Implicit Bias

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Overview

This page provides resources for learning about implicit bias and includes readings and recommendations for incorporating this concept into your teaching strategies. Implicit bias describes the way that stereotypes and attitudes we are not aware of shape our behavior. Research shows that implicit bias is a concern in STEM courses, where instructors and students may carry assumptions or hold stereotypes in mind that are not supportive of an inclusive teaching environment. For more information about implicit bias, please refer to this widely known study, Project Implicit.

Project Implicit uses the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a tool developed by Anthony Greenwald, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and Mahzarin Banaji, Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard, to study prejudice in social contexts. The IAT assesses unconscious or implicit bias in the context of social identity. The test was later implemented in a study that is ongoing, Project Implicit, and is currently housed on servers at Harvard. To hear Dr. Greenwald and Dr. Banaji discuss this research, view this video.

Goals

  • To explain implicit bias and how it is relevant to inclusive teaching practices in STEM classes.
  • To provide strategies for addressing possible bias in one’s teaching and interactions with students.

Challenges

Some researchers and media personalities have questioned the validity of implicit bias after one of the originators of the IAT acknowledged problems with the test. Critics claim that, because the test is imperfect, implicit bias must not exist. Notably, however, there is a significant body of research on implicit bias that does not use or rely on the IAT. This body of work shows conclusively that implicit bias is a significant problem, particularly in STEM education. See, for example, this review article about women leaving academic research settings because of unconscious bias:

Easterly, D.M., Ricard, C.S. (2011). Conscious Efforts to End Unconscious Bias: Why Women Leave Academic Research. Journal of Research Administration. 42, 61-73.

Implementation

Consider taking the IAT and reflecting on your results. Consult the resources below to learn more about implicit bias and how to address your own biases and how they may shape your teaching.  

In addition, consider adapting the assignment below for use in your class.

Integration with course content

Consider showing one of the videos below in your course, or ask students to view a video outside of class and then write a short reflection about how implicit bias may or may not shape their experiences as a student.

After reviewing one of the videos or articles below, ask students to discuss or write about ways that unconscious bias may have influenced projects or research in your field of study.


Additional Resources

Banaji, M.R., Greenwald, G.G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. New York: Bantam.

Dee, T., Gershenson, S. (2017). Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: evidence and opportunities. Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis.

Jackson, S., Hillard, A., Schneider, T. (2014). Using Implicit Bias Training to Improve Attitudes about Women in STEM. Social Psychology of Education. 17.3

LaCrosse, J., Sekaquaptewa, D., Bennett, J. (2016). STEM Stereotypic Attribution Bias Among Women in an Unwelcoming Science Setting. Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Nordell, J. (2017). Is this how discrimination ends? The Atlantic.


Videos

“Understanding unconscious bias.” A 3-minute explanation of how implicit/unconscious bias works created by The Royal Society. 

Implicit Bias Video Series from UC Berkeley.

“How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them.” An 18-minute TED Talk by diversity advocate Verna Myers.

Incorporating Language about Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Abuse into Your Course Syllabus

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Overview

Students come to college with a wide-range of personal experiences, positive and negative. Additionally they may experience sexual or gender-based violence during their time on campus. In fact, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of male undergraduates experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Graduate students are not immune from this issue. Among graduate and professional school students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. For more information, see these statistics. Instructors should consider whether their course structure and content might create a difficult learning environment for students who have had these experiences. This resource provides language that instructors can include in their course syllabus to let students know they are supported and welcomed into an inclusive learning community.

Goals

To use language and provide resources in your syllabus that create a welcoming and supportive environment for students who have experienced gender-based violence and sexual abuse.

Challenges

Before including this content in your syllabus, consider the challenges listed below. Talk with a colleague or CRLT teaching consultant if you have questions or concerns.

