changed to how they would survive once they reached the island.

The TAC EO Specialist and one of the course facilitators, Michael Shadel, added that it is natural for people to judge a person by what they see, or by their race, rank, religion or ethnicity.

“As an EO practitioner, you have to be able to set that aside and don’t cast judgement because when we cast judgement, it often leads to making poor decisions,” said Shadel.

Lt. Col. Andreas McGhee, EO Program Manager for the 84th Training Command and the course lead facilitator, said the key point on this exercise was that people have biases that they are not aware of and they are not aware of stereotypes that other people hold.

“The exercise intent was to get us to recognize that we all have biases and knowing who we are ourselves can help us be able to relate or deal with other people,” he said.