Dr. Laura J. MacDonald ’09, assistant professor of biology and director of the Hendrix STEM Scholars Program, was among eight professors featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education's recent compilation of reflections, "Professors Share: The Moment That Changed the Way I Teach" (subscription required for access). MacDonald shared the experience of discovering her own implicit bias, and how she has responded:
"One of my most important moments of realization occurred when I attended the Conference for Undergraduate Educators sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. That’s where I attended a symposium about inclusive teaching practices, where I heard a talk by Bryan Dewsbury. Bryan’s talk got me thinking about how implicit biases might be preventing me from interacting authentically with the underrepresented and disadvantaged students I — and many others on my campus — wanted to help most. As part of his talk, he suggested that we take an implicit-bias test, which I did as soon as I got back to my hotel room. The results stunned me: They showed that I had an implicit bias against people of color. I felt ashamed because I’d never thought of myself as racist.
"Talking with Bryan later, at the symposium and in the months that followed, I realized that my implicit bias wasn’t a character flaw; it came primarily from my background. I grew up in a primarily white town and didn’t have much opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. But I also realized that this background was still shaping my behavior. I started noticing, for example, that even during a trip to the grocery store, I rarely greeted people of color. None of this was intentional, but, over time, my perspective started shifting.
"The following semester, I walked into my cell-biology course on the first day and I saw that, in a crowd of 40 students, my seven students of color were all sitting together in the back row, segregated. Since then, I have used more problem-based learning activities to help facilitate interactions between students of color and their peers, and I’ve continued to work toward developing a more inclusive space — both in my classroom and in the sciences in general."