COGS intends to decrease implicit bias through training

by Brian Edwards

University of Minnesota student government leaders are worried unintentional biases may thwart efforts to increase diversity on campus. 
The Council of Graduate Students wants to decrease implicit biases — like not admitting a non-English speaking student based on tests taken in English — in the admissions process through special training for admissions faculty. 
Traditionally, admissions processes were heavily weighted toward GRE scores, but some colleges have recently taken a different approach, said Jon Gottesman, director of the Office of Biomedical Graduate Research, Education and Training.
“A timed test [like the GRE] for someone who speaks a foreign language just doesn’t work,” he said.
Instead, the College of Biological Sciences and the Medical School, which oversee the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Programs, look more broadly at application materials, including research experience and letters of recommendation, Gottesman said.
The Campus Climate Report released in January cited increasing community engagement and diversity as two top priorities at the University.
The report said each individual college at the University needs to make a tailored plan to increase diversity and that each dean would need to work toward achieving that goal.
Gottesman said applicants’ test scores may look lower than in past years, but the quality, number and diversity of applicants has increased. 
He said CBS has created a diverse applicant pool in a number of different ways, like outreach programs to high school students and summer research programs.
He said the applicant pool has doubled since 2010.
The school also hosts mock interviews and hosts sessions to prepare students for the school’s application process, Gottesman said.
COGS president Nicholas Goldsmith said many students suggested bias training for admissions staff hiring as the student government crafted its platform for this school year.
The group wants other schools to craft individual plans to increase diversity and limit bias in their admissions process, like the medical school has done.
Gottesman said the medical school had an expert train its admissions staff on implicit bias when evaluating applications.
But guarding against bias can be difficult when the admissions staff usually only work there for two to three years, Gottesman said.
To combat this problem, medical school leaders make sure that bias training is one of the first steps for new admissions workers, he said.
 “Many people have acknowledged that it is a problem,” he said. “The faculty is heavily involved in improving the application process.”