Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Inclusive Teaching > Implicit Bias

Implicit Bias

Biases can be either conscious or unconscious and can motivate people to act favorably or unfavorably towards groups of people:

  • Explicit bias (or conscious bias) refers to when a person is aware of holding stereotypes about social groups. 
  • Implicit bias (or hidden bias or unconscious bias) refers to when a person is not aware of holding explicit stereotypes of social groups.

Everyone has implicit biases. Jennifer L. Eberhardt, in Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We see, Think, and Do (2019) explains implicit bias as “a kind of distorting lense that’s a product of both the architecture of our brain and the disparities in our society.” People develop ideas about many characteristics, including race, weight, ethnic origin, accent, religion, gender, and disability based on their past experiences, geographical location, popular culture, etc. Those ideas have the “power to power to bias our perception, our attention, our memory, and our actions—all despite our conscious awareness or deliberate intentions.” 

Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald (2013) emphasize the hidden nature of implicit biases. They explain how hidden biases can plant “mindbugs,” or “ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions.” Those habits come from unrecognized feelings and beliefs about social groups. 

In other words, people have to learn about their implicit biases and work to combat them. 

Combating Bias 

These are some strategies for combating bias in your teaching: 

  1. Identify your biases. Take an online self-assessment to help identify your biases through Harvard’s Project Implicit.
  2. Consider using grading and assessment techniques that may help mitigate bias. Some examples include blind marking and contract grading. In Labor-Based Grading Contracts, Asao B. Inoue argues for the use of labor-based grading contracts. 
  3. Diversify your curriculum. Doing so may help to counter stereotypes.
  4. Facilitate equitable participation during class activities and discussions. See Facilitating Discussions for some strategies to encourage participation. 
  5. Ask for feedback from your peers by asking a colleague to observe your course. See Yale University’s Using Teaching Inventories and Classroom Observation Protocols and Observing Teaching in Higher Education, developed by Taimi Olsen at the Clemson University Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation for additional tips on organizing classroom observations.

Microaggressions 

A microaggression is a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. Microaggressions can be the result of bias. 

In our classes, microaggressions can make people feel unwelcome and uncomfortable, and can also make it difficult to have productive and respectful discussions. Learning to identify microaggressions is a good first step in learning to confront them. Buzzfeed has a collection of common microaggressions and UCSC has a collection of examples that includes explanations of the themes and harmful messages that are implied by each microaggression. 

The video below, produced by Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann and Carla LynDale Carter, gives some context to how microaggressions negatively impact the classroom environment. A few noteworthy segments include

  • 5:11 - 11:36: Students share how microaggressions impacted their classroom experience
  • 12:39: Faculty members discuss how to respond to microaggressions in the classroom
  • 14:31: Flores Niemann shares the most common ways in which instructors commit microaggressions
 

Microaggressions in the Classroom from Focused.Arts.Media.Education. on Vimeo.

Addressing Microaggressions 

Learning to respond to microaggressions can help you and your students to cultivate a welcoming classroom environment and to learn about the biases that shape microaggressions. 

Tasha Sousza, PhD offers a framework on how to take ACTION when responding to microaggressions in a Faculty Focus blog post, "Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION."  Kerry Ann Rockquemore provides another framework, “Opening the Front Door,” as a way to engage in “microresistance” and act as an ally when experiencing microaggressions.

Further Reading 

References

Awareness of Implicit Biases. (n.d.). Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved January 20, 2021 from https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/ImplicitBiasAwareness.  

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Eberhardt, J. L. (2019). Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We see, Think, and Do. Penguin Books. 

Inoue, A. B. (2019). Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. The WAC Clearinghouse; University Press of Colorado. https://doi.org/10.37514/PER-B.2019.0216  

Rockquemore, K. A. (2016). Allies and Microaggressions. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/04/13/how-be-ally-someone-experiencing-microaggressions-essay?src=SocialMediaFB 

Souza, T., Vizenor, N., Sherlip, D., & Raser, L. (2016). Transforming conflict in the classroom: Best practices for facilitating difficult dialogues and creating an inclusive communication climate. In P. M. Kellett & T. G. Matyok (Eds.), Transforming conflict through communication: Personal to working relationships. (pp. 373-395). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Souza, T.J. (2016). Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom: Concrete Strategies for Cooling Down Tension. In Faculty Focus Special Report: Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom. Magna Publication.

Strategies and Resources About Implicit Bias. (n.d.). Brown University. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.​brown.edu/sheridan/teaching-learning-resources/inclusive-teaching/implicit-bias.