Implicit Bias and College Advising

Posted by Rose Frezza, Texas OnCourse on Apr 29, 2020 4:29:06 PM

In the field of education, many of us are well-versed in the differences between explicit and implicit bias. Yet we may not have had candid conversations with ourselves and others about what we can and should do daily to ensure equity in college access; in particular, how to reduce implicit bias in today's virtual college advising setting.

Register for our webinar on Reducing Implicit Bias

As a refresher (and to make sure we aren’t making assumptions about prior knowledge!), a few definitions:

What is explicit bias? 

Explicit bias is a conscious assessment or evaluation of a certain subject matter (or group of people) that we have made. 

For example, via NACAC: “One counselor might explicitly determine at some point that students from Nebraska just don’t as a group have the ability to do college-level work and judge them that way.” 

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is an unconscious assessment or evaluation of a certain subject matter (or group of people) that we have made. It may affect our decision-making, though we are not aware of it.

For example, via NACAC: “Another counselor might be magnanimous toward Nebraskans, but have been threatened by a gang of Nebraska students or been raised in an environment where they were disliked—and therefore implicitly assess them all unfairly without even knowing it.”

Here are a few more examples of how implicit bias can affect the student advising process at various grade levels:

  • Educators making assumptions about which students can “handle” certain levels of instruction
  • Educators steering certain students toward certain learning pathways
  • Educators making assumptions about how or where students will thrive in terms of postsecondary pathways
  • Educators making assumptions about which students are “a fit” for certain colleges and how students are advised as a result

How can we combat implicit bias?

1. Stop and check in with yourself.

Strive to remain intentional in the advising process. Stop and check in with yourself regularly, asking questions like “Do I feel this is the best path for this student? Why or why not?” Dig deep into the “why.” Be aware of personal experiences that come up and assumptions you might be making. It’s possible that your advising instinct is stemming from a place of implicit bias. Awareness is key to change.

2. Use your imagination.

Imagine that you have never met this student before; that all you have to work with is what is on paper about the student. Conversely, imagine that all you have to work with is your current, live impression of the student. Examine how and why your advising would differ in each case. Put yourself in the shoes of a postsecondary admissions officer, who will likely only have the “on paper” student to evaluate. Some experts also recommend “counter imaging.” This is the practice of “intentionally developing an entirely different thought or image of an opposite assessment than your first impulse suggests,” as defined by NACAC.

3. Speak candidly with colleagues.

Having open conversations about biases is key to ensuring an equitable advising environment. If you doubt your judgment or motivation on a matter, phone a colleague. Consider starting a chat group or periodic meeting of the minds as it pertains to equity in advising. In this virtual age, the Texas College and Career Planning Source Facebook group is a great place to start.

For more expert advice on countering explicit bias, be sure to join us next week for a free webinar with Dr. Bentley L. Gibson, associate professor of psychology at Georgia Highlands College and founder of The Bias Adjuster, LLC. Unable to join in person? Register anyway, and we’ll send you the recording by email!

Register for our webinar on Reducing Implicit Bias

Topics: Professional Development, College Planning, Educators, Coronavirus, Distance Counseling