Exploring Stereotype Threat with Claude Steele

This year, the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) launched  “Community Conversations” that aim to focus the entire community on a particular series of dialogues for each academic year. This year’s Community Conversations theme is “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity”. On Appian Way, we are engaging in an ongoing discussion about the challenges and opportunities associated with topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Prior to our arrival this fall, and in preparation for this year’s Community Conversation, Dean Ryan encouraged us to read Whistling Vivaldi, Dr. Claude Steele’s book about stereotype threat. The book explores how negative stereotypes associated with a group that one identifies with, can negatively effect multiple parts of one’s life. He particularly highlights the affect that internalized stereotype threat can have on academic performance. Whether the negative stereotypes are related to gender, race and ethnicity, or athletic ability, his work highlights that we are all impacted by stereotype threat in one way or another.

Part of this ongoing Community Conversation involved the visit by Dr. Claude Steele who gave a lecture at a recent Askwith Forum where he elaborated on stereotype threat and its impact on each of us as individuals. The crux of the talk related to two main questions: does stereotype threat impact performance in school? And if so, how do we as both individuals and educators deal with it so that it doesn’t impact performance?


Dr. Claude Steele

In his multimedia presentation involving Eminem, Bill Maher, and the Blue Eyed Brown Eyed experiment, Dr. Steele made the point that as educators, we do have the capability and must implement practices to address stereotype threat and the internalization of threat. In fact, he shared one simple and effective strategy to positively impact performance by combating the threat. In his research, Dr. Steele has found that explicitly and directly combating particular forms of stereotype threat verbally can foster a sense of identity safety and affirmation, which leads to improved academic performance.


Dr. Steele with UC-Berkeley Alumni

This talk and visit was for many the highlight of this fall. I’m looking forward to continuing to engage the ongoing discussion about educational access, disparities, diversity, and cultural competency. I invite you to join us in this discussion as well!

Gerardo Ochoa is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Higher Education Program.  He has dedicated his professional journey to address issues of college access, persistence, affordability, and helping students find their life purpose. Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Gerardo now calls Portland, OR home.  Follow Gerardo on twitter at @gerardoochoa.

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