Taking time to think deeply and personally about issues of identity, inequity, discrimination, and privilege will help you to understand how you can contribute to equity and inclusion throughout your academic and non-academic work. The ability to read, listen, learn, and understand with empathy and critical thinking are skills that will enable this process, and that will serve you in graduate school and your career.

Steps You Can Take

Understand Systems of Discrimination, Oppression, and Inequity

Systems of discrimination, oppression, and privilege are complex and often entrenched in everyday practices and beliefs. Understanding these systems, and your own place within them, is a long-term project that will be different for every individual and evolve over time. Depending on your own positionality and identity, you may find that you need to put particular effort into learning about some systems of discrimination that are unfamiliar to you, and less time understanding systems of which you have more knowledge or experience.

A great place to start is taking the time to review and understand resources that explain these historical systems, including books, articles, films, podcasts and interviews. For example, to better understand systemic racism, consider starting with the book Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi or the New York Times podcast series “1619.” To learn about the deep history of white supremacy in America, consider listening to the podcast series “Scene on Radio: Seeing White,” or start learning about the history of anti-Indigenous practices in America by reading An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. To learn more about fatphobia and sizeism, you can start with this short Scientific American piece titled “Fat is Not the Problem–Fat Stigma Is,” or to learn more about the racist history of sizeism, consider reading the book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings. The Division of Equity and Inclusion (DEI)’s list “Read, Watch, Listen, Engage” offers many additional resources for doing this important learning.

Systems of bias and discrimination also operate within some conventions and practices of academia and research. Learning about such systems will help you prepare for a career not only in academia, but across diverse career paths. A 2021 paper titled “Gender bias in academia: A lifetime problem that needs solutions” identified evidence for gender-based bias across many components of academia, including journal article citations, publication rates, evaluation of conference abstracts, hiring, grant applications, speaking invitations, and tenure decisions. In one example, a 2016 Gender Inequality Task Force Report from the National Institute of Health reported vast gender disparities in tenured faculty at American universities, with women making up only 23% of tenured faculty nationwide. Cases of bias towards students and academics of other underrepresented and marginalized identities and groups are also well documented.

Bias is also prevalent in research and the production of academic knowledge. All graduate students, regardless of discipline, should learn about bias in quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. Take some time to research bias in your own field of research. For example, if your work uses computational tools, it is important to learn about the prevalence of bias in algorithms and computer code, which you can learn about in this report created by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe. You can also learn about bias in medical research (see, for example, the article titled “Reducing Bias and Improving Transparency in Medical Research” or about researcher bias in qualitative research methods (see, for example, the article titled  “Interviewing the Investigator.”) For more on avoiding bias in research, see the Research & Data Analysis page of this Guide.


Understand Your Own Social Identities, Experiences, and Biases

Because of our individual backgrounds and contexts, each of us has social identities and biases that impact how we see the world and others. Oftentimes, these identities are complex and intersectional. The concept of intersectionality acknowledges that different aspects of a person’s identity combine to create varied conditions of disadvantage, discrimination, and privilege. This means that one individual may experience multiple, interrelated forms of oppression, a combination of privileges and oppressive forces, or multiple forms of privilege. To understand how biases operate, it’s important to reflect on our own varied experiences of advantage and disadvantage. Consider using a self-assessment tool for this reflection, such as this Addressing Identities worksheet from McLean Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.

Understanding our own biases also requires that we assess how we develop our opinions about others. Most everyone has implicit biases, which the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (OSU) defines as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” To learn more about implicit bias and its impacts on equity and inclusion, consider taking the University of California Managing Implicit Bias Series or the Kirwan Institute’s Implicit Bias Module Series. To assess and address your own unconscious biases, you may also want to take one or more of the Implicit Association Tests offered by Project Implicit.

It’s also important to learn about other forms of oppression and disadvantage that occur in interpersonal interaction in both academic and professional environments. For example, microaggressions are “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (From UCLA, Diversity in the Classroom Booklet). To learn how to recognize microaggressions, consider reading through this tool adapted from the book Microaggressions in Everyday Life (2010).

Some more resources on understanding social identities, experiences, and bias: