Perse Josef Behrmann Lecture inspires hope for battle against prejudice

Professor Rusi Jaspal gave an inspiring talk on breaking down stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination in this year’s Perse Josef Behrmann Lecture.

The annual event is held in memory of the Old Persean and Holocaust survivor, who went on to become a Hollywood actor, and ties in with the themes of Holocaust Memorial Day each year.

Dr Jaspal, who is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research & Knowledge Exchange) at Brighton University, explained that as a social psychologist, one of his key interests is how people come to have prejudicial ideas, and their consequences, while also considering how they can be changed.

He told a packed audience of students and staff that prejudice is having a negative attitude towards people from a different social group, based on stereotypes – beliefs and assumptions about that group, and that such attitudes become discrimination when acted upon.

Dr Jaspal outlined the dangers of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, highlighting the disproportionate amount of prejudice encountered by Jews in Nazi Germany that escalated to the extent of the Holocaust occurring.

He said it was vital for people to act when they see subtle kinds of discrimination, such as microaggressions, tokenism and deflective speech, to prevent prejudicial attitudes from continuing.

However, Dr Jaspal added that research showed attitudes come from observational learning, so if the people you look up to are prejudiced, you are more likely to deem those attitudes acceptable.

He concluded: “It’s important that we’re all part of the solution. We need to be mindful to challenge that prejudicial learning.

“For discrimination to occur. we put people into a category. We do that because we want to simplify the world and we organise them into good and bad, but we can challenge that and every one of us can be part of that change.”

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