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Unconscious Bias


Foundational Definition

Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalized. In contrast, deliberate prejudices are defined as conscious bias (or explicit bias). Although we all have biases, many unconscious biases tend to be exhibited toward minority groups based on factors such as class, gender, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, age, able-bodiness, and other such traits.

Dr. Sandra Barnes discusses unconscious bias (click here)


First Generation and Unconscious Bias (click here)

How to Combat Unconscious Bias

Workshops, seminars, on-line courses and webinars are just a few ways individuals can learn more about unconscious bias and how to combat it. Holistic training includes information about how such biases can be identified and combated by individuals, groups, organizations, and in society at large. Training should also include information about structural dynamics in society that perpetuate unconscious biases. Practical strategies will help individuals combat unconscious bias in their personal and professional lives.

Some Benefits of Combating Unconscious Biases 

Benefits are numerous and can include: increased group innovations, productivity, and creativity; enhanced relationship- and community-building; and, greater appreciation for equity, diversity, and inclusivity.

What is Vanderbilt University Doing about Unconscious Bias?

A collaborative effort is underway between the following three entities to develop unconscious bias training opportunities for faculty, staff, and students campus-wide: the Office of Academic Affairs, led by Provost Susan Wente; the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion led by Vice Chancellor George Hill; and, the Office of Administration, led by Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain. Course will be instructional and informational and include group experiences and best practices and strategies. If you are interested in requesting unconscious bias education from the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, please complete this form and send it to Assistant Vice Chancellor Sandra L. Barnes at


Some Strategies to Foster Combat Unconscious Bias

  1. Learn as Much as Possible About Unconscious Bias…and Ways to Combat It
  2. Tell Your Story…and Listening to the Stories of Others
  3. Avoid Stereotypes and Over-Generalizations
  4. Separate Feelings from Facts
  5. Have a Diverse Group of People around the Decision-Making Table
  6. Engage in Self- Reflection to Uncover Personal Biases
  7. Develop Safe and Brave Spaces to Discuss Unconscious Bias
  8. Be an Active Ally
  9. Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
  10. Practice Empathy


Other Past Vanderbilt Resources or Existing Courses the Reference Unconscious Bias

Here are sixteen initiatives on unconscious or implicit bias that have been provided on campus.

  1. “Little Things Mean A Lot Workshop,” sponsored by the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department (EAD)
  2. “Blindspots and Unconscious Bias-No, Not Me!” a special lecture sponsored by the Kennedy Center
  3. “Card Project,” a game-based tool developed by Leah Lomotey-Nakon
  4. “Alphabet Soup” seminar sponsored by EAD
  5. “Implicit Bias: Pervasiveness, Defensiveness, and a Gentler Intervention Psychology and Human Development” presented by Dr. Michael Olsen and sponsored by Psychology and Human Development, Peabody College
  6. Discussion of Implicit Bias in Education and Policy in the Peabody Master of Public Policy in Education program, presented by Jason Grissom and Marisa Cannata
  7. “Cultural/Racial Diversity and Effective Communications” training by VUPS
  8. “General Order 3.14 – Bias Based Racial Profiling” required by VUPS
  9. “Anti-Bias Curriculum, Activities, Celebrations, and Behaviors” provided by Child & Family Center
  10. “Our Minds as Icebergs: Understanding the Effects of Implicit Biases in Everyday Decisions” presented by Efren Perez and sponsored by the Office of the Provost
  11. “Unconscious Bias and Its Impact in the Classroom and Campus” on-line session presented by Dr. Susan Strauss
  12. Faculty Resources of Webinars/trainings provided by Vice Provost for Academic & Strategic Affairs
  13. PSCI 3250 Group Conflict and Cooperation in U.S. Politics
  14. PSY-PC 2300 Social and Emotional Context of Cognition
  15. LAW 6062 Life of the Law
  16. NURS 6091 LGBTI Health in Inter-professional Practice


Additional Resources

Articles about Group Dynamics that can Foster Inequality
Herbert Blumer. 1958. “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position.” The Pacific Sociological Review 1(1): 3-7 (

Systemic Factors that Influence Unconscious Bias and Other Forms of Inequality
Joe Feagin. 2013. The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-
Framing (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge.

Roxane Gay. 2015. The New York Times. “Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel DuBose and Cecil the Lion” (

Jason Silverstein. 2013. The Atlantic. “How Racism Is Bad for Our Bodies” (

Often Over-looked Minority Challenges
Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin. 2015. The Myth of the Model Minority (2nd edition).  Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Women’s Challenges and Responses around Biases
Debra M. Easterly and Cynthia S. Ricard. “Conscious Efforts to End Unconscious Bias: Why Women Leave Academic Research”

Patricia Hill Collins. 1990. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the
Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Kimberle Crenshaw. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics,
and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 1241-1299.

Identifying and Combating Micro-Aggressions
Wing Sue. 2010. Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and
Impact. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Wing Sue. 2010. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual
Orientation. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.