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Claude Steele on ‘Stereotype Threat’ and Creating a Successful, Diverse Environment — Part 2

Mental mindset (Image by John Hain from Pixabay)
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In yesterday’s post, we described how Stanford University social psychologist Dr. Claude Steele explained his stereotype threat theory.

Now that there’s a full understanding of what stereotype threat is and how it affects groups all over the world, it’s important to know how to manipulate the threat in real-life situations to create a more respectful and accepting environment, specifically among universities as discussed by Steele.

Stereotype threat in the university classroom (Image by Jason Goodman on Unsplash)
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Stereotype threat and test score variance

In a study conducted by Steele, African-American and white participants with the same average IQ scores were compared among SAT scores and college grades. Stereotype threat accounted for 18% of the variance among scores, causing African-Americans to perform one standard deviation lower than white participants.

Almost identical to the study with men and women taking a math exam, the stereotype threat was lifted by simply calling a pattern analysis IQ test a “puzzle” that had no differing effect among race or gender, resulting in all participants performing equally.

Convincing the participants that stereotypes did not exist was not successful, however. Stereotype threat was only lifted in situations where stereotypes were addressed in some way, but offered activities that held exceptions among everyone. Steele’s research also concluded that the results were not due to self-esteem or other individual factors, because all findings were the same regardless of setting and historical societal structure.

Eliminating the threat via trust

The most important aspect of stereotype threat theory is the formulation of how to eliminate it. Steele said the most vital step to consider is making the situation a trusting one: Instead of attempting to eliminate bias, the focus should be turned to gaining trust among the group, which in this case will be a university classroom.

Trusting hands (Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay)
Trusting hands (Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay)

In order to make individuals in the group trusting and comfortable, one must acknowledge the bias, or the diversity within the situation, and attempt to adapt to its impact. Personal narratives and trusting the future path of where the situation or conversation might go can allow students to feel closer to their peers and the instructor. Therefore, it is important for the professor to elaborate the end goal of the activity, and why it is necessary for positive growth among the group.

“If universities became close to the students, their narratives, and their identities, and provided concrete paths students could take and reflect on, this would achieve a safer and more trustworthy environment,” Steele explained.

But how can a professor become closer to his/her/their students? Specific and collective mindset changes are a good start.

If universities became close to the students, their narratives, and their identities, and provided concrete paths students could take and reflect on, this would achieve a safer and more trustworthy environment.

Dr. Claude Steele

By outlining difficult conversations and situations as “learning experiences” rather than a threat or a test, professors are allowing for mistakes and growth. Being interested in the individual’s multiple identities is also a vital way to gain trust because this allows the student to understand the teacher cares about their academic and individual success.

Changing one's mindset (Image by John Cain from Pixabay)
Changing one’s mindset (Image by John Hain from Pixabay)

Talking across identity lines is the most effective way to provide a successful diverse situation. Steele explained that society has left an era where universities can assume their student population as “one homogeneous group.”

Instead, the current era is one with a variety of overlapping and non-overlapping identities within the classroom, and the best way to address this dynamic is by asking questions, being open and leading not only with a sense of reality, but also hopefulness.

With a passion for Journalism and Media Communications, Olive Ancell is a Third Culture Adult and content creator who is passionate about social and cultural differences that have the potential to bring the world’s people together. She has traveled to nine countries, which has influenced her love of travel and the desire to share unique world perspectives that can offer unlimited opportunities to connect people in different ways. Her talents in content creating include photography, videography, writing, and multiple art mediums. Ancell believes the power of media is one of the most powerful tools for international awareness and communication, which can be utilized or abused. Olive is determined to be a part of a larger picture, in which the use of media for coverage ranging from hyper-local to international is encouraged to celebrate and elevate diversity and all of the Earth’s spectacular cultures.

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