Webinar Recap: Examining and Mitigating Implicit Bias

“As human beings, we’re not fond of ambiguity,” said Theresa Nance, PhD, vice president for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Villanova University, as she opened a mid-October conversation on Examining and Mitigating Implicit Bias, the latest in ACUE’s series of Inclusive Online Teaching webinars. “We fill in gaps with our knowledge and our understanding.”

The webinar also featured panelists Kevin Gannon, PhD, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and professor of history, Grand View University; Marlo Goldstein Hode, PhD, senior manager, strategic diversity initiatives, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, University of Missouri-St. Louis; and Darvelle Hutchins, lecturer, Department of Communications Studies, California Polytechnic State University and Diversity Strategist, TDS Telecommunications, Inc. The panel shared practices to set expectations for valuing diverse viewpoints, facilitate respectful conversations, and engage students in inclusive active learning exercises.

Key Insights from the Conversation

We all have biases.

“Everyone has them,” Goldstein Hode added. “These are cognitive shortcuts to categorize information very quickly.” She noted that these are involuntary thoughts that might conflict with our conscious thoughts — and we need to recognize that we have biases and be cognizant of situations where they could come into play. 

“Take a step back, ask questions, and seek out new information,” she said.

“We all have biases,” Hutchins agreed. “I think it’s important to remember that as educators, we’re not exempt from that.”

He revealed some biases he had when he was a new educator. For example, he believed that seniors were more prepared for complex courses than freshmen and engineering students were more analytical thinkers than those studying the arts and humanities — biases that were quickly challenged through his work.

Gannon, meanwhile, urged educators to read Stephen Brookfield’s Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. This book, he said, provides an excellent framing model for being a critical pedagogue. He also urged instructors to embrace a “radical ethic of transparency.”

We must be able to admit when we’re wrong.

“Intent does not equal impact,” said Nance. “[We must] become comfortable with admitting we don’t know — or we’re wrong.”

In fact, Goldstein Hode noted, you can only be effective if you’re aware you have that bias. “You have to care — have intrinsic motivation to want to challenge these biases. [It involves] developing a chronic awareness of bias.” 

“Are you paying attention to the story that surrounds [actions]?” Gannon asked, noting that it’s essential to make sure students aren’t being targeted in inequitable ways.

Addressing unconscious bias is an ongoing process.

“How can I continue to work to keep myself accountable to make sure everyone has an equal experience, even when it comes to grading?” Hutchins wondered. “How can we best position ourselves to work through that, be more inclusive, and provide a safe and equitable student experience?”

In effort to continue the process of addressing and mitigating bias, he, for example, aims to be very clear about his expectations and continually refers back to a rubric he’s created to ensure he’s being just and fair.

This is particularly important during COVID, Gannon said, when so much has been moved online.

“I try to be as transparent and explicit as I can with my students,” he said. 

As part of this work, Gannon advocates using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework. “It offers me a way to present tasks to my students by presenting a framework and takes away the anxiety of students who have not been asked to do a task before.” Additionally, he added, it “helps me expose and unpack my assumptions about what students can and can’t do and what I’ve internalized.”

“As faculty members, we all have a responsibility to maintain justice in the classroom,” Nance opined. “If we’re not doing it, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

She advocated using strategies like being more purposeful when forming groups and considering what different personalities would add. She also advises faculty to be explicit when addressing bias, all while acknowledging that “We’re never finished. We have to keep reading, talking, learning.”

Goldstein Hode suggested having students fill in a survey about what they can bring to a group to form one that would harness diverse skills.

At the end of the day, Goldstein Hode said, “Neural paths can be overridden but not overwritten. We can actively choose to act otherwise. [This is] ongoing work.”

Hutchins added that students have biases, too, and educators must work with students to help them consciously face them. “Work to bring to light that bias,” he said. “Post research. Post statistics so students can check their own biases. Be flexible.”

Watch the full webinar and access resources.

This webinar was presented in collaboration with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU), The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), Every Learner Everywhere (ELE), the National Association of System Heads (NASH), and Strong Start to Finish (SSTF).

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