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Unconscious Bias

Vanderbilt University campus shot.

Vanderbilt’s Commitment

Vanderbilt is committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and care where every community member feels supported and experiences a strong sense of belonging. As part of this commitment, university leaders are actively working to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias, along with implementing new educational opportunities for community members to meaningfully engage with this issue.

University Initiatives

Engaging Senior Leadership

Unconscious Bias training held with university leadership.
Unconscious Bias training held with university leadership on Aug. 28, 2019.

Vanderbilt University’s senior leaders came together Aug. 28 for a daylong education workshop on unconscious bias. The session, which included Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente, deans, vice chancellors and senior staff, was conducted in support of the university’s commitment to embody the values of equity, diversity and inclusion and foster a culture of respect and belonging across campus. This workshop will be followed by the Train the Trainer sessions being planned for fall 2019.

“To fulfill our commitment to foster an inclusive and equitable community, we must continue to learn, grow and challenge our own perceptions and biases. Only by doing so will we be able to truly access the power of the many diverse experiences and perspectives that comprise our great university.” – Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente

“Whether it be when we are developing hiring committees, research teams, systems or strategic decisions, we must be intentional about addressing the ways unconscious bias can compromise our success as individuals and as a community. As Vanderbilt continues to build an increasingly diverse community, we must also be just as committed to mitigating bias and creating an environment that supports, respects and includes all.” – Interim Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer André L. Churchwell

Train the Trainer Sessions

In Fall 2019, Vanderbilt is conducting an Unconscious Bias Train-the-Trainer program with individuals and leaders from across campus. The program is designed to prepare participants to deliver workshops to colleagues throughout the year that explore how unconscious biases develop, how bias influences perceptions and decision making, and how to combat it.

Faculty Development

The university provides unconscious bias training as part of all faculty searches. The university has also offered various faculty development workshops, including IMPACT Leadership Development Series, NCFDD (National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity) – based webinars. Additionally, the university continues to develop, facilitate and evaluate programs designed to provide all faculty members at all stages of their careers with the tools and opportunities needed to succeed and flourish at Vanderbilt.

Support, Resources and Community

Office for Inclusive Excellence 

A key part of the Office for Inclusive Excellence’s vision is to foster an intentional sense of belonging and affirmation for all students and faculty. The office collaborates on and spearheads initiatives that assist faculty and students in forging and maintaining social connections, as well as works to create an atmosphere that invites and encourages the engagement of the broad array of faculty and students.

Office of Faculty Affairs

The Office of Faculty Affairs prioritizes supporting faculty success by fostering an open, inclusive community and creating a culture of relevant, accessible, and comprehensive professional development, including trainings for school and department-level administrators that provide actionable strategies for continually developing welcoming and diverse academic communities.

Center for Teaching

The Center for Teaching provides a broad array of resources for faculty members related to inclusion, including how to create accessible learning environments, how to increase inclusivity in the classroom, how to teach about various identity groups, and more.

Student Center for Social Justice and Identity

The vision of the Student Center for Social Justice and Identity is to provide a comprehensive service of inclusion and cultural engagement that facilitates the creation of an institution dedicated to all forms of racial, cultural, gender, religious, ability, and sexual identity expression. The office seeks to do this by equipping the Vanderbilt community with the tools necessary to be to effective agents of social change in an increasingly diverse world.

Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center

The mission of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) is to enhance the Vanderbilt experience of Black students, faculty, and staff by providing effective programming and resources to address the academic, cultural, well being and social needs of the community.

Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Life

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Life at Vanderbilt University is a cultural center and a place of affirmation for individuals of all identities, and a resource for information and support about gender and sexuality. LGBTQI Life serves all members of the Vanderbilt community — students, faculty, staff, and alums — by creating educational, cultural, and social opportunities. The office regularly offers the P.R.I.D.E. (Pursuing Respect, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity) program, which aims to create a visible network of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals and their allies by providing an avenue through which any member of the Vanderbilt Community can show their support. The training is 3 hours and happens 2-3 times per semester.

Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center

For over forty years, the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center has been an affirming space for all members of the Vanderbilt community that acknowledges and actively resists sexism, racism, homophobia, and all forms of oppression while advocating for positive social change. The center offers a broad array of resources and educational programming.

Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life

The Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life supports the spiritual and religious growth of all Vanderbilt community members while encouraging the ongoing development of interfaith literacy and dialogue. The office works to develop spiritually thoughtful leaders equipped to positively influence a religiously pluralistic world.

Educational Resources

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, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, age, disability and more.

Combatting Unconscious Bias

Participating in 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 inclusion, equity and appreciation for diversity.

Some Strategies to Mitigate Unconscious Bias

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

Examples of Past Vanderbilt Resources or Existing Workshops and Courses that Reference Unconscious Bias

  • “Little Things Mean A Lot Workshop,” sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity
  • “Card Project,” a game-based tool developed by Leah Lomotey-Nakon
  • “Alphabet Soup” seminar sponsored by EAD
  • Everyday Bias training provided by the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  • 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
  • “Cultural/Racial Diversity and Effective Communications” training by VUPS
  • “General Order 3.14 – Bias Based Racial Profiling” required by VUPS
  • “Anti-Bias Curriculum, Activities, Celebrations, and Behaviors” provided by Child & Family Center
  • “Our Minds as Icebergs: Understanding the Effects of Implicit Biases in Everyday Decisions” presented by Efrén Pérez and sponsored by the Office of the Provost
  • Faculty Resources of Webinars/trainings provided by Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
  • PSCI 3250 Group Conflict and Cooperation in U.S. Politics
  • PSY-PC 2300 Social and Emotional Context of Cognition
  • LAW 6062 Life of the Law
  • NURS 6091 LGBTI Health in Inter-professional Practice

Literature on Unconscious Bias