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Celebrating Convocation 2004: The “Greening” of MHC

Two MHC Buildings Garner LEED Award for Green Design

Influential Scholar to Speak at MHC on “Stereotype Threat”

Weissman Center Offers Fall Series on 2004 Presidential Election

New Dining and Catering Options Offered This Fall at Blanchard

Second*Saturday to Introduce New Students to Valley

Packard Vies for Massachusetts’s First Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award

On the Nightstand: What MHC Faculty Read This Summer

First-Year Students at Mount Holyoke Form Global Book Circle

MHC Welcomes New Archivist Jennifer King

Optical Society of America Honors Janice Hudgings

Mount Holyoke Enters Partnership to Combat Global Warming

Mount Holyoke Historian Is Named ACLS Fellow

Summer Science Symposium Highlights Student Research

Alumnae Association Essay Contest Asks, “What Changed Your Life?”

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

September 10, 2004

Influential Scholar to Speak at MHC on “Stereotype Threat”

Professor Claude M. Steele

Professor Claude M. Steele, an internationally recognized authority on how group stereotypes affect self-image, academic performance, and individual behavior, will speak at Mount Holyoke Tuesday, September 21. Steele has written extensively on a range of issues, including challenges faced by students of color and women at American institutions of higher education and in other settings. Steele will speak at 7 pm in Gamble Auditorium. The event is free, open to the public, and accessible to all.

Steele’s visit is sponsored by the Office of the President and tied to the work of the Presidential Commission on Diverse Community, a committee of faculty members, students, and staff appointed by President Joanne V. Creighton last year and charged with assessing and enhancing the role diversity plays in the school’s work environment, community, and especially in the curricular and cocurricular dimensions of Mount Holyoke students’ education. Last year, members of the Commission, as well as more than 50 faculty members and administrators, met with two of Steele’s colleagues—Geoffrey Cohen of Yale University and Josh Aronson of New York University—to discuss ensuring the effectiveness of the school as a learning environment for all students.

“Professor Steele is at the forefront of scholars examining how race and gender can interact with societal stereotypes to negatively affect high-achieving students of color and women in their academic performance,” Creighton said. “His work has great relevance as educational institutions—and our society as a whole—face issues ranging from affirmative action and diversity to questions of how standardized tests measure student abilities.”

A significant focus of Steele’s work has been on how explicit or implicit societal attitudes regarding race, ethnicity, and gender can affect the academic performance of students of color and women, as well as the expectations of faculty members, while often bolstering the performance of majority students. For example, as part of his work Steele and his colleagues have looked at reasons why the abilities of high-achieving African Americans and women are underrepresented on standardized tests such as the SAT. According to material posted on the Web as part of “Secrets of the SAT,” a 1999 documentary by the PBS investigative magazine Frontline:

“Recent studies have shown that later in life, when those students who make it to college and post-graduate studies are faced with standardized tests such as the SAT and the GRE, new factors come into play which might contribute to the gap. Stanford psychology professor Claude Steele and his colleagues have described what they call ‘stereotype threat.’ According to their research, a student who feels he is part of a group that has been negatively stereotyped is likely to perform less well in a situation in which he thinks that people might evaluate him through that stereotype than in a situation in which he feels no such pressure.

“Steele has conducted experiments in which he brings in black students and white students to take a standardized test. The first time, he tells the students that they will be taking a test to measure their verbal and reasoning ability. The second time, he tells them the test is an unimportant research tool. Steele has found that the black students do less well when they are told that the test measures their abilities. He also believes that the effects of stereotype threat are strongest for students who are high-achievers and care very much about doing well. They care so much about doing well, Steele says, that they feel that if they don’t they will be confirming the negative stereotypes associated with black students.” (Frontline has published an interview with Steele at

Interestingly, Steele has also found, in the test situations comparing white students and students of color, that the performance of white students is enhanced by the same conditions under which the performance of minority students is diminished. In fact, this “stereotype lift” may be a factor in the persistence of racism among members of the majority, who benefit from situations where expectations, both positive and negative, are keyed to race.

Steele is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1991. He has also been a faculty member at the Universities of Michigan, Washington, and Utah. Throughout his career he has been interested in how people cope with self-image threat. His theory of “self-affirmation” describes processes for coping with this threat, and his theory of “stereotype threat” describes how negative group stereotypes—through the self-evaluative and belongingness threats they pose—can affect important behaviors like intellectual performance and intergroup relations. He has also studied addictive behaviors.

Steele received his B.A. degree from Hiram College and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He is past president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Western Psychological Association. He has served as chair of the executive committee of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, as a member of the board of directors of the American Psychological Society (APS), and on numerous editorial boards and grant study sections. He is past chair of the psychology department at Stanford, a fellow of the APS and the American Psychological Association (APA), and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education. He is the recipient of a Cattell Fellowship, the Gordon Allport Prize, the William James Fellow Award from the APS, the Kurt Lewin Prize from the Society for the Scientific Study of Social Issues, honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago and Yale University, the Distinguished Scientific Career Awards from both the APA and APS, and the Senior Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2003.



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