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Anti-Bias Education

A page within CATL Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence


Anti-bias education aims to reduce students' biased behaviors.  It emphasizes teaching students to function effectively and collaboratively in a diverse society.  Anti-bias instructors help students understand the origins and purposes of social and cultural stereotypes and critique their continued use in contemporary society.  Students may also develop collaborative skills in working across sociocultural hierarchies, learn to recognize and avoid microaggressions, plan ways to continue their own learning, practice productively challenging their own and others' biases, and learn effective responses to being challenged. 

Since changing students' misconceptions about groups other than their own (and sometime even including their own) typically takes time, anti-bias education works best when it is integrated across curricula so that the learning is continually reinforced. 

Summary of Research

Biases can be unconscious, and research indicates that unconscious biases are very difficult to change permanently. Anti-bias education thus includes methods to prevent very young children from developing biases from the outset. For instructors in higher education, the goal is better aimed at helping students avoid acting on an unconscious bias, and awareness of stereotypes and understanding how societies produce and reproduce them is critical.  At UWL, many if not most of the courses in the General Education program under "Minority cultures or multiracial women's studies (GE 03)" tackle these issues, and students are usually advised to take that course within their first 45 credits.  That allows instructors of other courses to activate students' prior knowledge

The research on diversity in learning settings sometimes counters what our logic as instructors tells us to do.  For example, if a program goal is to develop students' skills at working collaboratively in a diverse group, we might assume that such projects should start at the freshman level.  Studies indicate that we can seriously undermine the success of our students of color if we place them alone in a group of white students whose anti-bias education has not yet begun. 


  • Anti-bias educators first develop the knowledge and skills necessary to model the kinds of learning they ask of their students. To learn more about how bias shows up in higher education, try using the free video game developed by a multi-disciplinary team at UW Madison, FairPlay.  You play Jamal, a new graduate student at a research university (that looks rather like UW Madison). Although the game is set in graduate education, the incidents Jamal encounters happen at all levels of education.  The purpose of the game is your own learning, and, of course, the game includes a bibliography of the research behind each of the incidents you will encounter in the game. For instructors of color especially, please be aware that the incidents in the game may be painfully familiar to you.  Feel free to form your own discussion groups around FairPlay.
  • Curricular infusion can help by offering counter-stereotype examples.  In other words, if the stereotype says that a group is inherently lacking in intelligence, including research conducted by members of that group can help students begin to see the fallacy of the stereotype.  While counter-stereotype examples will not be enough to prove the fallacy of a stereotype, they are something all of us can do. Even varying the names and settings in the problems or cases you use in your courses can help.
  • Treat students' biased ideas as a problem of misconception.  The process known as "refutational teaching" can help you refute misconceptions, but developing assignments through which students prove for themselves that the stereotype is incorrect may be the most powerful method.
  • Deeply-rooted misconceptions take time to change.  Expect some students to resist what the research in your field says. 
  • Avoid expecting students from groups about which social stereotypes exist to speak for their entire group or to refute a social stereotype themselves.  They may be willing to support the veracity of an anti-bias perspective, but they should not have to do this.  They are here to learn just like any other student. 
  • Provide opportunities for all your students to have their biases challenged.  Nearly all of us have biases against some group.
  • Students can benefit from cross-racial or otherwise diverse collaborations.  For the sake of students who are in the minority, do not assign such projects until all students have developed their own cultural competence and collaboration skills.  Research tells us that students of color in particular do better when they have "critical mass" in a group.  That means that if your class has three students of color, and your groups will each have four or five students, your students of color might be better served if you place them in a group together with just one or two white students.


Banaji, M., & Greenwald, Anthony G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York: Delacorte Press.

Cabrera, N., & Corces-Zimmerman, C. (2017). An Unexamined Life: White Male Racial Ignorance and the Agony of Education for Students of Color. Equity & Excellence in Education,50(3), 300-315. 

Francesca Prati, F., Crisp, R. J., Rubini, Counter-stereotypes reduce emotional intergroup bias by eliciting surprise in the face of unexpected category combinations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 61, pp. 31-43.

Gurin, P. & Nagda, B. A. & Zuniga, X.(2013). Dialogue across difference: Practice, theory, and research on intergroup dialogue. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Hoskins, D. J. (2016).  Difficult discussions.  In the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning, Teaching Improvement Guide.  See also CATL TIG pages on Group learning.

Taylor, A. (2017) GUEST POST: How to Help Students Overcome Misconceptions. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from

Hoskins, D. (2017). Designing Inclusive Courses: Anti-Bias Education. In Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from