UArizona researchers increase racism awareness using virtual reality 

Feb 3, 2021, 4:55 AM
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)...
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

PHOENIX – Researchers at the University of Arizona are working on a project that would allow people to experience, first-hand, common instances of racism and discrimination using virtual and augmented reality technology.

Dr. Bryan Carter, professor and director of the UArizona Center for Digital Humanities explained to KTAR News 92.3 FM Tuesday that by allowing someone to not only “walk in someone’s else’s shoes” but also experience some of the things that may have been either “traumatic or celebratory in that person’s life,” it enables people to experience and understand aspects of culture they otherwise might never experience or learn for themselves.

The anti-racism project, formally known as Anti-Racism Extended Reality Studio, will be made up of several scenarios that will convey common experiences of racism, such as snide comments and hostility. It will be used in combination with readers and discussions as part of trainings.

“By creating these scenarios, we’re hoping to engage people differently and help people step into the shoes of others by being an actual first-person observer. You’re within a space and observing things that are happening around you and to you,” Dr. Carter said.

He hopes that by allowing people to experience these things for themselves they’ll become empathetic with those who go through it constantly, and possibly even become part of the solution by helping create concrete actions.

“If you were walking down the mall, how does it feel to be… say an indigenous student and you’re hearing people say things as you’re walking past them on the mall about your culture?” Dr. Carter said.

Participants will be fully immersed in the experience, created with a high-resolution 360-degree camera, using a headset and will be used during trainings in combination with discussions and readings.

The project, funded by a $50,0000 grant from the Office of Research, Innovation and Impact, is currently in the development stages but is expected to undergo usability testing in the summer. A pilot is expected by fall. At that point, community groups, students and faculty will be invited to participate.

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UArizona researchers increase racism awareness using virtual reality