Claude M. Steele





Claude M. Steele




Claude M. Steele is a former professor at Stanford University who is now executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley.

The above is from the website of Smith College, where Steele's Book Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues To How Stereotypes Affect Us has been chosen for the 2014 Summer Read Program for first year students.

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“The problem is that the pressure to disprove a stereotype changes what you are about in a situation. It gives you an additional task. In addition to learning new skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking in a schooling situation, or in addition to trying to perform well in a workplace like the women in the high-tech firms, you are also trying to slay a ghost in the room, the negative stereotype and its allegation about you and your group. You are multitasking, and because the stakes involved are high--survival and success versus failure in an area that is important to you--this multitasking is stressful and distracting.

...And when you realize that this stressful experience is probably a chronic feature of the stetting for you, it can be difficult for you to stay in the setting, to sustain your motivation to succeed there. Disproving a stereotype is a Sisyphean task; something you have to do over and over again as long as your are in the domain where the stereotype applies. Jeff seemed to feel this way about Berkeley, that he couldn't find a place there where he could be seen as belonging. When men drop out of quantitative majors in college, it is usually because they have bad grades. But when women drop out of quantitative majors in college it usually has nothing to do with their grades. The culprit, in their case, is not their quantitative skills but, more likely, the prospect of living a significant portion of their lives in a domain where they may forever have to prove themselves--and with the chronic stress that goes with that.

This is not an argument against trying hard, or against choosing the stressful path. There is no development without effort; and there is seldom great achievement, or boundary breaking, without stress. And to the benefit of us all, many people have stood up to these pressures...The focus here, instead, is on what has to be gotten out of he way to make these playing fields mere level. People experiencing stereotype threat are already trying hard. They're identified with their performance. They have motivation. It's the extra ghost slaying that is in their way.”
Claude M. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

“Some years ago, two social psychologists, Edward Jones and Richard Nisbett, argued that when it comes to explaining people's behavior-something like achievement problems, for example there is a big difference between the "observer's perspective"-the perspective of a person observing the behavior-and the "actor's perspective"-the perspective of a person doing the behavior. As observers, Jones and Nisbett said, we're looking at the actor, the person doing the behavior we are trying to explain. Thus the actor dominates our literal and mental visual field, which makes the circumstances to which he is responding less visible to us. In the resulting picture in our minds, the actor sticks out like a sore thumb and the circumstances to which he is responding are obscured from view. Jones and Nisbett held that this picture causes a bias when we try to explain the actor's behavior. We emphasize the things we can see. We emphasize things about the actor-characteristics, traits, and so on-that seem like plausible explanations for her behavior. And we deemphasize, as causes of her behavior, the things we can't see very well, namely, the circumstances to which she is adapting.”
Claude M. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

“Many students go through "imposter syndrome" as they try to assimilate into a professional culture.”
Claude M. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

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