Addressing Classroom Bias: A Call for Inclusion of Working Class Success Stories

Bijay Laxmi
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Unconscious Bias in Education


In June, a mathematics professor from a California college sparked national controversy after asking a Vietnamese student to 'Anglicize' her name as its pronunciation was allegedly offensive in English. Despite the student's refusal and the claim of discrimination, the professor repeated his request. The incident, leading to the professor’s administrative leave, underscored the pervasive issue of unconscious bias in the academic environment. It highlights how cultural identity suppression can create an uncomfortable scenario for international students adapting to an unfamiliar academic system and culture.

Christina Yao, Ph.D., assistant professor and coordinator of the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program at the University of South Carolina, explains, "Such expectations of conformity...may interfere with international students' sense of belonging on campus. The potential implications...could be feelings of alienation or feelings of being viewed as the other."

Recognizing Unconscious Bias


Unconscious or implicit biases are attitudes, preferences, and assumptions that a person holds towards another individual or group. These beliefs are formed outside of a person's awareness from birth and can be based on various characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, speaking accent, physical appearance, and physical abilities. These biases can impact how we perceive and interact with others, and can be especially detrimental in the classroom environment.

Biases can manifest in various ways in the classroom, such as a professor favoring certain students, a lack of diverse representation in curriculum, or presumptions about international students’ interests and abilities. Faculty members are not the only ones who hold biases; students do as well. Biases can limit non-native English speaking students' participation in group work, possibly due to language barriers or unfamiliarity with the norms of peer collaboration.

Combatting Classroom Bias


David Wick, Ed.D., assistant professor with the MA program in international educational management at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, stresses the need to dismantle implicit biases in order to foster a more inclusive and positive learning environment. He suggests several strategies for identifying, acknowledging, and actively working to counter unconscious bias in the classroom.

These strategies include embracing discomfort and acknowledging biases, spending time with people who are not like oneself to foster understanding, and engaging in open conversations about biases. Educators are also encouraged to reflect on their own beliefs and how their worldview impacts interactions with people and places that are different from their own.

A Proposal for Change

Professor Lee Elliot Major from the University of Exeter, an expert in social mobility, proposes a practical solution to address classroom bias. He recommends educating students about successful individuals from the working class. He believes this strategy can help to balance the perception of success and societal roles within the classroom environment. His statement brings attention to the often overlooked issue of class bias in education and proposes a practical solution to counteract it.