I don’t think anyone has been immune to the increased prevalence of racially biased incidences on college campuses across the United States the past few years. It is disheartening, but we as educators must face it head-on. In our role to educate, we must help students broaden their minds and experiences in order to become well-rounded citizens.
While we all might believe and have the intent to follow those aspirations, the reality of knowing how to handle complicated and difficult incidents on campus, especially as they continue to be increasingly common experiences is an entirely different matter.
Here are a few things I recommend considering:
Recognize Your Own Implicit Biases:
It is impossible to know how to respond to race, bias, or prejudice in our classrooms or on our campuses without first confronting our own implicit bias. It is important to acknowledge our own implicit bias, but to do so we must know how to define it – Implicit bias and racism are related concepts, but they do not have the same meaning.
- Implicit bias is an unconsciously held set of associations about a particular group.
- Racism is prejudice against individuals from a specific racial group and can be either explicit or implicit. Implicit bias can lead to implicitly racist behavior, like when a teacher disciplines Black children more harshly than white children, but many individuals harbor implicit biases without ever displaying overt racism.
“By becoming aware of our own implicit biases and actively resisting them, we can avoid perpetuating harmful racist stereotypes and prejudices”1. While we might not feel that we are biased, to a degree we all are and it is important to recognize this about ourselves. By acknowledging implicit bias, we are more aware to ensure our actions aren’t unjust2.
Protect Your Classroom From the Inside:
We have no control over external circumstances, but we do have control over what takes place in our classroom. Pay attention to the behaviors of your students, and their comfort levels. Make it known that racism, bias, and prejudice do not have a place in your classroom.
- Don’t Shy Away or Ignore: If it seems like racism, bias, stereotypes, or prejudice, it probably is. If you see something or hear something, trust your instincts.
- Understand School Policies: Know your department and university policies regarding potential incidences. Have your University Security Department number in your phone or handy, in case you need it. If there is a disruption, threat, or even action that makes you uncomfortable, do not hesitate to contact security.
- Remember That We are Professors for All Students: We are committed to education, no matter the personal beliefs, views, or ideologies of our students even if they are different from our own. We cannot be disparate in education.
- Be Confident to Have Difficult Conversations: If racism, bias, or prejudice is occurring on campus, give students an outlet to discuss it in the safety of your classroom. They are limited on how to work through these scenarios, and the confines of a safe class can make a tremendous amount of difference for our students. Remember though, you set the parameters and guidelines and can shut it down at any time. Encourage respectful, honest dialogue. The more students learn in a safe environment like a classroom, the better prepared they are to handle them in the real world.
Remember that the First Amendment protects all speech, and we must respect that. Racism, bias, and prejudice do exist and are present on our campuses and in our classrooms. The best practice we as educators can adopt is to navigate it with delicacy while not avoiding truths. We also must acknowledge threats and fear that is felt by groups marginalized by such behavior. That is not acceptable, but we cannot tread those waters alone. Never hesitate to report actions, behavior, or threatening speech to your department, student affairs, and your university security department. Let students know that you support them and will not allow racism, bias, or prejudice to permeate your classroom.
Kacie Berghoef, “Implicit Bias: What It Means and How It Affects Behavior”, ThoughCo., June 18, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/understanding-implicit-bias-4165634, accessed May 11, 2019. Emphasis added by the author.
Keith Payne, Laura Niemi, John M. Doris, “How to Think about “Implicit Bias”, Amidst a controversy, it’s important to remember that implicit bias is real-and it matters”, Scientific American. March 27, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-think-about-implicit-bias/, accessed May 11, 2019.