First-year students at the University of Virginia will now be required to take an implicit bias module in order to attend the university. The purpose of the module is to help students identify innate or “implicit bias” they may harbor internally.
According to the Cavalier Daily, the University's student newspaper, “implicit bias is a term that refers to attitudes or prejudices individuals possess which unconsciously impact their actions, decisions and understanding. It affects how individuals view others based on race, ethnicity, gender and other factors.”
An initial trial run took place during the first few weeks of the fall semester and was completed by a single dormitory of students. University officials found the program to be successful and will now have all first-year students participate next year.
The program was originally intended to take place online and over the summer, but faculty in the psychology department were concerned about students taking the course without a campus representative to discuss the course material. Instead, the on-campus module is done in conjunction with the Housing and Residence Life department.
The curriculum was created in partnership with Project Implicit, a “non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition.”
The computer-based module consists of a preliminary examination asking students about their overall knowledge of implicit bias. The module then goes into training videos and lessons regarding implicit bias. Afterwards, the university students are given the option of taking an actual test.
The test is comprised of words-to-pictures matching activities. As described in the UVA publication, photos of the faces of white people, as well as faces of black people, momentarily blink on the screen. Then, words with positive and negative connotations are presented on the screen. The test-takers must match the words with the faces they think best illustrate those words.
The module’s algorithm is set up to track the difference in reaction times which supposedly determines an individual's implicit bias. As explained by the UVA publication, “if they were faster at linking negative words with black faces, the test suggests they are implicitly biased against black people.”
In a power point published by the UVA provost entitled “Embracing Diversity in Pursuit of Excellence,” implicit bias is defined as “cognitions, feelings, and evaluations that are not necessarily available to conscious awareness, conscious control, conscious intention, or self-reflection, and that lead us to favor one group over another.”
Dean of Students Allen Groves has contemplated implementing an implicit bias training for years now but recently concluded that “subconscious bias” must be recognized.
“We have decided, ‘Look, how do we build a more inclusive community? How do we make UVA a place where everyone feels welcome and people are treated equitably?’” Groves stated.
UVA began to educate first-year students on implicit bias back in August of 2012. The university shifted its attention to sexual assault prevention the next year, but the university has now decided to revert back to the topic of implicit bias in order to best serve the interests of its students.
UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s Committee on Inclusiveness has officially approved the idea of an implicit bias module.
“We thought about that and we realized that there wasn’t a one fix, but the beauty of implicit bias is that it opens your mind to being willing to have other conversations and to be open to understanding that there is subconscious bias in most of us.”
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Florida studying economics and political science.