Center for Excellence on Learning and Teaching educates faculty on stereotypes

Ariel Themm, Staff Reporter

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The Center for Excellence on Learning and Teaching (CETL) will be sponsoring a workshop called “Stereotype Threat and Student Learning” on Wednesday, March 14 in Elliott Hall starting at noon.

The program is a standalone session that is categorized in Faculty Development Institute under Identity, Authority and Empowerment in the Classroom. The workshop will have faculty members focusing on literature about stereotype threats and how they can be seen in a common teaching setting.

“The concept of stereotype threat is well established in the social psychology literature,” said Joanne Lipson Freed, presenter of the workshop and assistant professor in the English Department. “The basic concept, in non-specialist terms, is this: Simply being reminded of a negative stereotype can make students who are members of a stereotyped group—for example, racial minorities, first generation college students, women in STEM, et cetera—learn less effectively and perform less well on tests. What this means for teachers is that some strategies intended to help close achievement gaps in higher ed can actually backfire.

“For instance, forming supplementary study groups for students in underperforming groups may not help, because it reinforces the stereotype that those students are going to struggle academically.”

She argued stereotypes can be harmful to people and their views on themselves. People typically don’t want to be assumed a certain way just because of their appearance or actions.

“There’s also really compelling research that suggests that simple strategies that affirm the identity and belonging of students in marginalized groups can close achievement gaps,” Lipson Freed said. “As a teacher, and someone committed to access and equity in higher education, I find that possibility really compelling. My goal in the workshop is to present these basic concepts from the research to faculty who might not be familiar with them, and help them brainstorm how they might come into play in their own classrooms.”

CETL is dedicated to taking on the responsibilities of helping with teaching and learning. They are supporting a workshop like this to help further the success of staff and students by being aware and taking active steps to promote classroom excellence.

“We provide resources and support for mainly full or part time faculty for their teaching and learning in order to work towards improving,” CETL Director Judith Ableser said. “We want to recognize and value staff and all that they do.”

The workshop will have a presentation followed by active engagement, discussion and hands-on application for participants. All participants must register before attending.

“I mentioned this before, but I’m drawn to this topic because I believe that as educators we should be actively striving to support underrepresented students and ensure that everyone has equal access and opportunity in higher education,” Lipson Freed said. “In practice, today, that often means looking carefully for implicit biases in policies and practices that are unexamined and supposedly neutral.

“On paper, our classrooms aren’t supposed to disadvantage anyone unfairly, but in practice they often do, even though we may not want or intend them to. This kind of information can help faculty across the university improve the quality education that all our students receive.”