Skip to main content

Additional Information About Unconscious Bias

“I came into this training thinking that I knew all about unconscious bias. I was wrong. Dr. Sandra Barnes combination of humor and wisdom led our group through an enlightening learning experience.”

Libby Crew, Administrative Assistant II, Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center

Foundational Definition

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

Click here to view interview with Dr. Sandra Barnes, or view this press coverage from the Tennessean.Workshop Photo

Combatting 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 education includes information about how such biases can be identified and eliminated by individuals, groups, organizations, and in society at large. Education should also include information about structural dynamics in society that perpetuate unconscious bias. Practical strategies will help individuals combat unconscious bias in their personal and professional lives.

Some Strategies to Combat Unconscious Bias

Workshop Photo

  1. Tell Your Story…and Listen to the Stories of Others
  2. Avoid Stereotypes and Over-Generalizations
  3. Separate Feelings from Facts
  4. Have a Diverse Group of People around the Decision-Making Table
  5. Engage in Self- Reflection to Uncover Personal Biases
  6. Develop Safe and Brave Spaces to Discuss Unconscious Bias
  7. Be an Active Ally
  8. Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
  9. Place Processes and Structures in Place for Increased Accountability

Some Benefits of Combating Unconscious Bias

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

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

What is Vanderbilt University Doing about Unconscious Bias?

A collaborative effort is underway between the following three entities to develop unconscious bias educational 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 interim Vice Chancellor Tina Smith; and, the Office of Administration, led by Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain. Courses are instructional, informational, as well as practical and include group experiences and strategies.

Workshops were launched in spring 2017. Staff leaders and ambassadors can register here.