  1. Content notification: When addressing controversial subjects or assigning material which may elicit strong feelings, instructors may or may not choose to disclose this information in advance in a syllabus. Both avenues have the potential to limit learning outcomes and constrain the types of conversations that can occur inside the academic environment. We use the term “content notification” (as opposed to “trigger warnings”) as a way to inform students of class content, such as assignments, readings, and speakers, so that students can take steps to prepare themselves for class and study. Content notifications are a way to help students prepare for class so that they can show up to class in an engaged, participatory manner.
  2. Privacy: We recognize and appreciate that disclosing personal experiences in the classroom can feel healing for some and may contribute positively to the learning environment. However, this varies, depending on disciplinary norms and the comfort level of the faculty member or instructor. When responding to personal disclosures related to sexual violence, racism, homophobia, classism, or other forms of interpersonal violence and discrimination, it is ultimately up to the faculty member or instructor leading the class to establish personal boundaries that are consistent with disciplinary norms and their personal comfort level.
  3. Privacy: We recognize and appreciate that disclosing personal experiences in the classroom can feel healing for some and may contribute positively to the learning environment. However, this varies, depending on disciplinary norms and the comfort level of the faculty member or instructor. When responding to personal disclosures related to sexual violence, racism, homophobia, classism, or other forms of interpersonal violence and discrimination, it is ultimately up to the faculty member or instructor leading the class to establish personal boundaries that are consistent with disciplinary norms and their personal comfort level.
  4. Legal Constraints: University policy and federal law mandate the reporting of certain violent crimes. However, students may share information without fully understanding the limits to which some faculty members can keep certain kinds of information confidential. To help all parties be fully informed of the potential consequences of sharing information, it is important for faculty and instructors to understand their reporting requirements at the University of Michigan. These requirements differ for individuals who are designated by the University of Michigan Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) as “Responsible Employees”. It is important to note that your roles and responsibilities can change, even within a semester. For more information about Responsible Employees, and to learn about reporting requirements and recommendations that apply to all employees, please see the Responsible Employees Website.

Implementation

Depending on course content, the categories and language listed below may be useful for you to include in your syllabus.

 

Incorporating Language about Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Abuse into Your Course Syllabus

  1. Faculty Support
    • Faculty are here to support you in your learning. Contact the professor if you are concerned or uncomfortable; they will be available during office hours or by appointment throughout the course for conversations regarding course content.
    • For debriefing about the class, we strongly encourage you to attend office hours or set up a meeting.
  2. Content Notifications
    • In this class, we will be having honest and open conversations about…
    • Some of these topics may be difficult, unsettling, or painful for survivors and others.
    • Assignments or discussions may precipitate reactions such as distress, anxiety, anger, and others.
    • Review the course schedule for a weekly list of topics discussed, prepare yourself accordingly, and ensure self-care is well practiced.
  3. Self-Disclosure & Personal Sharing
    If you choose to address self-disclosure/personal sharing at the beginning of your class, some examples include:
    • It is the professional norm in our field to refrain from disclosing personal experiences of abuse, harassment, or assault to colleagues in a classroom or during interactions with clients/patients. This is because people are not free to leave classrooms or professional spaces in the same way they would be free to leave personal conversations. Confidential reports can be made to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the University Ombuds.
    • In this class we will use our [writing/art/etc.] to explore our past experiences. If you would like support around a personal experience that you are managing, here is a list of campus resources.

If you do choose not to address self-disclosure/personal sharing at the beginning of your class, then it is important to disclose your reporting requirements. Some examples include:

  • Please note that there are limits to the confidentiality with which we can provide you, and I am not in a position to ensure complete confidentiality. Additionally, I cannot compel other students to keep private what is shared in discussion.
  • See additional examples in the Confidentiality Limitations Section below.

Confidentiality Limitations
Please note that there are limits to the confidentiality with which we can provide you, and I am not in a position to ensure complete confidentiality. Additionally, I cannot compel other students to keep private what is shared in discussion.

If you are designated as a Responsible Employee by the University of Michigan, then some potential syllabus language might include:

  • I care about the health, well-being, and safety of all students. I also want students to know that I am designated as a Responsible Employee on this campus, which means I am required to share information about sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and gender based harassment, if I am made aware of it. I am sharing this information so that students can make informed decisions about what information they share and with whom. The confidential offices on campus are the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the University Ombuds. Please let me know if you have any questions.
  • I am designated as a “Responsible Employee” by University of Michigan Office of Institutional Equity, which means I am required to report instances of Prohibited Conduct.

If you are not designated as a Responsible Employee by the University of Michigan, then some potential syllabus language might include:
I am not designated as a “Responsible Employee” by the University of Michigan Office of Institutional Equity. Therefore, I am not required to report instances of Prohibited Conduct, but I am still strongly encouraged to report. The confidential offices on campus are the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the University Ombuds.

