Pedagogical Considerations in Teaching Implicit Bias

Pedagogical Considerations in Teaching Implicit Bias

Lisa Bloom (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), Candy J. Noltensmeyer (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), Sur Ah Hahn (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), Charmion B. Rush (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA), Pamela Heidlebaugh-Buskey (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA) and Tonya M. Westbrook (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2020010103
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This project is part of a larger study examining the impact of an interactive lesson on implicit bias designed to help undergraduate students understand how implicit bias affects everyday realities and develop strategies for countering the effects of implicit bias in both personal and professional decisions. This portion of the project focuses on students' experiences with discrimination and strategies to address bias. Results from this preliminary study are promising as students' self-perceptions are explored and may assist instructors with pedagogical decision making for teaching topics such as bias and discrimination. Limitations of the study and implications for future teaching and research are discussed.
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Implicit biases are attitudes or stereotypes that are unconscious and involuntary (Perception Institute, 2013). They affect our understanding, actions, and decisions outside of our awareness and control (Staats, 2014). In contrast to explicit bias (biases that are known to an individual), implicit biases are activated unintentionally and without one’s awareness.

The need to examine and address student attitudes toward diversity became apparent to the authors of this study due to increasing racial tension on campus (Western Carolina University, 2017) exacerbated by many culturally offensive comments chalked on sidewalks around campus, complaints of insensitive and reprehensible ethnocentric slurs made on campus and appearing in social media (i.e. Yik Yak). Therefore, a team of faculty representing three disciplines (social work, communication, and education), at a southeastern regional university in the United States, collaborated on a project in hope of finding effective pedagogical strategies for impacting student learning with regard to implicit bias.

Implicit bias was selected as the area of focus to address the ideas of a “post-racial” society, a culture of young millennials that are inadvertently replicating the divisions and insensitivity of the past (Vega, 2004). While race was the impetus for our study, we extended our focus to areas such as gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other forms of diversity.

Implicit Bias

A growing body of research suggests that we all have automatic implicit biases made up of both favorable and unfavorable judgments of others. Because these processes are unconscious, a person can engage in discriminating behaviors without being aware of it (Boscardin, 2015; Morin, 2015; Staats, 2014). Unconscious biases penetrate various realms of society from hiring decisions to medical care, and even foul calls in the NBA (Grinberg, 2015). While most believe they are conscious of the thoughts that influence their decisions, in the words of Ross (2008), it is our unconscious biases that “run the show” (p. 11).

Tests of implicit bias show people of all backgrounds hold unconscious preferences on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, or other aspects of identity (Fiarman, 2016). Inherently, over one-third of the population tend to favor the “culture-valued group” as opposed to “stigmatized groups” (Goffman, 1963; Morin, 2015). Influenced by social, political, cultural, and social contextual forces, implicit bias affects our everyday understanding, actions, and decisions (Fiarman, 2016). In an unconscious manner, biases influence us even when they are in direct opposition to our espoused beliefs and our own lived experience (Fiarman, 2016). Implicit biases can start forming in children and are reinforced in adulthood through social settings and mass media (Baron & Banaji, 2006; Grinberg, 2015).

Why Learning About Implicit Bias is Important

In our globally connected, diverse world, it is imperative to prepare college students to be culturally competent and therefore, capable of working with people from diverse backgrounds (Firebaugh & Miller, 2000). And because all people hold unconscious biases, (Fiarman, 2016), it seems certain that today’s students will enter a workforce in which they are working for and with people for whom they will hold unconscious biases (Firebaugh & Miller, 2000). In order to dismantle the prejudice found in both people and places, a first step can be for individuals to learn to recognize and eliminate their own personal biases.

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) (Bennett, 1993) explains how experiences and engagement in cultural differences move one along a continuum of increasing sensitivity, indicating more competent intercultural beings. Categories along the continuum include the following: Denial of Differences, Defense against Difference, Minimization of Difference, Acceptance of Difference, Adaptation to Difference, and Integration of Difference. Adaptation and Integration, the final stages of Bennett’s model, are more difficult and less frequently achieved.

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