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One Book One Northwestern author speaks about stereotype threat

+%E2%80%9CWhistling+Vivaldi%E2%80%9D+author+Claude+Steele+autographs+books+after+his+keynote+speech.+Steele%2C+a+social+psychologist%2C+spoke+about+stereotype+threat+and+how+it+influences+daily+life.
 “Whistling Vivaldi” author Claude Steele autographs books after his keynote speech. Steele, a social psychologist, spoke about stereotype threat and how it influences daily life.

“Whistling Vivaldi” author Claude Steele autographs books after his keynote speech. Steele, a social psychologist, spoke about stereotype threat and how it influences daily life.

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

“Whistling Vivaldi” author Claude Steele autographs books after his keynote speech. Steele, a social psychologist, spoke about stereotype threat and how it influences daily life.

Mariana Alfaro, Assistant Campus Editor

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More than 200 students and community members gathered Wednesday at Harris Hall to listen to One Book One Northwestern author Claude Steele speak about the issue of identity and stereotype threat.

Steele is a social psychologist and author of “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do,” the One Book One Northwestern book selection for the 2014-2015 school year. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves as the executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his keynote address, he said his mission is to talk about stereotype threat and how it affects our daily lives.

Through years of research, Steele came to understand the magnitude of the damage caused by our perception of the roles we choose and our performance in them. He calls this the underperformance phenomenon, which he defines as what happens when people do worse in something they’re usually good at because they are afraid of what others believe.

“One of the lessons we got from this research is how important the immediate context is for a person with regards to how we behave and how we function,” he said.

Steele said he first grappled with this issue at the University of Michigan and realized black students there with high SAT scores performed worse than their classmates with similar SAT scores.

“I kind of assumed to that point that if you’d gotten everybody similarly or equally prepared for academic work at that level, that they would perform pretty much the same,” he said. “There shouldn’t be too much of a reason for a difference, but that wasn’t happening. It was an attempt to understand why that wasn’t happening that started this research.”

As he worked to find out why this happened, he stumbled upon another similar scenario: Women in advanced math courses underperformed in comparison to their male peers even if they were just as talented.

Stereotype threat, he said, is something that affects everyone, and he said he finds that very unsettling.

“It’s like having a snake in the house and you don’t know if this is a big snake or a little snake or a poisonous snake,” he said. “But all of the sudden, you are lit up in vigilance about what could be there and you just can’t flop down on your couch and watch football with a snake possibly in the house. It unsettles everything.”

Steele said these anxieties are normal but one must move past them to succeed. Trust, he said, won’t solve the whole problem regarding negative stereotypes, but it is necessary to succeed. 

“You have to have trust before you can open your heart and engage in something,” he said.

Steele said he believes NU deals with issues of diversity and inclusion in a good way.

“This (University) is really working on these things,” he told The Daily. “It continues to pay attention to these issues and develops its own voice and style of dealing with these things. I do look to Northwestern as an awakened place.”

Theatre Prof. Harvey Young, faculty chair for this year’s One Book program, said the committee tried to find a book that spoke about an important issue and had a good readability.

“’Whistling Vivaldi’ is a powerful book that helps us see the effects of how we engage with others in the world,” he said during the event.

Young told The Daily the book has been well received on campus and emphasized the importance of Steele’s lesson that the things we say and how we engage with each other profoundly impact each person in the NU community.

Email: marianaalfaro2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @marianaa_alfaro

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