Resources for Faculty

Determine the scope of your reporting responsibilities by taking this online quiz.
Responsibilities at Michigan: Sexual Assault, Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, and Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment

Additional resources related to sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual and gender based harassment are at the following sites:
Learn more about the U-M Student Sexual Misconduct Policy at https://studentsexualmisconductpolicy.umich.edu/

Learn more about the Responsible Employees designation at https://hr.umich.edu/working-u-m/workplace-improvement/office-institutional-equity/information-responsible-employees

If you are a Responsible Employee (RE) consider downloading the “RE” sign and hanging it in your office so it is visible to others. The sign is available at https://hr.umich.edu/sites/default/files/RE-8×10-long.pdf

Browse a resource guide intended to assist university students, faculty, and staff who may have experienced sexual misconduct to understand their options for reporting and to make them aware of support resources, Our Community Matters at http://dpss.umich.edu/docs/community-matters-brochure.pdf

Haven Training for Faculty & Staff is an online training program covering sexual and gender-based misconduct and other forms of interpersonal violence.
It can be accessed at https://hr.umich.edu/working-u-m/workplace-improvement/office-institutional-equity/education-training-programs

An Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings

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Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings Overview and Framing Material

Overview

The following content and linked resources are a primer to understanding content warnings (sometimes called “content notices” or “trigger warnings”). This guide explains what content and trigger warnings are, why they are important to include for inclusive classrooms, and how instructors can implement them. While there has been much debate over the implementation of content warnings in the classroom, the debate stems primarily from a misunderstanding regarding what content warnings are, how their use can make a classroom more inclusive for students with mental health disabilities, and how they do or don’t impact instructor liability. Some of the links provided in this resource include more information on these debates. Potentially unfamiliar vocabulary is in bold text.

Goals

  • To explain what content warnings and trigger warnings are
  • To encourage a recognition of the importance of the mental and emotional wellbeing of students
  • To clarify the value of content and trigger warnings, and how they contribute to inclusive pedagogy
  • To offer various ways to implement content and trigger warnings in your classroom

Implementation

These resources are best reviewed before the planning phase of course design, so the instructor has ample time to consider how they will implement content warnings in addition to working through any discomfort they may have in advance and reviewing their course content with common triggers in mind.

Challenges

  • Until you develop a sensitization for common triggers, it is easy to forget that they occur and where they occur in your course material.
  • Many feel defensive and resistant to the inclusion of content warnings, feeling as though it puts restrictions on the instructor and coddles the students. The inclusion of content warnings is neither restrictive (it does not label anything as off limits to teach) nor coddling (it does not assume that students can’t handle the material, on the contrary, it treats them as adults who can and should attend to their own wellbeing with all available information).

 

An Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings in the Classroom

What are they?

Content warnings are verbal or written notices that precede potentially sensitive content. These notices flag the contents of the material that follows, so readers, listeners, or viewers can prepare themselves to adequately engage or, if necessary, disengage for their own wellbeing. Trigger warnings are a specific variety of content warning that attempt to forewarn audiences of content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. PTSD and other anxiety disorders are real mental health disabilities that have physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that are triggered by stimuli that recalls an individual’s experience of trauma. Individuals do not have control over what triggers them, but many have personal strategies they use to cope with triggers when they must be encountered. Those strategies generally work best when the trigger is expected and can be prepared for in advance of the encounter. Hence the importance of content or trigger warnings: they give people the forewarning necessary for them to make use of the strategies that will decrease the harmfulness of encountering triggering material.   

In the context of the classroom, content warnings might be provided on the syllabus, spoken verbally in lecture, sent out as emails, or posted on a class website. They might include forewarnings of challenging moments in texts they will read for class, material that will be covered in lecture, videos viewed in class, and topics that the instructor expects will come up in class discussion (read the section below on implementing content warnings for more on this).   

Content warnings and trigger warnings are not intended to censure instructors nor invite students to avoid material that challenges them. On the contrary, warning students of challenging material can help their engagement by giving them the ability to take charge of their own health and learning. When presented with a scene that depicts sexual violence, a student who was assaulted might shut down, disassociate, panic, become angry, or otherwise disengage from the class as they put all their attention into managing the emotional and physical symptoms the triggering material brings up for them. However, if the student is forewarned that the material includes a depiction of sexual violence, they might prepare for it by meditating, seeing their therapist, or simply give themselves more time to work through the material so they can process it under controlled conditions. Or they might still need to disengage and skip the pages that include the depiction or step out of class for a few minutes when the material is being discussed, because their mental health and safety are more important than their engagement with the material.

While it is impossible to account for all potential triggers, which could include smells or sounds that recall a past trauma, some of the most common triggers include representations of sexual violence, oppressive language, gunshots, and representations of self-harm (check the end of this document for a list of common content/trigger warnings). If you establish sufficient trust with your students, and make clear to them that you will do your best to supply any requested trigger warnings, you can provide personalized notices about any material that may be triggering for them. However, trust can be challenging to build and takes time, so the inclusion of warnings for common triggers can be helpful to students who may not feel comfortable telling an instructor they barely know very personal information about their mental health and past trauma. The inclusion of common triggers on your syllabus can also help establish trust so students who need warnings for less common triggers—such as specific phobias—will recognize that you will take their concerns seriously and without judgment.  

