Despite the ubiquitous phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” everyone judges things based on appearance.
Peta Owens-Liston and Amy Albo, the creators of the photography gallery “What I Thought I Saw” — which was recently on display in the Marriott Honors College — said in an interactive exploration of their work with students that they want to challenge and discourage snap judgments for people.
The pair selected certain images from the exhibit wherein a judgment about a person’s appearance was contradicted by their story. They called these their “what I thought I saw moments.” Examples included Susan Boyle, the famously plain-looking British singer with a stunning voice, and Matisyahu, a Jewish-American musician constantly reinventing himself. They projected these in a classroom and encouraged students to share their first impressions, then proceeded to tell the backgrounds of the photo subjects.
These exercises were all a part of the ultimate challenge that Owens-Liston and Albo said they wish to extend to students at the U.
First is to mind your mind. Albo explained this as simply taking the time for “self-awareness pauses,” or taking the time to realize the direction your thoughts are taking you. If you are able to recognize the moments when you begin making snap judgments, you will very quickly be able to work your way to preventing stereotypes from affecting your perceptions.
Second, doubt yourself. This is, in Albo’s words, checking your pride and realizing that “you are not so smart.” We are much more capable of challenging our initial judgement and getting to know the person behind every image, he said.
Finally, peel the onion. Albo and Owens-Liston encourage students to really attempt to get to know their peers, and to ask questions about their personal lives so that we can begin to familiarize with different groups, rather than restraining our experience of the world to just people who remind us of ourselves.
When asked about their inspiration behind the project, Albo had a simple answer.
“We just really have an interest in people and in telling their stories,” she said.
She told students that this project was their organization’s personal way of advocating social justice, in all of the forms it is most required.
Owens-Liston and Albo want as many students as possible be able to view their work and accept their challenge. The project can be followed on its website at www.whatithoughtisaw.org, as well as on Facebook.