Penn GSE Researcher Helps MTV Launch Anti-Bias Campaign

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820May 12, 2014

One researcher at the University of Pennsylvania wants her MTV -- and has contributed to the development of the network’s new anti-bias campaign, Look Different.

While earning her doctorate from Teachers College at Columbia University, Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher served as the ethnographer for the Muslim Youth in New York City project and as part of the research team for the African Muslim Immigrants Literacy Initiative. Her work has also examined bullying of South Asian-American students.

That’s what got her noticed by MTV’s social-campaign producers and organizers who had heard about her research with Muslim immigrant youth and her anti-bullying advocacy efforts.

An expert in immigration and schooling, citizenship and transnationalism and issues of educational access, equity and quality, Ghaffar-Kucher came to Penn in 2009 and now serves as the associate director of the International Educational Development Program at the Graduate School of Education.

As a member of the Look Different advisory board, which is made up of authorities on race, gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, Ghaffar-Kucher shared her perspective with the campaign’s organizers.

What she had to say about micro-aggressions, a form of racism that is almost invisible and is unintentional and subtle in nature, piqued their interest the most.

“The problem with micro-aggressions is that they often don’t seem problematic on the surface, but it’s the subtext and the cumulative nature of these kinds of acts that make them so problematic,” Ghaffar-Kucher says. “Though much needed attention is given to issues such bullying, not nearly enough attention is given to micro-aggressions, which often unintentionally create a hostile climate for anyone who ‘looks different’ but especially for people of color.”

MTV’s multi-year campaign will use the network’s various platforms, on-air programming, celebrity influence and social media outlets to address issues related to bias.

In addition, the network has created a series of public service announcements focused on micro-aggressions. The PSAs point to MTV’s original research, which found that half of the young people in the sample felt as though these tiny acts of racism, when added up, have had a serious impact on their lives.

Ghaffar-Kucher hopes that the campaign will draw attention to those actions that can be hurtful to others, propelling stereotypes and providing ammunition for bullies.

“One of my favorite PSAs of the campaign is the one that acknowledges that we are all a little biased,” Ghaffar-Kucher says. “My wish is that the campaign not only leads to greater awareness about our own biases but also leads to a positive change in our behaviors.”

Look Different reflects millennials’ deep commitment to the principles of equality and fairness, while inviting them to look differently at subjects like privilege, prejudice and “colorblindness,” she says.

In its first phase, the campaign will be focused on racial bias. Its attention will shift to showcasing gender bias throughout the second chapter, and the third phase will shine the spotlight on LGBT bias. 

“It’s really been such a privilege to be part of this campaign and to work alongside folks whose work I admire greatly. And of course it’s very rewarding to know that the findings from my research with Pakistani immigrant youth post-9/11 has some real value beyond academia,” she says. “MTV reaches millions of young people across the country. That’s the kind of reach researchers dream about.” 

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