Stereotype Threat

An interview with Claude Steele, a researcher well known for his work on stereotype threat.


What does this notion of stereotype threat make you think about in your own experience? Is it something that resonates with your schooling experience before you came to college? At college? Within your area of study? How do you think this has manifested, for you?

When I think of stereotype threat in this notion, I cannot help but feel a bit guilty. In my field of Computer Science and Mathematics, I fit the stereotype perfectly. Although I recognize that women and other nationalities are equally as capable of learning and performing in these fields, I find myself being a part of this threat in subconscious and indirect ways.

Claude Steele recounts a story of a collegiate African American feeling ostracized from his campus because he felt that the white people were threatened by his presence. He noticed the little things, like people taking another path to avoid walking past him. When I watched this video I realized that I take another mindset when talking to others in my classes and in my field.

To explain what exactly goes through my head I will first attempt to explain how I feel that stereotype threat has affected me personally.

As I mentioned before, I fit the stereotype of the computer scientist. This does not mean that I don’t feel pressure in my field. I feel a different kind of pressure, a pressure to perform. I feel like because I fit the stereotype of a computer scientist I am obligated to be the best I can in my field. Sometimes not just the best that I can be, but better than other students in my field. This kind of thinking very rapidly leads to a feeling of privilege and genius. This is reinforced when all of my idols in the field of computer science and the most famous and successful names in computer science are mostly the names of white males.

I firmly believe that everyone; no matter what gender, ethnicity, or background are equally able to learn and perform in any field. Competition, ego, and expectations are barriers that prevent me from eliminating stereotype threat in the learning community. Stereotype threat manifests itself in the little things. Avoiding someone on the street, using a different tone of voice or choice of words when speaking to someone, or just having a certain look on your face can reinforce stereotype threat.

The path to eliminating stereotype threat starts with adjusting your own behavior and ends with a full-hearted and complete recognition of equality. No one is immune but we all have the cure.

I will certainly work on adjusting my behavior in the future. Both in how I present myself and how I communicate to others.

This was a difficult topic for me to talk about. Putting something socially abstract and something that I feel I am guilty of into words was hard. Deciding to publish it on my blog was even more difficult to bring myself to. I did this to hold myself accountable for my decision to improve the way I handle these situations.

Thank you for reading and please discuss below; do you feel pressure from stereotype threat? How to fight stereotype threat in your field?

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