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Faculty Members’ Biases and Prejudices

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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However, understanding unconscious bias in general and in one’s personal teaching is important to ensuring that the classroom is an egalitarian space where all students are treated in unbiased ways.


The posting below examines some ways of dealing with explicit and implicit biases in teaching and learning. It is from Chapter 1Instructors, in the book, Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in Higher Education: A Research-Based Pedagogical Guide for Faculty, by Kathryn C. Oleson. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2021 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow’s Academic Careers

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Faculty Members’ Biases and Prejudices


Thus far, I have focused on the expression of faculty members’ personal and social identities in the classroom. In addition, faculty bring prejudices (evaluations of a group or an individual based on their group membership), stereotypes (beliefs about the characteristics of members of a social group), and expectations about their students’ personal qualities and abilities (Kite & Whitley, 2016.

Explicit and Implicit Biases

Sometimes these attitudes are ones that someone consciously holds and freely reports on an explicit measure, for example, “Women are too offended” (Glick & Fiske, 1996) or “On the whole, Black people don’t stress education and training” (Katz & Hass, 1988). In many contexts, though, expressing negative views about members of social groups is seen as unacceptable. Individuals keep these biases, or prejudices, to themselves (Crandall et al., 2002). They may not even realize that they have these negative attitudes (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004). Often, these biases are subtle and hidden, what might be called implicit or unconscious biases. “Implicit attitudes and stereotypes. . . are evaluations and beliefs that are automatically activated by the mere presence (actual or symbolic) of the attitude object. They commonly function in an unconscious and unintentional fashion” (Dovidio et al., 2006, p. 94). Individuals may have learned negative stereotypes—including ones that they do not even realize they have—from images they see in the media (Ruscher, 2001) or from important figures in their lives, such as their parents (Miklikowska, 2016).

It may be difficult to acknowledge that we are influenced by automatic attitudes and stereotypes that are unintentional and largely out of our control. If these biases are in play, then we do not always treat our students fairly. It violates how we see ourselves or at least hope to see ourselves (O’Brien et al., 2010). However, understanding unconscious bias in general and in one’s personal teaching is important to ensuring that the classroom is an egalitarian space where all students are treated in unbiased ways.

I consider a variety of potential biases, particularly focusing on racial bias because of its profound impact on students’ academic lives (Weinstein et al., 2004). I highlight stereotypes and prejudices that are automatic or unconscious for I believe that it is important to raise awareness about these potential biases. However, even explicit prejudice can be seen as appropriate. For instance, Crandall et al. (2018) found that both Trump and Clinton supporters believed that it was more acceptable after Trump was elected (as compared to before) to express negative views about the social groups that Trump disparaged during his presidential campaign (e.g., Muslims, immigrants, disabled people). Therefore, I do not limit my focus to implicit stereotypes and prejudices; explicit ones are also implicated. Finally, I consider faculty members’ biases. Chapter 5 considers biases in the classroom more broadly, including those of students (Boysen & Vogel, 2009).

Approach with a Growth Mindset

It is often difficult to talk about one’s prejudices, particularly about race, without becoming defensive (Howell et al., 2015). To be aware of racial bias and its pervasiveness (Nosek et al., 2007) raises the concern that you might be racist, one of the worst possible ways to be characterized (Crandall et al., 2002). However, talking about these ideas and practicing being unbiased are essential for creating an inclusive classroom. I’d encourage you to approach these ideas with a growth mindset, in which you are seeking to develop your knowledge about how bias works in general and how it might be personally affecting your classroom teaching. According to Carol Dweck (2006), 

In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. . . . The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. (p. 7)

Your effort involves taking risks, making mistakes as you are developing your skills, but persisting to gain new knowledge. I encourage you to approach this challenging and rewarding task with cultural humility (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Although you may have learned negative cultural stereotypes and prejudices, it is important to realize that, with practice, you can reduce your racial biases and act in less prejudiced ways (Devine et al., 2012). 

Reflective and Reflexive Processing Systems

To understand these subtle, often hidden biases, I consider how people process information about their social world. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and others suggest that humans have two different systems for processing information and drawing inferences about others—one that is more reflective and controlled and another that is more reflexive and automatic (Gilbert, 1989). Individuals can process information in a careful, regulated way, putting in lots of effort to understand the details accurately. But often they process the world in a more automatic way, coming to a fast conclusion with little effort or motivation needed; their perceptions are based on what quickly comes to mind. For instance, suppose I introduce myself to a new colleague at a conference, noting that I live in Portland. As an avid watcher of Portlandia, she automatically thinks I am a “yoga-doing, farmers-market- shopping, arugula-eating, library-card- holding, bike-riding, latte-sipping, liberal-blog- reading white person” (Steiger, 2011). Portland is linked to all of these ideas. More generally, individuals’ social categories have associations that may be biased by their stereotypes, expectations, and previous experiences. 

