Eliminating Stereotype Threat on PC’s Campus: How the College Community Can Work to Improve Race Relations

by The Cowl Editor on December 5, 2019


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

by Savannah Plaisted ’21

Asst. Opinion Editor

Stereotype threat is commonly not considered a form of racism, and as a result of that, is a phenomenon that seemingly pervades the Providence College community undetected. Statements provided by students of minority racial backgrounds shed light on this issue’s continued presence on campus.  

It is well known that PC provides many extracurricular programs as well as curriculum requirements that intend to bridge the gap between various groups on campus. But is this really enough if students still feel uncomfortable in their classes as a result of being called out to speak on behalf of their race?  

Stereotype threat is defined as “the experience of being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype of one’s group,” (Steele and Aronson, 1995). In other words, it is the fear by members of minority groups that they will fall suit to negative stereotypes associated with their race or ethnicity. This phenomenon results in disengaging behaviors that can be extremely harmful to a student’s ability to participate and feel comfortable in a classroom setting.  

This information stems from the PC class Urban Education, which seeks to educate students on how best to teach within an urban district, as well as how systemic racism is active within the education system.  

PC is known to rank consistently among the most segregated colleges in the U.S., and  according to the Princeton Review the College came in third in 2019. With that, it is quite clear that the various actions the College is taking to bridge the gap are failing. 

Hieu Minh Nguyen ‘20 said, “Whenever topics regarding Asian countries come up, professors look at me and expect me to say something about the matter… I feel like I was singled out in that situation, and I feel very uncomfortable.” 

A person’s heritage is not reason enough to call them out in a public setting to discuss their background. Some people are more knowledgeable about their backgrounds than others,  and therefore singling them out to answer said questions results in a very uncomfortable experience.  

If a student wishes to share their racial or ethnic experience, or their family’s experience, it is more than acceptable to do so, but no one should feel forced into it. This is especially the case given that it is more than likely students of color who are called upon to share their experience.  

Similarly, Ghiana Guzman ‘21 said, “As a Puerto Rican woman I have been stereotyped to be ‘crazy.’ So yes, in a classroom or otherwise professional setting, I very much intentionally code switch…I have had experiences in my major in which a professor specifically called on me or looked to me to talk about my culture, my experience as a Latina, or to help pronounce something in Spanish.” 

If a student feels that they have to be more conscious of what they say in a classroom in order to avoid exhibiting the stereotypes they are typically associated with, how are they going to feel comfortable enough to make valuable contributions to class discussions? Likewise, if they did not intend to speak on a topic relating to the identity they associate with, why should a professor ask them to do so?  

Solutions for this issue vary, but one of the biggest things that the school can encourage professors to do is to let those that wish to speak out on behalf of their background choose when to do so. They must refrain completely from calling on students on the basis of their race.  

The Center for Teaching Excellence provides new faculty orientations that are “designed to welcome new faculty into the ongoing campus dialogue about teaching and learning,” according to the PC website. However, the question then becomes how much emphasis is placed on the harms of concepts like stereotype threat, and with that, how often are professors refreshed on these teachings? 

Accordingly, PC should foster more conversations on race in which an emphasis is placed on learning what is considered stereotyping and how the concept of stereotype threat plays a role in modern day society. The College can achieve this feat by re-analyzing the diversity proficiency in terms of which courses fulfill the core.  

According to PC’s page on the diversity proficiency, “Students will demonstrate proficiency in diversity, understood as either cross-cultural or involving diversity within the American context through a designated course as approved by the Core Curriculum Committee.” With that, how does a course such as the political science department’s Urban Politics, which delves deep into the racial discrepancies in U.S. cities, not cover such a requirement?  

It is clearly evident that the College has a long way to go in bettering its record on racial relations, but given that clarity, this should be a top priority for the administration and professors to work through. What’s next, PC?