University conducts unconscious bias training for high-level administrators and hosts series of workshops for future learning – The Vanderbilt Hustler

Through a train-the-trainer program, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hopes to facilitate trainings across all departments over the coming months.

Emilie Goncalves

Kirkland Hall, which houses Vanderbilt’s senior administration offices.

Vanderbilt executives and directors are pushing for vast unconscious bias training throughout the 2019-2020 school year. The training started in a August 28 workshop for senior managers, the launch of a year-long commitment to train faculty and staff on the dangers of unconscious bias, according to André Churchwell, director of diversity. The initial line-up included deans, vice-chancellors and senior staff, including acting chancellor Susan Wente.

“It was a set of huge, in-depth, leveling and awareness-raising exercises and discussions that set the stage for what’s to come next, what’s called train-the-trainer training,” Churchwell said.

The train-the-trainer program aims to equip select members of the Vanderbilt administration with the knowledge and resources they need to conduct their own unconscious bias training across departments and schools. In October, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion conducted a four day training with 16 Vanderbilt leaders, selected from the Office of Dean of Students, faculty, and human resources. These individuals will be delivering unconscious bias training throughout the 2019-2020 school year.

“We recognize that we have a very diverse staff and student body, but we can’t leverage the power of diversity if we’re not inclusive,” Churchwell said. “Inclusion doesn’t happen until we’re on a mission to manage our own blind spots around people different from us.”

Churchwell has hosted unconscious bias sessions at Vanderbilt Medical Center for the past five years and trained 4,500 staff and faculty there. In an interview with The Hustler, Churchwell discussed the process of adapting these sessions to a higher education setting.

“High-level education is always interpersonal,” Churchwell said. “You select new teachers and students. With an unconscious bias, there can be a natural impulse to give someone like you the benefit of the doubt.

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hopes to hold more frequent trainings beyond the initial August date for senior faculty and staff. According to Churchwell, deep knowledge requires repetitive training. In November, Vanderbilt announced a new implicit bias workshop series for professors, university leaders and leaders of student groups. The university plans to run modules on hiring and evaluating faculty and students in research processes in the future.

Eva Durchholz contributed reporting for this article.