How do Implicit Biases Affect Students on Campus?

Posted on 3 January 2017 |

implicit biases affect students on campusRace, gender, religion, nationality, body size, etc. are all examples of things that people hold bias toward. And no matter how hard you try, everyone eventually ends up falling victim to some kind of implicit bias.

In fact, studies show that it is within human nature to divide our social world into groups. And we tend to punish those more who do not fall in our "in-group." 

Right now, implicit biases are a hot topic on college campuses because many times the repercussions of more visible. To help you reduce the effects of them on your campus, let’s review the definition of implicit biases, some examples and how you can raise awareness.

What are Implicit Biases?

First, we must understand what implicit biases are before we can help students recognize their own biases. Implicit biases are defined as "when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people."

From this definition we can see that implicit biases affect everyone. And everyone has implicit biases even if they believe that they are neutral. This relates to the in-group and out-group bias phenomenon.

In short, this bias states that we tend to associate, and act favorable towards, people in our "in-group, individuals who we identify with such as those of similar race, religion, etc. Implicit biases are also shaped by experiences. Having a negative experience with a group could cause a new bias to form. The good news is that we can unlearn these biases, which goes to show that biases are "malleable," or in other words, ever changing.

How are Students Affected by Implicit Biases?

For many students, college is the first time they are on their own, away from family and friends. Many new experiences come at them while they try to form a new social environment and balance school. To help the process of creating a social group, many students will opt to join a campus organization. This is where instances of implicit biases can take place.

For example, a fully capable student with a prosthetic is interested in joining a sports team. Current team members may have a preconceived notion of their athletic ability without any basis. If they choose an able bodied individual instead of the student with the prosthetic, this could show implicit bias by the current members. 

Another aspect of university is learning to work in groups with people of different backgrounds. And, like what we mentioned earlier, students may prefer working with others in their "in-group." For example, a male student may choose to work with other males rather than females. The student may not explicitly think males are smarter than females, but, this could stem from an implicit bias he has. 

How can Students Become Aware of Their Implicit Biases?

Since implicit biases stem from our subconscious thoughts, we are blind to them. That is why it is so hard for individuals to recognize their own biases. One, way help make students aware of their implicit biases is testing. Harvard University has a test that will uncover many different types of biases one might have. By helping students uncover their own biases, you can help resolve potential conflicts before they occur. 

Another way to help reduce implicit bias in students is through diversity awareness training. The training is a great way to show students the benefits of a diverse campus or classroom. Learning how to seem things from a different perspective is an invaluable lesson. These trainings can also show how implicit biases are formed. This helps reduce the likelihood that students will form generalizations about a group based on negative experiences.


It is important to note that everyone is affected by implicit biases. Even the most neutral of people will still have some sort of subconscious bias against a group or groups. But, that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.

It is important, however, to uncover these biases and make changes to remedy them. In college, most students will be a victim of implicit bias whether they realize it or not. Training your students to recognize their own biases can really help reduce these incidents from happening.

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