Stereotype Threat: Everything You Need to Know

Stereotype threat refers to the harmful impact which stereotypes can have on students when the stereotypes about their origins or groups (e.g., black Americans, lower socio-economic status groups) are repeatedly brought to the forefront. As such, educators must pay great importance to ensure students aren’t exposed to negative stereotypical projections via digital media, e.g., the propagation of the idea that women aren’t excellent at math or science.

Hence, educators are tasked with the job of sieving through the projected images, videos, and writings to tease out those materials that may be, even subtly, promoting stereotypes.

Stereotype threat is considered to be situation-specific. People only experience it when they’re in a setting where negative stereotypes about their group are salient to them. For instance, a woman may experience a stereotype threat in a computer science or math class but won’t be expected to face it in a humanities class. It’s important to note that although stereotype threats are often studied with regard to academic achievement, they can also happen in other domains.

Educators can follow these strategies to mitigate stereotype threats in their classrooms.

Creating a welcoming environment free from bias: Educators set the tone within their classrooms, and students act the way that educators allow them to. Creating an environment free from bias and free from judgment is the responsibility of every educator. Educators should also work toward learning about their students’ backgrounds, so they understand students’ social and cultural norms.

Being diverse in what they teach and read: Educators’ classroom materials should be a mirror for their students in which they can observe themselves represented. Educators also need to avoid the potential pitfall of teaching about the same historical people from different cultures when there’s a wealth of diverse, historical people of color who they can choose to highlight. They need to push their thinking in this area. Even if their classrooms aren’t diverse, they should expose the students to multiple people and perspectives because it teaches them diversity and empathy.

Honoring multiple perspectives in the classrooms: Educators need to nurture an environment where students can hear from others who might not hold the same views as them, and educators must let them feel safe in doing so. This can include encouraging student questions or providing students with the space to share ideas.

Having courageous conversations: When educators reflect on their biases and create safe spaces in their classrooms, they create opportunities for courageous conversations with their students. They’re likely to have enlightening, perspective-shifting moments.

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