Though I wholeheartedly wish that I could, I’ll never claim to be free of unconscious bias. It’s instinctive, as a human being; we automatically sort ideas, places, practices, and other people into groups out of convenience. We’re built to categorize. Those divisions are indisputably efficient in some applications, but efficiency itself is not inherently a virtue. When we allow unconscious (or implicit) bias to determine our opinions of other human beings, we damage society by creating “us versus them” sentiments. According to research published in The Guardian, unconscious bias explains “why, despite equalities apparently being enshrined in law, society still [looks] so unfair.”
Bias extends beyond just racism and sexism. Classism, ageism, and other biases permeate modern society. Studies have confirmed that white job applicants were 74% more likely to get the job offer than ethnic minority applicants with identical resumes. A joint survey by researchers from NYU, Columbia, and Wharton of 6,000 university faculty members found that white males were far more likely to receive email responses from professors than ethnic minorities or female students. Even US doctors were found, on average, to recommend more pain medication for white patients than for black or Latino patients with the same injury. These racial biases clearly have not faded with increased equality in the legal system.
On college campuses, one of the most prevalent biases is implicit racism. I doubt that more than a select few (if any) college students would willingly classify themselves as racist, but that doesn’t mean our campuses are free of unconscious biases lurking in our commentary and relationships. Often, institutions such as universities make an offer of assimilation. You can succeed here if you talk like us and dress like us. However, assimilation is not genuine equality. Recent campaigns in Utah have cited the experiences of ethnic minorities on college campuses, painting a picture of exclusion and inherent bias. There are white students telling black students that they only got in because of Affirmative Action. There are professors telling students to stop speaking their native (non-English) language amongst each other even in informal settings. These interactions prove that there are those on university campuses who believe that minorities are somehow second-class members of the community unless they conform to the present mainstream society.
As students we may not play a role in admissions or teach courses, but we are the lifeblood of a university. We determine a great deal of the campus culture. Pay attention to those who do not look like you or sound like you. Open your circles to them. These principles apply to ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ+ groups, and others who find themselves marginalized. Attend Black Student Union meetings. Go to a Pen Talk on campus, and leave your phone in your bag for the entire discussion. Have a conversation with protestors on campus and ask why they feel the way they do. Learn sympathy and empathy by asking questions and be candid enough with yourself and with others to recognize the privileges you’ve been handed. Don’t make assumptions and don’t look away when you encounter unjust treatment of your fellow students.