Harvard mandates 'implicit-bias training' for faculty hiring

Harvard University’s School of Public Health now requires faculty search committees to undergo “implicit-bias training” to learn “how unconscious bias can infect the recruitment process.”

“We strive to create an environment that is both diverse (in its reflection of the vast swath of backgrounds and experiences) and inclusive (in that it gives everyone an equal opportunity to thrive and contribute),” Michelle Williams, dean of the faculty at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in an end-of-year report. “In service to these twin goals, we embarked on a number of initiatives during this past year, spearheaded by our Office of Diversity and Inclusion.”

One such effort was implicit-bias training for faculty search committees, which is intended “to raise awareness of how unconscious bias can infect the recruitment process—for example, when letters use different adjectives to describe male and female candidates—and introduce strategies to minimize its impact.”

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The implicit bias training is part of the Chan School’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, which according to the report, “informs everything we do—from hiring and recruitment practices to student life to education and research—reflecting our commitment to equity and social justice.”

Indeed, the report boasts that more than 100 Chan School faculty members attended a three-hour “cultural awareness and communication workshop” in April that was designed to help them weed out “microaggressions” in the classroom.

“The workshop was informed by responses to newly added course evaluation questions that ask students to reflect on inclusive environments and their experience of ‘microaggressions,’ offhand comments or other slights that have too often been ignored or overlooked despite the real harm they cause,” Williams explained.

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Students have been caught up in the school’s enthusiasm, as well, and must complete “a daylong program focused on issues of power, privilege, and identity” as a standard part of student orientation.

“The program met an enthusiastic reception,” Williams reported, saying students were “embracing the opportunity for group reflection and saying they’d like to see this material carried over into the academic year through both curricular and service work.”

In addition, the Chan School has implemented an anonymous “bias-related incident-reporting system,” which Williams says will allow the administration “to track and address concerns as they arise,” and also hosted several events over the course of the year drawing attention to the history of racism in the field of public health.

The “Advancing Diversity and Inclusion” section of the report is only one part of a larger overview of the new initiatives undertaken by the Chan School over the past year, which also includes sections about budget and personnel matters, educational initiatives, and research efforts.

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