These biases could begin to play out as you step into the room on the first day of class, scanning the students sitting around the table. You begin to gain a sense of the various students. To do this, you likely categorize students based on their similarities; this categorization of individuals into social groups simplifies the world and gives you shortcuts for approaching the class (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000). You look around to see the backgrounds of students in the room—how many students of color are there? Students who identify as male? Students with visible disabilities? Older students? You are acknowledging students’ personal and social identities. These identities could be quite important to the students, providing meaning and positive benefits. However, these social categories may also be associated with stereotypical qualities that become activated when you are thinking of students as members of social groups (Bargh, 1999). From this moment, your beliefs about these social groups—for example, stereotyping students with disabilities as dependent or incompetent (Nario-Redmond, 2010) or Asian students as strong in math (Cheryan & Bodenhausen, 2000)—may affect the ways that you respond to individual students (Klein & Snyder, 2003). In general, stereotypes and prejudices predict discriminatory behavior in the domains of education, employment, health care, and criminal justice (Cameron et al., 2012; Glaser et al., 2014). I provide some examples relevant to the college environment. 


Bargh, J. A. (1999). The cognitive monster: The case against the controllability of automatic stereotype effects. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual process theories in social psychology (pp. 361–382). Guilford.

Boysen, G. A., & Vogel, D. L. (2009). Bias in the classroom: Types, frequencies, and responses. Teaching of Psychology36(1), 12–17.

Cameron, C. D., Brown-Iannuzzi, J. L., & Payne, B. K. (2012, Nov). Sequential priming measures of implicit social cognition: A meta-analysis of associations with behavior and explicit attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Review16(4), 330–350.

Cheryan, S., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2000). When positive stereotypes threaten intellectual performance: The psychological hazards of “model minority” status. Psychological Science11(5), 399–402.

Crandall, C. S., Eshleman, A., & O’Brien, L, O’Brien, L. T. (2002). Social norms and the expression and suppression of prejudice: The struggle for internalization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology82(3), 359–378.

Crandall, C. S., Miller, J. M., & White, M. H. (2018). Changing norms following the 2016 U.S. presidential election: The Trump effect on prejudice. Social psychological and personality science,9(2), 186–192.

Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology56(1), 5–18.

Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (2004). Aversive racism. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 36, pp. 1–52). Elsevier.

Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. E., Kawakami, K., & Hodson, G. (2006). Why can't we just get along? Interpersonal biases and interracial distrust. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology8(2), 88–102.

Gilbert, D. T. (1989). Thinking lightly about others: Automatic components of the social inference process. In J. S. Uleman & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought (pp. 189–211). Guilford.

Glaser, J., Spencer, K., & Charbonneau, A. (2014). Racial bias and public policy. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences1(1), 88–94.

Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent Sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and Benevolent Sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology70(3), 491–512.

Katz, I., & Hass, R. G. (1988). Racial ambivalence and American value conflict: Correlation and prime studies of dual cognitive structures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology55(6), 893–905.

Kite, M. E., & Whitley, B. E., Jr. (2016). Introducing the concepts of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In Psychology of prejudice and discrimination (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Macrae, C. N., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2000). Social cognition: Thinking categorically about others. Annual Review of Psychology51(1), 93–120.

Miklikowska, M. (2016). Like parent, like child? development of prejudice and tolerance towards immigrants. British Journal of Psychology107(1), 95–116.

Nario-Redmond, M. R. (2016, June). Universal design: Principles and strategies for teaching all students. [Paper presentation]. 12th Meeting of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Nosek, B. A., Smyth, F. L., Hansen, J. J., Devos, T., Lindner, N. M., Ranganath, K. A., Smith, C. T., Olson, K. R., Chugh, D., Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (2007). Pervasiveness and correlates of implicit attitudes and stereotypes. European Review of Social Psychology18(1), 36–88.

O'Brien, L. T., Crandall, C. S., Horstman-Reser, A., Warner, R., Alsbrooks, A., & Blodorn, A. (2010). But I'm no bigot: How prejudiced White Americans maintain unprejudiced self-images. Journal of Applied Social Psychology40(4), 917–946.

Ruscher, J. B. (2001). The news media. In J. B. Ruscher (Ed.), Prejudiced communication: A social psychological perspective (pp. 137–165). Guilford Press.

Russ, T. L., Simonds, C. J., & Hunt, S. K. (2002). Coming out in the classroom an occupational hazard? The influence of sexual orientation on teacher credibility and perceived student learning. Communication Education51(3), 311–324.

Steiger, K. (2011, January 19). ‘Portlandia’ Edges into ‘stuff White people like’ territory. Generation Progress.

Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of Health Care to the Poor and Underserved9(2), 117–125.

Weinstein, R. S., Gregory, A., & Strambler, M. J. (2004). Intractable self-fulfilling prophecies fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education. American Psychologist59(6), 511–520.

Weisz, C. (2016). Inclusive teaching of research methods: Making science relevant and revolutionary. [Paper presentation] 12th Meeting of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Is