Zionsville Mayor launches community conversation series to discuss implicit bias

CIZ COM 0611 Emily Styron

In an effort to discuss implicit bias, systematic racism and racial justice at the community level, Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron, in coordination with Zionsville Police Dept. and Zionsville Board of Police Commissioners, announced a community conversation series to be held Thursdays from Oct. 8 to Nov. 12.

“After George Floyd’s murder, the chief of police, residents, a local pastor and I got together to give a venue for folks to express their own experiences, both in witnessing that video coverage, that event, but also there own personal experiences as it related to racial inequity and concerns,” Styron said. “And what really, really touched me the most was when high school students came forward and shared their stories.”

Styron said a young woman who attended a Zionsville school came forward and shared a story of a time she felt singled out because of her race. Styron said it highlighted an inherent bias that even well-intentioned people can have. As the events following Floyd’s death continued, Styron said residents asked her what they could do to foster change. Many told her they were not familiar with the terms they would hear or read surrounding race relations and policing tactics.

At the same time, Zionsville resident Abbie Robinson-Armstrong contacted Styron, saying she would be willing to offer her expertise in intercultural affairs to draft learning materials to teach residents through a community conversation series.

Thus was created Community Conversations: Listening, Learning and Living Better Together, which will include five virtual sessions on Thursday evenings from 7-8:30 p.m. (no meeting is scheduled on October 15 due to Zionsville Community Schools’ fall break). Topics planned for conversation include:

  • Thursday, Oct. 8: The Origin of Implicit Bias
  • Thursday, Oct. 22: The Impact of Implicit Bias on Individuals, Organizations and Society
  • Thursday, Oct. 29: Managing the Influence of Implicit Bias
  • Thursday, Nov. 5: Systematic Racism: What is the Definition and Who Does it Impact?
  • Thursday, Nov. 12: How Can We Improve Racial Justice?

Robinson-Armstrong will facilitate the conversations. Robinson-Armstrong is a former vice president for Intercultural Affairs and professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Robinson-Armstrong has decades of experience in higher education, and during her 18 years at LMU, she designed and implemented an evidence-based program designed to identify and mitigate implicit bias. Participants included more than 8,000 executive and mid-level administrators, professors, K-12 teachers, staff and students across the U.S. and Canada.

“Participation in the conversations will motivate some participants to examine their attitudes and consider the way that systems they may be part of contributing to the negative consequences of systematic racism,” Robinson-Armstrong stated. “Then they will be more prepared for thinking about how to make things better in Zionsville.”

Styron and ZPD Chief Michael Spears will join Robinson-Armstrong during the conversations. Organizers will host a virtual presentation followed by a short question and answer session each week. There will also be weekly readings on the topics sent to the group and short pre- and post-session homework to facilitate discussions.

Styron said the conversations would allow for an open-ended conversation between residents and the police department.

“I really hope through these conversations more people in our community have an opportunity to talk about these issues and listen and let themselves grow through learning more about issues and situations that we may not feel directly through our own experience but can through these conversations,” Styron said.

Participants in the Community Conversations series will be invited to join the discussions virtually. To participate, contact ZPD Detective Elizabeth Frost at [email protected].