Feds give UW over $700K to train faculty in 'unconscious bias'

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has received more than $700,000 from the federal government to fund “unconscious bias” training for its professors.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the public university two federal grants totaling $723,637 to fund a five-year study that seeks to promote opportunities for female and minority students by identifying implicit biases among their instructors. The first grant, awarded in June of 2015, amounted to $402,774, and in February the NIH kicked in a second grant worth $320,863.

The study, entitled “Breaking the Bias Cycle for Future Scientists: A Workshop to Learn, Experience, and Change,” was inspired by research demonstrating that “the mere existence of cultural stereotypes about racial and ethnic groups can invisibly and inadvertently impede opportunities for underrepresented minority students,” and seeks to identify and eliminate such unconscious thought patterns among faculty members.

“The education plan’s overarching objective is to train the mentors of students about the concepts of implicit or unconscious bias, the effects of these biases on underrepresented minority students in training, and the strategies to mitigate race-based bias within labs, departments, and institutions,” the grant description states.

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The grant proposal outlines three main objectives of the study, saying that in addition to emerging with a fully-developed “Breaking the Bias Cycle” workshop and a complementary “train the trainer” program for about 450 “research mentors,” the project leaders also hope to devise “an Implicit Association Test (IAT) for race/science bias” and other training materials that can be used for “further outreach and dissemination.”

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According to Meredith Mcglone, UW’s Director of News and Media Relations, the training will be voluntary, and will be primarily targeted at professors in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, though the workshop is encouraged for faculty in other fields, as well.

“This training, based on research that suggests all of us have implicit biases that can affect the way we treat others, can help scientists ‘walk in the shoes’ of younger colleagues and become more effective mentors,” Mcglone told Campus Reform. “This grant provides voluntary training for STEM researchers (science, technology, engineering and math); however, it would be appropriate for other fields as well.”

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The results from the study, which UW anticipates will be completed in 2020, are eventually intended to be used as guidelines for implementing implicit bias training at other universities, based on the belief that “unconscious bias” hinders women and minorities from majoring in science in college.

“Our country cannot afford to lose talented scientists,” Mcglone told Campus Reform. “Yet studies show that’s exactly what’s happening, simply because faculty mentors and their institutions don’t have the information and skills they need to help all young scientists thrive.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @morgan_walker95