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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.

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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

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  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.

Hear their stories: Personal Experiences with Unconscious Bias

Want to learn to better understand and address unconscious bias? Listen to the stories of people who experience it. And share yours.

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 Vice Chancellor George Hill; 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.



  • September 23, 2016 |  Executive Committee Meeting
  • November 8, 2016 | Discussion Meeting: Provost S. Wente and Vice Chancellor G. Hill
  • November 16, 2016 | Executive Committee Meeting
  • November 17, 2016  | Executive Committee Meeting
  • December 15, 2016 | Ad Hoc Curriculum Development Committee Meeting
  • January 11, 2017 | Ad Hoc Curriculum Development Committee Meeting


  • September 28, 2016 | Unconscious Bias Education Workshop during the Vanderbilt University Leadership Academy
  • January 25, 2017 | Diversity and Unconscious Bias Workshop during the Vanderbilt University Administration Leadership Program
  • February 10, 2017 | Unconscious Bias Education Workshop Launch with Peabody College Leaders (“Unconscious Bias 101: A New Look at an Old Dynamic!” 9:00-11:00 am, faculty leader session and 12:00-2:00 pm, staff leader session in Wyatt 050-3)
  • February – September 2017 | Diversity and Unconscious Bias Education for Vanderbilt University Plant Facilities
  • March – May 2017 | Unconscious Bias Education Launch for Staff Leaders

Small group counseling session.

Past Vanderbilt Resources or Existing Courses that 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 the 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 the 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 (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.