The motive behind including content warnings in classes is based on the simple recognition that our students are people with lives, histories, and struggles that we are not privy to, and can’t always understand. And those lives, histories, and struggles don’t stop existing when class starts. Students carry those things with them into class and can’t be expected to turn off their emotions and forget their experiences on a whim, no matter how inconvenient they are to an instructor’s designated learning goals. Including content or trigger warnings is an issue of accessibility, as having panic attacks in class (a common outcome when a trigger is unexpectedly encountered) can prevent a student from learning and adversely impacts their health and wellbeing. The use of content or trigger warnings is not “babying” or “coddling” students as some critics suggest; it’s the recognition that the inclusion of people with mental health disabilities matters, and shifting the norms of content presentation to include content warnings to better include them is well worth the small effort it costs the instructor to note potentially distressing material.

 

Additional resources on why trigger warnings matter

“My Students Need Trigger Warnings—and Professors do too” by Aaron R. Hanlon

https://newrepublic.com/article/121820/my-students-need-trigger-warnings-and-professors-do-too

“I use trigger warnings—but I’m not mollycoddling my students” by Onni Gust

https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/jun/14/i-use-trigger-warnings-but-im-not-mollycoddling-my-students

“This powerful comic perfectly explains why we should all use trigger warnings” by Evette Dionne with a comic by Madeleine Slade

http://www.revelist.com/ideas/trigger-warnings-comic/5925

 

How to implement content warnings and trigger warnings

There are multiple ways to implement content warnings in your class, and some may be more suitable than others depending on your teaching style and course. For example, if your course is about the history of Nazi Germany, it may be redundant to mark each reading, lecture, and discussion section with warnings of anti-Semitism and violence. In such cases a blanket warning might be more appropriate, with additional specific warnings for content that includes violence against LGBTQ people, sexual violence, suicide, etc., and any material that is especially graphic. There is no one way to do content warnings, so it is up to you to determine how best to implement them. Below are some ways of implementing content warnings that you might consider:

 

Blanket Warnings: If most of the material in the course is going to include emotionally challenging and potentially triggering content, you can include a warning as part of your course description. You might write:

The content and discussion in this course will necessarily engage with racism every week. Much of it will be emotionally and intellectually challenging to engage with. I will flag especially graphic or intense content that discusses or represents racism and will do my best to make this classroom a space where we can engage bravely, empathetically and thoughtfully with difficult content every week.

In-Syllabus Warnings: When specific warnings are needed for material, the simplest way to indicate this is on the syllabus next to the assigned material. This can be achieved by tagging themes and topics a text, video, lecture, or discussion engages with. For example:

August 16 Read: Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, chapters 1-4 Tags: Race, Racism, Racist slurs, Violence, Socio-economic class

In this example, the tags serve not only to warn students of potentially triggering material, but to highlight some of aspects of the novel that they need to be thinking about and focusing on as they read. If there are particularly challenging parts of the reading, you may wish to additionally flag those specific pages, and warn students if class discussion or lecture will be heavily focused on those passages. For example:

August 18 Read: Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, chapters 5-9 Tags: Race, Racism, Racist Slurs, Racial Violence (graphic scene p. 82-96, will be discussed at length in discussion section)

Again, not only does this information flag what could be potentially triggering or emotionally challenging, it helps students recognize what they should be thinking about the most while reading.

Course website or separate document: If, for whatever reason, you’d rather not include tags on your syllabus, you can supply a supplemental document, hosted on your course Canvas site or website or attached to an email for students to access or not as they wish. This document will be similar to the examples above, including common triggers for all course content, but will be more overtly available as a trigger warning guide. You can include a note about its availability and where to find it. For example, you might write on the syllabus:

A content warning guide is available on our course website [provide URL], under the syllabus tab, labeled “Content Warnings Fall 2017.” On this document, potential challenging content such as content dealing with racism, misogyny, and violence, is flagged for any student who wishes to know about it in advance.

Personalized warnings: In addition to common content warnings, it is appropriate to extend an offer to identify less common triggers, should a student request it. You might include the following note on your syllabus:

I’ve done my best to identify any texts with potentially triggering content. I’ve included tags for: violence, racism, misogyny, and self-harm. If you have concerns about encountering anything specific in the course material that I have not already tagged and would like me to provide warnings, please come see me or send me an email. I will do my best to flag any requested triggers for you in advance.

