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Credit: Zach Sheldon

Amid ongoing efforts for greater inclusion, the Office of the Provost now requires all faculty members involved in faculty searches across schools to undergo unconscious bias training. 

The requirement went into effect this semester, but the decision was made in March 2017 as part of the President and Provost's Faculty Inclusion Report, Executive Director of Faculty Affairs Lubna Mian said.

While the Office of the Provost has offered centralized unconscious bias training intended for hiring committees since 2006, the training will now be required for faculty members on hiring committees.

Penn Dental professor Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, who headed the Senate Committee for Faculty Development, Diversity, and Equity, made the initial recommendation in May 2012 that faculty involved in hiring take bias training. 

“We thought that was a good place to start,” Jordan-Sciutto said. “I think that this will go a long way to making an inclusive environment which will only further enhance all the scholarship and education that occurs here.”

Bias training has long been an issue of interest among graduate school faculty. In April 2017, more than 80 faculty members signed a letter in support of expanding programming for reducing bias and encouraging fellow faculty members to attend a training. The majority of the signers were from the Perelman School of Medicine.

Chair of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Group Dan Kessler, who signed the letter, said the release of the letter occurred around the same time conversations about bias were happening within Biomedical Graduate Studies in response to student concern.

“There was definitely a preexisting concern about these issues, and a series of events on campus and off campus,” Kessler said. “The ongoing more focused discussions among the leaders of the graduate groups really prompted us to make a more public statement.”

Shortly after the 2017 letter, the Perelman School of Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity offered eight “Everyday Bias Workshops” held by consulting firm Cook Ross, which 103 faculty and staff members attended. Perelman also held an implicit bias teach-in which organized round table discussions with Penn faculty around bias. 

While students and faculty say training for the hiring committees is an important first step, many say there is still more to be done to reduce bias.

Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. candidate Sydney Campbell said she and other student leaders from groups such as Penn Graduate Women in Science and Engineering and the Biomedical Student Society spoke with program chairs about requiring bias training for all faculty.

“There’s not a lot of centralized offices or mechanisms that can mandate things across the University,” Campbell said.

“It’s just the beginning of addressing this issue,” Kessler said. “I would like to see these efforts gradually move towards the point where all faculty receive the training.” 

Mian said while she does not foresee training as a future requirement for all faculty, she does see continued interest through other events that happen on campus. 

"These kinds of organic efforts are likely more effective for stimulating discussion around this body of work," Mian said. "While training is valuable, the effort of reducing gender and racial bias in all institutions and interactions is shared."

The Office of the Provost’s trainings, which will take place in October, will be run by New-York-based Perception Institute. The Institute is the same research-collaborative that conducted employee trainings for Starbucks after the coffee chain came under national scrutiny following the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks. 

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