Implicit Biases of Admissions Officers

Bias in Admissions, Bias in College Admissions, Bias in Ivy League Admissions
Implicit bias training isn’t, in itself, the answer to eliminating Asian American discrimination in admissions.

In her landmark decision in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case, Judge Allison Burroughs suggested that Harvard’s admissions officers might well benefit from some training on their implicit biases. As she wrote in her ruling in favor of Harvard, “Notwithstanding the fact that Harvard’s admissions program survives strict scrutiny, it is not perfect. The process would likely benefit from conducting implicit bias trainings for admissions officers, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, which were developed during this litigation, and monitoring and making admissions officers aware of any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process.”

Implicit Bias Training Won’t Eliminate Bias in Admissions

But will implicit bias training actually help admissions officers suppress their implicit biases? Will such training actually lead admissions officers to not discriminate against Asian American applicants? Will the training not lead admissions officers to continue to think to themselves, “Another Asian American applicant who excels in math and science and plays the violin?” Can implicit biases really be eliminated?

Increasing Awareness About Discrimination in Admissions is an Effective Counter to Bias

Let us be clear that we don’t think implicit biases can be eliminated — not in admissions officers or in any human beings. We are all a little bit biased. Yes, even you. It’s how we are programmed ever since the days when we were hunter-gatherers, to make rapid fire decisions. And we’re not sure that implicit bias training will be any more effective than sexual harassment training in the workplace. But we do believe that increased awareness can lead admissions officers to be more conscious of their biases. We do believe that awareness can lead admissions officers to think twice before they discriminate against an Asian American applicant.

The Fight to End Asian American Discrimination in Admissions Calls for a Movement

In our view, the #MeToo movement has led people to think twice before sexually harassing a co-worker more than any workplace sexual harassment seminar ever could. And that’s why we’ve long argued that change in admissions starts not in the courtroom but with the populace. So if the folks fighting for an end to Asian American discrimination are smart — and we know they are — they’ll focus less on their appeal of Judge Burroughs’ landmark decision (it will absolutely be appealed!) and more on raising awareness about Asian American discrimination among the citizenry.


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