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Stereotype Threat and Identity at College

Posted on: May 7th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

I work as a tutor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. I am writing regarding one of the requirements from CRLA Level II Tutor Training. I will summarize a chapter called “Identity and Intellectual Performance” from Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele.

The purpose of this chapter is to explain that students can succeed no matter what identities or races they have. The study has been done by observing how well minority students do at a big campus at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Their main focus is on black students among other minorities. It all sums up into one summary: the achievement problems of black students at Michigan weren’t caused entirely by skill deficits (Steele 20).

Two social psychologists, Edward Jones and Richard Nisbett, stated that there are two big main objects that people should consider when they want to describe other people’s behavior, such as observer’s perspective and actor’s perspective (qtd. in Steele 18). The observer’s perspective is a perspective of a person observing the others’ behavior, while the actor’s perspective is a perspective of him- or herself doing the behavior. They concluded that we tend to look only at the actors–which is the observer’s perspective–while the actors themselves usually dominate our literal and mental visual field as they conduct themselves. We tend to emphasize the things we can see (Steele 18). While on the other perspective, we do not even know what problems or struggling the actors have. Therefore, without looking from the actors’ perspective we can’t draw conclusions about their behavior.

I was surprised when the author implied that common black student underperformance was across the curriculum, and it became a national phenomenon. He read studies saying that blacks student show underperformance throughout the education system such as in college classes, in medical school, in law school, in business school, and often in K through 12 schooling (Steele 22). The research also said that it also happens among other minority groups of students, such as Latinos, Native Americans, and so forth. Steele says that that information was based on the observer’s perspective, which attributed underperformance to a lack of motivation or cultural knowledge or skills to succeed at more difficult coursework–which is certainly not right.

Steele conducted research, based on the actor’s perspective. He created a seminar to support his research towards this issue by getting closer to the minority groups such as black students. He came up with a result that black students were certainly capable to get good grades in college, as it was shown in their good SAT scores while they entered the college. The only problem that mattered was when they thought of campus life as racially organized by whites, than by the minorities. Their sense of marginalization was affecting their performance in college. Black students also worried about lacking a sense of belonging in the campus, which the people who had observer’s perspective might not have noticed.

As I work as a tutor at the Learning Center, I have been helping many people from many races and identities. I never let them feel marginalized by the situation on campus. By giving them a few words of courage, I can simply bother their mind from feeling anxious that they can’t succeed in their class. Skin color can never determine how successful they are in the future, but their motivation can. As Steele conducted the research, he stated that the minority student groups often feel that they don’t belong which impacts their performance in college. Therefore, I always open my arms and give them a friendly approach, so that they will feel that they belong at the school and nothing can stop them from getting success.

–Joshua Purba, MCTC Math and Geology Tutor


Works Cited

Steele, Claude. “Identity and Intellectual Performance.” Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

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