It can influence where we live and who we vote for. It can determine who we’re friends with and who we marry. It can also lead to tragedy when it affects split-second decisions — like determining whether a stranger coming toward you in a dim alley is a friend or a foe.
“It” is implicit bias, hard-wired, subconscious preferences that we all hold, but that most of us don’t even think about. According to researchers, whether we’re aware of them or not, our implicit biases play a key role in how we interact with the world.
NYSUT is helping educators take a closer look at the issue with “Sticks & Stones: Understanding Implicit Bias, Microaggressions & Stereotypes,” a series of workshops that raise awareness about the role of implicit bias in classroom dynamics. NYSUT received a $1 million dollar grant in the state budget to expand its implicit bias training program statewide over the coming year.
According to “Understanding Implicit Bias,” a paper published by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute, implicit bias is holding “negative attitudes about people who are not members of one’s own ‘in group.’” These preferences can cause us to discriminate against people who are different than us — whether we do so knowingly or not.
To test the theory, days before beginning the NYSUT course, participants are assigned to take the Implicit Association Test offered by Project Implicit to measure their strength of associations between different concepts, evaluations and stereotypes.
The results are often eye-opening.
While most people are aware they hold some degree of prejudiced and stereotypical thinking, they don’t realize how much those beliefs influence their behaviors, the researchers found.
Building that awareness is the goal of the trainings, explained J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT’s secretary treasurer, whose office heads the union’s social justice initiatives.
“Helping members identify and examine their own implicit biases helps them explore how their biases impact their behavior toward the students in their classrooms and communities,” Abraham continued. “Ultimately, this helps educators foster more inclusivity within our schools and classrooms.”
And that helps students feel valued, heard and safe.
The training is split into two modules. The first session details the concept of implicit bias; the second looks at stereotypes and microaggressions — subtle, typically unintentional slights directed at minorities.
Both sessions use exercises, readings and personal narratives to help participants self reflect.
“A valuable aspect of the training is that it teaches members how to interrupt and challenge microaggressions and stereotyping when they hear them in the classroom,” said Abraham, noting that while comments like “What are you?” or “That’s so gay” might not be said with harmful intent, they still have a negative impact on the person on the receiving end and are inappropriate.
“We’re proud to raise awareness about these type of issues for our members.”
For info about future implicit bias trainings, visit nysut.org/implicitbias.
To learn more about NYSUT’s social justice initiatives, visit nysut.org/socialjustice.
How implicit bias can show up in schools
- Disproportionality in discipline: Policies that appear racially neutral on their face, but result in the overrepresentation of students of color — particularly Black students — in suspensions, expulsions and referrals.
- Disproportionality in special education: Misguided placements that result in the over-representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education programs.
- Teacher mindsets and beliefs: Underestimating the intellectual capacity of culturally and linguistically diverse students, and often girls, inside the classroom.
- Tracking: School policies that disproportionately place students of color in remedial or low-track courses.
- Dominant discourse: Ways of thinking and talking about students and families that diminish, underestimate, or even pathologize them.