Implicitly there: How implicit biases affect students


Jamie Langley teaches third period AP English. The class is focusing on the lyric Citizen, by Claudia Rankine, which focuses on the issue of racism in America. Photo by Alyssa Cerda.

Learning in the classroom is different for everyone. Depending on your background and who you are, the way you are taught could differ from other students. In classroom settings, teachers and students can have their own implicit racial bias that can be detrimental to a student’s learning experience as a whole.

Implicit biases are when stereotypes or attitudes affect our understanding and acceptance of individuals in an unconscious manner. Without trying, or even noticing, we can hold opinions that make us less inclined to help someone, believe in them, or support them.

We see implicit bias in a lot of public places: On public transport, we see it when one’s less inclined to sit next to another because of some aspect of their physical appearance. We see it when someone is ‘keeping an eye on’ a person of color as they shop, or expecting a male person to hold a certain position of power solely because of his gender. These are all examples of common implicit biases we may all see at times, or even have ourselves.

Implicit biases do not stop at our safe places either. Schools are a common place where students notice an implicit racial bias in the classroom, even from the authority figures teaching. Schools are a place for students to learn and further their education in a caring and protective environment. This raises the issue of having present racism, even if implicit.

Teachers can hold students to varying standards depending on things like race. If you don’t believe in a kid and provide them with the proper resources because they’re brown, you are normalizing a stigma that says brown folk aren’t as educated.

A study by Upjohn Institute has shown that implicit bias is alive and present in high school classrooms today. The study showed that in comparison to black teachers, white teachers were 30% less likely to say any specific black student would go to college. The study also shows that the percentages vary depending on the gender of the student in question.

“I believe racial bias happens at schools, however, I often believe it is more unintentional than explicit,” Julie Apagya-Bonney (12) said. “Many people, especially in school settings, often don’t realize when they’ve said something offensive towards students that directly attacks their race.”

This is not a direct attack on white teachers, because they are not the problem. The issue that needs to be fixed is the normalization of stereotypes for different races, especially in educational settings.

“Having an open dialogue is crucial,” Apagya-Bonney said. “I have seen schools avoid the topic of race, and they always end up in the news about having issues with race on campus. We often times want to avoid it as if people aren’t of different races, but it’s imperative to discuss it and explain to one another who we are so we can begin to understand.”

This issue is not one that teachers turn a blind eye to either. Faculty notice that, although race may be uncomfortable to talk about, it is an important conversation to have. These conversations are rooted into their curriculum.

“From class to class, some of my classes can easily talk about subjects and other people I can see that it’s a hard thing for them to talk about.” Ms. Jamie Langley, English teacher, said.

Teachers are ready for a change too. This is an issue that has been going on for far too long and both teachers and students are ready to tackle this head on.

”I feel like it’s the conversation,” Langley said. “I don’t think we’re gonna change until we talk about it.”