Re-examining stereotypes


by Jess Hoogendoorn

Students were informed of the “perils of prejudice” at the Inaugural Marvin W. Prejudice Reduction Lecture held in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater on Nov. 7. The talk was held in honor of Goldstein, who retired recently after 38 years of service to Rider University’s Psychology Department.

Dr. Susan T. Fiske, a professor of Psychology at Princeton University, spoke on “The Perils of Prejudice: Universal Biases in Brain, Mind, and Culture.” She discussed common societal stereotypes and presented data that she and other psychologists collected from all over the world, which tied in with Goldstein’s continuing work of promoting cultural acceptance.

Goldstein, who was present, spoke in a later interview in support of the lecture.

“In all my 38 years teaching Psychology, the issue of prejudice and prejudice reduction has been an important theme for me,” said Goldstein. “This led me into the study of genocide and to help develop The Koppelman Holocaust Genocide Resource Center. One of the aims of the center is to increase awareness of prejudice.”

Fiske presented the findings of several surveys and studies that she conducted in order to determine what types of prejudices people have. She explained that although most people consider prejudices to be completely negative, this is not always the case. Hate is the most negative result of a prejudice, but pity toward another group, such as the elderly, is also a form of prejudice, she said. This is because people think of themselves as having a higher value than the group of people that they pity.

Based on this argument, Fiske explained that if her theory is correct, prejudices can change. She cited the example of how prejudices held against the Irish in early American history have gradually faded over time.

“This is my argument, that prejudices come in distinct types, not all prejudices got created equal,” said Fiske. “Where do they come from? How do groups end up in this space? What I would like to suggest is that it is all an accident of history. All an accident of immigration in who happened to come here under what circumstances, what jobs were open, and where they ended up in society.”

According to Anne Law, chair of the Psychology Department, Goldstein’s message to the community has always been that education will provide the “needed antidote to the evils of prejudice.”

During the lecture, Fiske explained that using common sense is not enough to reduce prejudice.

Goldstein believes that students must take action in order to erase prejudices.

“It is important to encourage students to think about how they form perceptions about people who are different,” he said. “This is the first step in considering that the other person has feelings, wishes, hopes that are similar to their own. If we don’t recognize our biases, we have no motivation to change.”

Fiske described one study in which she observed brain activity when people were exposed to pictures of the homeless, drug addicts or minorities. She explained that culture is stored in the brain and that prejudices accepted and taught by a culture reside in an individual’s mind. However, this does not mean that prejudices are wired into the brain. Fiske believes that these common perceptions can change.

Goldstein agreed with Fiske that people must continue in the fight against discrimination and stereotypes.

“It is also important to remember the point Dr. Fiske made that it is our responsibility as a community never to accept or tolerate actions of discrimination or violence,” said Goldstein. “We need to send the message that these acts are unacceptable. This is important training for college students and for them to continue in this manner as they move into the general community.”

President Mordechai Rozanski reflected on Goldstein’s work at Rider.

“At the heart of all Dr. Goldstein’s efforts has been his devotion to education at all levels,” he said. “For Dr. Goldstein and for Rider University, this lecture series is an important way to keep the dialogue of prejudice reduction in the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

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