What is bias and how should I respond to it if I see or hear something?

What is Bias?

Bias is any thought or action that discriminates or disproportionately favors one person or group of people over another based on superficial or inaccurate perceptions of the person or group.

Acts of bias can focus on almost any characteristic or belief, but the most common bias reports engage perceived race, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, ancestry, and political beliefs. People may say offensive or hurtful things about another person’s age, physical appearance, or even a person's different abilities. When someone says or writes something that offends or hurts, it is most likely considered to be an act of bias. Threats can also be considered acts of bias, and frequently they can be investigated by police.

Implicit bias involves the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our actions, understanding, and decisions. Without awareness, our brains attribute particular qualities to a member or members of a certain group. Implicit bias can be thought of as the quick little lies that our brain tells us, and it often takes the form of "little things" that foster sentiments and attitudes of inequity and incivility. For example, think about to whom you are likely to give the benefit of the doubt or a second chance. To whom are you more likely to assign bad intent or malice? It's important to learn about and evaluate our own thoughts and beliefs, and remain open to retraining our brains and seeking out new experiences, to recognize and combat our own implicit biases. Everyone has them. The key is recognition and proactively steering our actions away from expressing bias toward someone based solely on our past experiences and learned beliefs.

There are a few key characteristics that are important for understanding implicit bias.

  • Implicit biases are universal. Implicit bias is something that affects everyone, even those who claim they don't have them.
  • Someone's implicit associations do not necessarily mirror their stated beliefs or even follow their explicit values.
  • Studies have shown that people tend to favor others that share their own identities, but they can still have biases toward their own group.
  • Implicit biases are adaptable and can be unlearned though different debiasing techniques.

Explicit bias is bias exhibited in a visible way. You can identify explicit bias because it is made evident by behaviors. When you witness bias against or among students, complete a bias report at

Refer to the three D's outlined below when encountering explicit bias, and always remember to report it when it happens. The University takes these reports very seriously, and by logging the incidents, patterns and similarities emerge. This is important for better understanding community members' experiences and for providing resources or support as needed.

Sometimes, bias shows up as subtle or obvious preferential treatment, but we fail to recognize it because of privilege. Video game designer David Gaider said "privilege is when you think that something's not a problem because it isn't a problem for you personally" (2013). It's important to understand what characteristics or memberships we possess, simply by the circumstances of our birth, that lead to privilege, through no achievement or effort of our own doing. Can you think of a time you witnessed someone getting something that they didn't deserve that was denied to you, and how unfair that felt? As Eric Liu, the founder of Citizen University, has said "we are all better off when we are all better off" (2018). Fighting bias, recognizing our own privilege and how that might be leveraged toward helping others who have experienced bias, are all important steps in creating a more unified, welcoming, safe Penn State for every member of our community.

Here at Penn State, we are working together to reduce the incidence of such acts. Everyone in the Penn State community has earned the right to be here. Everyone has a story, a background, a place from which they've come. It's what makes Penn State so special -- our differences make us stronger.

So, what role can I play as an individual in the Penn State community to reduce incidents of bias? A proactive approach includes reporting it when you see it, calling it out when it’s happening, and checking yourselves before acting on your own bias.

Reporting bias has been made easy. If you see something happen or something happens to you, report it. Go to the Report Bias page.

When you are a part of a conversation in which bias occurs or are witness to an act of bias, it is important to take a proactive approach. Keep in mind the three D's:


  • Directly interact with the people involved in the situation, and express that you are concerned.


  • Distract the people involved by diverting their attention to something else, and use the distraction to covertly defuse the situation.


  • Delegate your responsibility to intervene in a concerning situation by notifying someone who is better equipped to handle that particular situation. If you ever feel unsafe, always delegate. For more information and resources on how best to safely and effectively intervene in an act of bias, visit the Stand for State website: