How Much Do I Expect of You?

In class on Tuesday, we talked about the consequences of stereotype threats on certain individuals. In our society, we have many stereotypes that we use every second to help us better understand our surroundings. We use these in every setting, including school. We believe that Asians are smart, men are better at math than Women, and Black students will fall behind. Are these true? Maybe in some cases. Definitely not in all cases. But just knowing that this is a stereotype that people are aware of causes great anxiety. A Black student may sit down for a test and think “People expect me to do poorly because I am Black.” As a result of “stereotype threat,” studies have shown that they will do poorly. In class we talked about whether or not it is best for a professor or teacher to talk to this student about stereotype threat.

Connie said something one of the first few classes that really stuck with me: when she makes a syllabus and thinks about the students, she uses the schema “students” to think about what would help us learn the most, what would be challenging enough but not unrealistic, and how we would benefit the most from her class. But in specific situations, she may use a more specific understanding of “Lexie the student”. When I go to her for office hours or send her an e-mail, it is helpful for her to use her understanding of “Lexie” to best help me. When making a syllabus, however, thinking of each individual student and how they factor into it would not only be exhausting, but it would be unhelpful. I thought about this a lot when we discussed whether or not to address a student about the stereotype threat. It’s impossible to generalize and say that all Black students would appreciate being confronted or that they all would be offended. As we know, everyone is an individual and based on many factors will react to things differently. Certain students may feel calmed by hearing that the professor expects great things. Others will feel stressed about it. And others still will be offended that it is even brought up. Let’s not forget that not everyone is open to talking about racism. So how is a teacher supposed to know whether or not to talk to the student? The educator is put in a really tough position.

For what feels like the millionth time this semester, I have to say that the answer is that there is no answer. Teachers have to try to understand the situation and learn about the student as an individual. If the student is struggling and the professor feels it may be due to stereotypes, that would be a good time to bring up the stereotype threat. I think that the most important lesson we can take form this is that teachers should be aware of the stereotype threat. Whether or not they talk about it with their students, being aware will help give the professors a better understanding of the students and their struggles. This just reinforces what we have been doing all semester: talk about racism and make others aware that it still exists and affects people on a daily basis in ways never before imagined.