We have preexisting thoughts as to what our abilities are and how we are able to perform in this society. In education, our minds are shoved into an oppressive framework meant for only those who reflect the appearance and experiences of the leaders in academia. People of color, children of color, are told from a young age that they are lazy, stupid, ignorant, criminal minded, uneducated as a whole, prone to violence and criticized for any achievements they make. For example, when a student gets accepted into a university with competitive entrance, all people of color are assumed to have been accepted not due to their academic abilities, but due to affirmative action. I find it funny that white women benefit more than anyone else from affirmative action, but people of color are always the targets of derision when discussing affirmative action.
These criticisms of the character and abilities of people of color start in preschool and elementary school, and then continue into higher education. These stereotypes contribute to the formation of their academic self-concept—the feelings, attitudes, and perceptions students hold about their academic ability (Schneider, 2012). People of color are stereotyped viciously in the U.S. and other places around the world when it comes to academic achievement and how they can contribute to the betterment of society. These stereotypes contribute to Black and Latinx students not only being incorrectly categorized as having a learning disability, but also to them being disciplined 3 times more often and harshly than white counterparts for the same infractions (CRDC). When this happens in pre-K and elementary, children may associate education with negativity, and may internalize the discipline by adopting the belief they are “bad”. These stereotypes may also contribute to the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomena which happens when a person is bombarded by views, forced into a box so much they become exactly what was expected, but not who they are.
Some schools are fighting against these stereotypes by starting programs as mentioned in the text book, and others are choosing to use different types of discipline that may actually encourage students to be better. One school in Baltimore called Robert W. Coleman elementary utilizes meditation practices in place of detentions and suspensions and added a fifteen minute yoga session to the start of each day (CBS News 2016). They practice “mindfulness exercises and yoga” in order to take the students away from the situation and encourage self reflection (Gaines, 2016). The school has found by implementing mindfulness rather than punishment, the student’s grades have gone up by 10%, and there have been zero suspensions since the start of the intervention. Another school, Visitacion Valley School in San Francisco, which is majority Latinx and Hispanic, started having their students sit for two times a day in meditative silence for only a few minutes during the day. They call it “Quiet Time” and since its implementation, there have been 79% reduced suspensions (NBC, 2014).
For those students who never had a proper intervention, they went on to high school and university without the proper coping mechanisms to face the inherent racial bias in academia. The picture below is just one of the hundreds of screenshots related to a case where a Latina grad student was assumed to have plagiarized for utilizing a healthy vocabulary in her papers. The professor circled the word hence, indicated the student should cite the source of this word by saying “This is not your word”, and accused her of plagiarism while shaming her in front of her class (Martinez, 2016).
“My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student.” -Tiffany Martinez
This is the experience of millions of students of color around the country, and is labeled in psychology as stereotype threat—the anxiety students feel when they are faced with expectations consistent with the stereotypes associated with the group they belong to (Schneider 2012). An example of this is when a woman of color is being treated badly, and the stereotypes about her race are that she is “angry and loud”. If she reacts to the bad treatment in any way, it will be dismissed as her just being a “stereotypical [insert race here]”. In academia this is apparent from teachers in response to students. There are notions about a Latina and a Black student (as shown above in the picture), that affect the way a teacher perceives the work done. They may underestimate the skills of the students based on skin tone, name or background and that discourages students from being successful (Schneider, 2012). There are ways to combat the negative teacher expectations through training (Schneider 2012). There is still a long way to go in the realm of racial biases including in academia.
Cynthia McFadden, Tim Sandler and Elisha Fieldstadt. (2014). SanFrancisco Schools Transformed by the Power of Meditation. NBC News. Retrieved at: http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/san-francisco-schools-transformed-power-meditation-n276301
Gaines, James. (2016) This School Replaced Detention with Meditation. Upworthy. Retrieved from: http://www.upworthy.com/this-school-replaced-detention-with-meditation-the-results-are-stunning
Martinez, Tiffany. (2016). Academia, Love Me Back. Viva Tiffany At WordPress. Retrieved from: https://vivatiffany.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/academia-love-me-back/
Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.M. (2012) Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.