Learning & Unlearning


Two icons of human head outlines with a brain drawn in the middle against a grid background. One outline has a brightly colored brain, labeled 'learning,' and the other has a muted colored brain, labeled 'unlearning.'

The way we think and maneuver through the world is shaped through our personal experiences. Our experiences are formed by the systems in which society operates and how our identities are impacted by them. This affects how people treat others and how biases and stereotypes are created. Everyone has different experiences and some go through life facing different barriers, privilege or oppression than others. With everyone’s different journeys in life, people tend to view life through their own lens, which doesn’t allow them to see or acknowledge the way the world is different for others. In instances when people are of different groups or don’t have common experiences, cross paths, it can cause disconnections.


Full Frame Initiative recently hosted a webinar about mental models and how they are what helps people to understand and make sense of the world. They come in the forms of stereotypes, categories, frameworks and more. Mental models become so ingrained in the systems that it can be hard to change them. Assumptions are a prevalent form of mental models that have the power to keep inequities going because it makes people feel that what they think they know is universal and is the whole truth and blocks them from wanting to see different perspectives. People have to see to believe rather than just being told.


In terms of DEI, unlearning and learning can be quite difficult especially if people who face certain privileges are hearing the stories of those who don’t share those same privileges. For both the privileged and the oppressed, there are different emotions when addressing differences and work toward inclusivity. Individuals who deal with oppression may feel scared to share their experiences because of the chances of being dismissed or it can just be traumatic for them. Those who have privileges may feel defensive or may feel guilt or denial.


In some DEI trainings led by MindOpen, there are clear observations in seeing that everyone is disengaged or disconnected from the topic. During virtual training it’s so easy to have the camera off, stay on mute and occupy yourself with something else and to leave the training as background noise. Some people show up just to have their attendance recorded and leave when it’s time to discuss or do activities in small groups. Participants may feel like they don’t need to be present if they aren’t blatantly prejudiced or if they don’t recognize the privilege they have.To be present is to challenge what you think you know and to be open to other perspectives.


The process of learning new information and unlearning old ways is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, but it takes willingness, dedication, accountability, and patience to overcome. It all begins with listening and wanting to make changes, and it is possible if we actively work at it.


-Samantha King


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