Email warnings and in class warnings: If you plan your lessons as you go and aren’t able to flag lecture or discussion content in advance on the syllabus or course website, you can send out an email in advance of a given class letting students know what to expect. In class, try to provide a break before tackling potentially distressing material, and let students know what will be discussed or viewed after the break. For example, you might announce:

“We’re going to take a five-minute break, and when we come back, we’re going to discuss the scene in which Armstrong is killed and its relationship to the real-life murder of Emmett Till. This will include some graphic and disturbing photos of violence and death. I expect our discussion to last until the end of class today.”

This kind of warning lets students know exactly what to expect, when to expect it, and for how long it will go on. By sandwiching the discussion between a break and the end of class, you give students the ability to prepare themselves for the difficult material (maybe take some deep breaths, go for a short walk, or move to the back of the room so they can make an easy exit if the material is more than they can handle). And if the material is too traumatic for the student to engage with, they know what they will be missing if they make the choice to leave class early.

No matter how you choose to implement content warnings, it is important that students know what to expect and that they are put in a position where they can act in their own best interest without ridicule or scrutiny. Letting students know that they can excuse themselves from class if they need to can make the difference between a student skipping class entirely and stepping out for five minutes to collect themselves. Avoid putting students on the spot if they look distant, distressed, or choose to leave the room. While it is certainly preferable that all students are engaged all the time, recognize that disengagement is sometimes an act of self-care and may be a necessary as strategy to calm down in order to reengage later.

 

Additional Reading on Implementing content warnings

“Trigger Warnings, Quentin Tarantino, and the College Classroom” by Kelli Marshall

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/372-trigger-warnings-quentin-tarantino-and-the-college-classroom

 

On making mistakes

It is not uncommon for us as instructors to miss flagging content that a student may identify as triggering. Perhaps the student’s trigger seems suitably mild to you and you believed it didn’t need to be flagged or it simply seems silly. Perhaps the trigger was a fleeting mention and you feel frustrated that you were expected to remember such a minor detail. These frustrations could lead to defensiveness, which is normal, but not especially useful to you or your student. Instead apologize sincerely to the student, assure them that you will try to do better, and ask for any clarification if you need it (for example, if the student takes issue with a mildly violence scene that had no blood, you may want a sense of what their personal limit is for violent representation, so you can better flag it in the future). Mistakes are likely to happen as you aren’t necessarily sensitized to the same things your students are. Do the best you can, and keep notes of content warning that should be applied to material if you teach it again in the future.

 

Common content warnings

These content warnings are the most common. Consider what material covered in your course may include these and how you would like to flag them for your students. Students may request additional tags, as this list is not exhaustive.

 

  • Sexual Assault
  • Abuse
  • Child abuse/pedophilia/incest
  • Animal cruelty or animal death
  • Self-harm and suicide
  • Eating disorders, body hatred, and fat phobia
  • Violence
  • Pornographic content
  • Kidnapping and abduction
  • Death or dying
  • Pregnancy/Childbirth
  • Miscarriages/Abortion
  • Blood
  • Mental illness and ableism
  • Racism and racial slurs
  • Sexism and misogyny
  • Classism
  • Hateful language directed at religious groups (e.g., Islamophobia, antisemitism)
  • Transphobia and trans misogyny
  • Homophobia and heterosexism

 


Citation

Resource developed, framed, and hosted by the LSA Inclusive Teaching Initiative, University of Michigan (http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/).

An Instructor’s Guide to Understanding Privilege

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Overview

The following content and linked resources have been curated as a primer for instructors to better understand and attend to the ways privilege operates in the classroom. This resource is broken up into sections: Introduction to Privilege, Why Talking About and Acknowledging Privilege is Difficult, Privilege in the Classroom, and Further Reading on Specific Kinds of Privilege. Potentially unfamiliar vocabulary is in bold text.

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Doing One’s Own Personal Work on Privilege and Oppression

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Overview

This guide is intended for instructors who are preparing to implement meaningful inclusivity and diversity work in their classrooms. It is intended as a starting place for instructors to think through their own relationship to and experience of privilege and oppression as a crucial part of the foundational work of inclusive pedagogy. The guide offers reflective questions for instructors to explore and suggestions for appropriate ways and forums to work through the personal challenge of anti-oppressive work.

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Stereotype Threat

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Overview

This resource explains stereotype threat (the risk that people who fall into identity groups that are often negatively stereotyped may underperform in evaluative settings such as the classroom, as a result of feeling the pressure of the stereotype), provides a few strategies for counteracting stereotype threat, and directs instructors toward further resources. While stereotype threat can impact student performance in any course, it is particularly prevalent in STEM courses, thus this resource focuses primarily on the context of STEM courses. For a more extensive definition of stereotype threat and how it impacts student performance, visit the Glossary of Education Reform at http://edglossary.org/stereotype-threat/.

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