Faculty and staff had mandatory implicit bias training this year. Last time (>5 years ago) we did this it was voluntary and all I remember from it was the speaker bringing up a (female, foreign-born, adjunct) volunteer from the audience and white male full professors commenting on her clothing and appearance because the speaker asked them what their initial impressions of her were. It was enormously cringe-worthy. This time it was a bit better, but I still came away with the feeling that, like economics, perhaps a little training is worse than no training at all.
I think I understand now why implicit bias training has been shown* to decrease implicit bias in people who already understand implicit bias and increases it in people who don’t really believe in it.
The first audience comment was an ageist joke. Most people laughed. I told the commenter that was not appropriate. If I hadn’t been there, would anybody have said anything?
The students took this training for the first time last year. I now understand why I got comments on my course evals saying that I was micro-aggressive towards white men and favored under-represented minorities and women over said white men.** This training is focusing on making everybody in the audience feel like victims and giving them the language to talk about that. I work very hard at inclusion in my classes and inclusion can feel like micro-aggression to the majority who is used to feeling like they’re special. The first example the speaker gave was an example about the speaker hearing someone using the term “redneck” and joking, “you did not just say that.” To her credit, she noted that most of the (Southern) audience was staring at her in disbelief and asked why. After some native Southerners pointed out that was a pretty milquetoast insult, I noted that there really aren’t any powerful epithets against native straight white men in the US. People in the audience seemed to agree. (They probably didn’t need me there for that one.)
During various exercises, one straight white guy after another shared anecdotes about when they felt like they’d been discriminated against or stereotyped. So many short-haired white guy heads nodded during these recounting while the rest of us just sat there. The speaker applauded them for their sharing and made points about how everyone is put into groups.
It went on like that. I broke in a few times to note that thinking you’re aware isn’t enough– people don’t realize that they’re calling on men more than women– they think they’re being equivalent. They think 35% is 50%. So you really do need to keep track of who is talking, or (as another professor suggested) you need to randomize cold-calls. I talked about how to make cold-calling less scary and how to include more students, even those who are silenced. I talked about other techniques that can be used to make groups more inclusive. Having good intentions isn’t enough. But thinking it is enough is dangerous.
There was a lot of talking about problems, nothing about solutions. The speaker brought up examples of incidents and asked if we’d seen them and to discuss them (and how they make people feel), but didn’t talk about possible bystander reactions. There was no discussion of relative difficulty, no checking white guy privilege. Most of the exercises had the purpose of making people understand what it feels like to be discriminated against… but, as I said before, for people who aren’t actually discriminated against, not being treated like princes feels a lot like discrimination.
I suspect there’s implicit bias training that works better than what most universities are presenting. This is not yet a solved problem. What can be done in a 3 hour lecture hall, even with group exercises? I don’t know. But my other colleague who has studied this a lot for that university-level committee we were on thinks that maybe not trying to cover everything and instead focusing on the major problems affecting our students and our faculty right now according to the latest campus climate survey (islamaphobia, racism, homophobia, gender discrimination, or some subset thereof) and providing solutions on what to do for various instances might be the way to go. If these were smaller sessions, maybe the IAT (though again, its use has had mixed results depending on how receptive the participant is).
Have you seen implicit bias training that actually works?
*too lazy to look up the citation, but it featured heavily in a university-level committee I was on
**fairly sure I’m not micro-aggressive towards white men. However, I am intentionally micro-aggressive (as well as explicitly “you coming in late is disruptive stop doing that”) to people who wander into class late, and last year only white men wandered in late. Most white men did not wander in late.