1,000 Cut Journey is a virtual reality program that explores racism by allowing users to experience what it’s like to be Black first-hand. This was designed and developed by Dr. Courtney Cogburn, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and Dr. Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford University.
In this immersive virtual reality experience, viewers become Michael Sterling, a Black male, and encounter racism as a young child, an adolescent, and a young adult. This experience highlights the social realities of racism, for understanding racism is the essential first step in promoting effective, collective social action and achieving racial justice.
Achieving racial justice requires that we understand racism. It is possible for one to adopt or support beliefs of racial justice and equality, but fail to truly understand the nature of racial inequality.
With funding from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration was created between the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) at Stanford University and The Cogburn Research Group at Columbia University. They used VR as the medium to examine racism. This project builds on Dr. Cogburn’s research and previous VHIL studies in which they have examined how virtual reality can induce empathy for people different from oneself.
The result of this collaboration was “1000 Cut Journey”, an immersive virtual reality experience that allows you to walk in the shoes of Michael Sterling, a Black male, and encounter racism first-hand, as a young child experiencing disciplinary action in the classroom, as a teenager having an encounter with the police and as a young adults experiencing workplace discrimination. Understanding the social realities of racism is critical to promoting effective and collective social action. The target audience of this immersive experience are those who espouse beliefs of racial justice and acknowledge realities of racial justice but have not directly experienced racism first-hand.
1,000 Cut Journey highlights the social realities of racism. As you “become” Michael, you control the body, interact with the environment and the environment interacts with you. Moving beyond “bias” – this interactive experience delves into the complex levels of racism across time and context from a first person point of view.
“Achieving racial justice requires that we understand racism. Not an understanding that emerges from intellectual exercise or even in the consumption or production of science – but rather a visceral understanding that connects to spirit and body as much as reason.”
– Dr. Courtney Cogburn, Associate Professor at Columbia University School of Social Work, Designer of 1000 Cut Journey
1,000 Cut Journey premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. The festival’s Immersive program showcases works by artists who are pushing boundaries, using technology to tell stories and create new experiences. The reactions for the VR experience were very positive.
1,000 Cut Journey is currently being used for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings with major corporations, particularly targeting senior leadership, as well as being used in classroom as an educational tool.
It was also integrated to a course in Columbia University that Dr. Cogburn helped designed (focuses on racism, oppression and privilege). Based on their data, the VR integration resulted to an enhanced 14-week course.
1000 Cut Journey supports the perspective shift needed to more meaningfully, honestly and deeply engage issues of race and racism.
As the project continues, The Cogburn Research Group and VHIL is examining the effects of this immersive virtual experience on changes in psychological processes, including empathy/social perspective taking, racial bias, and decision making. VHIL is also building the architecture for wide-scale distribution within a number of organizations, as well as making technological adjustments to allow them to distribute the experience across multiple hardware and software platforms.