Manhire Presents Bias Workshop to Texas A&M Law

October 8, 2015

What comes to mind when you hear the word “diversity?” Write out the words that first pop in your head. You may not realize it, but you very likely practiced what’s called “unconscious bias.”

Jack ManhireJack Manhire, Director of Program Development at Texas A&M University School of Law, wants to simply “break” that with his workshop, “Breaking Bias,” ​which ​was presented to faculty and staff on Friday, Oct. 2.

Manhire noticed that very few law schools offer this type of workshop, and thought this could be valuable to students, faculty and staff at ​Texas A&M School of Law.

Now, you may say to yourself, “But I’m not biased.”

“If you have a brain, that implies bias,” said Manhire.

Professor John Murphy was among the 30 faculty and staff present at the workshop. He agrees with Manhire and that acknowledging implicit bias is the first step in overcoming it.

Breaking Bias workshop logoDespite commitment to diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias exists, and it can mess up everything. The workshop includes activities that bring realization to typical bias assumptions.

“It’s kind of like if you stand under a pecan tree, you naturally assume that a pecan turned loose of the branch and hit your head,” said Rebecca Key, facilities coordinator. “But what if you were standing under a pecan tree and a peach hit you in the head?”

The next step was to implement strategies to overcome that bias. Participants were asked to acknowledge a bias they had and apply a strategy to it to complete over the next couple of months.

Of the 30 participants, 97 percent said they knew and understood more about unconscious bias than before the workshop. One hundred percent said they would recommend the workshop to others and implement a strategy discussed over the next couple of months.

Sonia Jimenez, assistant to the dean, said this workshop could be beneficial to any profession.

“Examining sensitive material with the people you work with under the microscope helps create workable solutions in real time,” she said.

Manhire will next travel to Washington D.C. to present the workshop to executive candidates from federal agencies, and to College Station later in October to present it to senior leaders of Texas A&M University.

“It is important for them to understand the power of implicit biases and what they can do individually and structurally within organizations they lead to reduce the negative effects of bias,” he said.

Andrew Morriss, Dean and Anthony G. Buzbee Dean’s Endowed Chair, said the workshop was eye-opening. “He [Jack] makes some challenging concepts accessible and immediately applicable to work and life.”

“Jack taught us concrete, practical tools to mitigate the effects of implicit bias—tools I could and did put to use immediately,” said Murphy.

Jimenez agrees. “I don’t feel like everyone with a passion for diversity can pull off the type of engaging narrative that Jack Manhire demonstrated for us—which is all the more reason to sign up!” Jimenez said.

Manhire is hoping to offer the workshop to students within the next month. More information on that to come when available.

Breaking Bias Workshop

- Article by Jennifer Nassar, Communications Specialist, Texas A&M University School of Law