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Louisville Law Professor McNeal shares methods to counter implicit bias in UH Law Center lecture

Laura McNeal of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School served as the second Diversity & Inclusion Committee speaker at the University of Houston Law Center this fall.

Laura McNeal of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School served as the second Diversity & Inclusion Committee speaker at the University of Houston Law Center this fall.

Oct. 22, 2019 — University of Houston Law Center faculty and students learned tactics to recognize their own implicit biases during two discussions last week from University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law Professor Laura McNeal.

The event, "Hiding in Plain Sight: An Introduction to Implicit Bias" was sponsored by the Law Center's Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Implicit bias can be defined as stereotypes, attitudes or preferences that people may consciously reject but may express without conscious awareness.

"These biases don't make us prejudiced, it's just the way our brain processes information," McNeal said. "Bias comes in all forms — it's not just gender or race. Bias takes on disabilities, religion and immigration. We all have them, and they're often in conflict with our belief system. Yet they hold 98 percent of our thought process."

McNeal, who also works with the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, referenced numerous studies and media portrayals that display implicit bias. Examples included that people assume hurricanes with male names are more dangerous than hurricanes with female names, or how a group of scientists preferred a male job candidate with a nearly identical resume as a woman.

However, there are several different actions that can be taken to confront implicit bias, such as a stereotype replacement strategy.

"If you catch yourself making a stereotypical response, you acknowledge and label it and evaluate the situation to determine how that response occurred," McNeal said. "Then replace that portrayal with a non-stereotypical one."

Additional approaches are perspective taking and increasing opportunities for contact.

"Imagining in the first person what it feels like to be in another person's situation," McNeal said. "Think about how you would feel to have your abilities questioned, or to be viewed as lazy and potentially violent on the basis of your appearance. This strategy can be used either proactively without any prompting from outside sources, or reactively, after a stereotypic response or portrayal has been detected.

"Actively seek out situations where you are likely to have positive interactions with stereotyped groups. You can do this by joining particular clubs, or participating in events. This allows you to meet people who disconfirm stereotypes."

The Diversity & Inclusion Committee's next speaker will be Mercedes K. Meyer, Ph.D., a 1996 Law Center alumna, who will deliver a presentation titled, “Practicing Law While Female” on Nov. 12. Previously, Associate Professor of Law and Political Science Zachary D. Kaufman and Professor Dr. Eric Hilgendorf of the University of Würzburg in Germany discussed the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and the U.S. in September.

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