Starbucks Incident Prompts Implicit Bias Training, Different from Diversity Training

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  From the workplace to law enforcement, implicit bias education is a relatively new concept.

Former law enforcement officer Scott Law teaches an implicit bias class at Drake University, re-designed specifically for police officers. An implicit bias is defined as the unconscious thoughts assumed towards someone or something, not exclusive to race or ethnicity. The curriculum for the class was created two years ago, stressing a stark contrast between officers' already required cultural competency and diversity training.

"Diversity training has always been more, 'hey, this person has a different cultural background so they're different from you, but diversity is good, don't be upset.' But implicit bias really talks about these are the biases I have. This isn't about them, it's about me," Law explains.

The program began after the Des Moines Police Department reached out to the university asking for help with implicit bias training. Since the program's inception, every year each member of the police department undergoes nearly two months of training including taking a quiz to identify their own biases.

"So what we try and do is work with the officers and realize it's natural, but the problem comes when you allow those biases to make your decisions for you when you are treating people off a bias that you may have," says Law.

The topic of implicit bias resurfaced after Philadelphia police arrested two black men at a Starbucks last week. Employees called police on the men when they refused to leave the store after being denied use of the restroom because they didn't first purchase an item.

The need for more racial and self-awareness hits close to home in Iowa. Earlier this year, James Conley III claims he was racially profiled at an Old Navy store in West Des Moines. The employees involved in the allegation were eventually fired, and Conley is planning to a file a lawsuit.

The ACLU of Iowa, a non-profit civil liberties organization, remains optimistic in the wake of reoccurring racial bias situations.

"What are ways that we can check our own biases and prevent that from growing worse or even staying the same? It needs to be improved," says ACLU of Iowa executive director Mark Stringer. He applauds Starbucks for taking a step towards addressing the issue of implicit bias, but says in order to manage biases they must constantly be addressed.

"What training should do is open us up to questioning ourselves all the time. There is no final resting place that we can insure implicit bias no longer exists."