University of Mississippi Law School Dean Susan Duncan said that after a forum last spring, it was clear that law school students wanted a stronger focus on diversity.
“We hosted a community conversation for law students in the spring to have their voices heard about campus climate at UM Law, and students voiced that they wanted us to continually address diversity and inclusion,” Duncan said. “The students had a large role in bringing this event to life.”
So, the law school decided to host an implicit bias training session led by Laura McNeal of the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. Duncan said that this was the best way for the law school to tackle bias issues.
“We all have our own subconscious blind spots in our thoughts and behaviors,” Duncan said. “The only way to become more aware of these and how our attitudes and beliefs impact our behaviors is to confront our implicit biases head on through engaged training. We want to be proactive at the law school.”
The training includes defining what implicit bias is, as well as being exposed to studies that reveal how implicit biases manifest in everyday life. It addresses the practical consequences of allowing those biases to be unchecked. It also allows students to express their opinions about how biases affect them, how they think improvements can be made and how they feel like implicit biases hinder them.
Clinical professor of law at Ole Miss and Director of the MacArthur Justice Center Cliff Johnson said that while no one training session will fix the problem, discussing the issue should spur improvement.
“I do think this training demonstrates that we are willing to talk about the reality of bias here at the law school and that we do want to address the inequities experienced by our classmates and colleagues,” he said. “My hope is that the training will prompt serious organic conversations over beers and shared meals.”
Johnson also elaborated on how he tackles his own struggles with bias and that continuing to challenge bias is integral to the law school.
“As a 52-year-old straight white male from Mississippi, I am quick to admit that I have struggled with ‘baked-in’ bias that is inconsistent with the person I want to be and downright embarrassing,” Johnson said. “I am working to be as fair and impartial as possible, and I believe that others here in the law school, students and faculty alike, are joining me in that effort. We all have work to do.”
Law school student Brandon Wilson said that the implicit bias training hit home especially.
“As a black, gay male, I understand that there are implicit biases that people have about the African American community and the gay community,” Wilson said. “However, I see now that I and basically everyone has implicit biases against some groups.”
He stressed the importance of the training, showing that everyone, regardless of race or political affiliation, has biases.
“Oftentimes the subject is framed or lumped in with negative ideals like racism,” Wilson said. “The presenter did an excellent job of framing implicit bias as a problem that affects everyone in different ways. Realizing that we have biases and working on checking them is important for everyone, whether they are in New York or Mississippi, but especially in Mississippi, where there is a rich history of racism.”
For undergraduate students, the university’s division of Diversity and Community Engagement offers implicit bias and microaggression training, and any student organization, academic unit or department can request a training session.