Claude Steele addresses stereotype threats

    Author Claude Steele speaks to the crowd about the effects of stereotyping.
    Photo by Hyunjee Lee / North By Northwestern

    Claude Steele, author of Whistling Vivaldi, this year’s One Book One Northwestern, described in an address on Wednesday night in Harris Hall, the constant stereotype threats that every individual faces.

    “The definition of it is very simple… It’s just being in situations where, because of an identity you have, you know at some level that you could be seen in not so good a light because of stereotypes about that identity.”

    Weinberg freshman Karen Adjei came to finally see the author of her summer reading book. She said that while she doesn’t currently feel a stereotype threat on Northwestern University’s campus, she did encounter stereotype threat in middle school. 

    “I was in the orchestra and there weren’t a lot of black people there,” said the 19-year-old. “I was basically the only one, and they really looked down on me…I wanted to prove myself, so I worked extremely hard to show that I did belong there and that I was just as good as anybody else.” 

    Such a response is common according to Steele, who said that the stereotype threat frequently pressures individuals to try harder to succeed in a given situation. However, he noted that the best way to avoid the fears associated with stereotype threat is to create a space of trust. 

    Gabriel Leggott, a college counseling associate and upper school admissions associate for North Shore Country Day School said he wanted Steele to dig deeper into this idea. 

    “I would’ve liked to see him focus a little bit more on what you can do to alleviate this type of stereotyping in an academic setting. Especially as an educator with students, [I want to know] what I can do to help fix this,” he said. 

    Event organizer Harvey Young, who serves as faculty chair for the One Book One Northwestern program, said that Northwestern will try to combat stereotype threat by providing a safe space for discussion through the 40 events planned for the program. He was pleased with both of Wednesday’s events: the keynote, as well as a workshop incorporating faculty members from around Northwestern’s campus. 

    “My favorite one has been the workshop because…people who work all across the university sat at a table and talked to each other about challenges and opportunities,” he said. 

    Dwayne Nash, currently pursuing a doctorate degree in African American Studies, appreciates Northwestern’s dedication to advancing diversity and discussions on identity. He says that he feels safe from stereotype threat. 

    “I know that my experience is unique, I know that I come from a strong department, and I know that I come from a faculty that really care…and are interested in making sure that I excel.”


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