Unintended Bias In the Classroom

As we were reading about and discussing bias both intentional and unintentional I had a moment of reflection about catching some of my own biases.

This is my third semester being a graduate teaching instructor, second of which is online. One challenge I have realized that I have with online teaching is your only impression of most of the students is based on what and how they write–about themselves, in their assignments, and in their forum posts. Many people when writing and posting things online have much less filter than when discussing something in person–for good and bad.

I consider myself a very open person. To many different lifestyles, beliefs, backgrounds, etc. However, that openness I think has led to an unintended bias on my part. I have had a few students write in posts and assignments about their strongly held religious beliefs (particularly Christian). Each time I noticed myself negatively reacting. I was consistently having to take a step back and think precisely why I was reacting that way. Were the students answering questions wrongly? No, not at all. It was just that they were writing something that I do not feel as strongly about as they do. I think context had something to do with it as well. When the students were not asked anything about religious beliefs and brought it in to their assignments I seemed to initially be less accepting of it. However, when I covered religious beliefs and human sexuality, anything the students said about religious beliefs I was open to. It is something I continuously have to think about and be aware of about myself and my teaching as I continue in my schooling and career.

This topic also brings to mind the Steven Salaita case that has been in the Higher Education news recently (if you haven’t heard about it, I encourage you to look it up). Dr. Salaita finally made a public statement this week for the first time since he found out that he was not going to be starting work at the University of Illinois last month. One thing that he said stood out to me about biases in and outside of the classroom. What he said was that while he was here at Virginia Tech, students never complained about his teaching and had very good reviews about his teaching. This is in contrast to University of Illinois’ concerns that he would create a hostile atmosphere in the classroom because of his beliefs. This stands out as a good example that even when you have strong personal beliefs about something political, religious, etc. you can leave it at the door and create an environment of mutual respect without bigotry.

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