Today, many colleges pride themselves on diversity and on having a student body that represents a variety of backgrounds and experiences. However, an important aspect of ensuring success for a diverse student body is to have both a diverse academic system (administration, faculty, etc.) and one that is trained in how to identify their biases and support students from a diverse background.
Several studies have shown that the presence of teachers similar to students can influence students academic trajectory. For instance, the presence of a black teacher can have positive influences in black students’ lives by improving graduation rates and the number of black students identified for “gifted” programs. For female students, the presence of female STEM instructors in high schools can increase their likelihood of entering into STEM fields themselves.
These studies are just examples of how both faculty and students internalize societal norms and expectations, and how the presence of people in students’ lives that break those biases is important for their success in breaking negative expectations. Though we may not all be able to provide faculty diversity through our presence, we can support a diverse student body by acknowledging diversity by understanding our biases and trying to adjust our actions, and we can bring diverse content to courses.
It is important for all humans, but especially those in positions of power (educators, supervisors), to be aware of their implicate biases. We can do that by being introspective. I believe that it is helpful to discuss our potential biases with others- ideally a diverse group. We are often unaware of the levels of our bias or how our actions and words are perceived as negative by others.. We may know “x people are biased against y groups,” but we may not be aware that we ourselves are included in that x group.
It is unlikely, without aid, that we would be able to determine how our small biases affect students. Ideally, instructors (of all kinds) would be given information about unintentional biases in academia.
Take the time to ask yourself some questions before entering the classroom: What kind of diversity am I likely to encounter in my courses? What kinds of preconceptions could a person possibly have about those diverse groups, and am I particularly vulnerable to any of those preconceptions?
Also, we may be aware that we may be biased against/towards certain groups up students, but we may not be aware of how these biases are demonstrated. Do they impact who we call on in class? How we grade? Types of readings or assignments?
We should think about how we decide on our course content. What biases may the creators of the content have had? Should we select other content? Can we incorporate different perspectives into our course content? Can we try to represent the backgrounds of our students with course content, discussions, or simply by acknowledging biases?