By Karlee Robinson
“Recent study dispells myth of the university utopia”
Higher education is not exempt from the racism and sexism which pervades our culture and society. Growing social concerns about our nation’s undereducated, prejudiced masses contradict results of Katherine Milkman’s study on race and gender bias in academia. Minorities in higher education are involuntarily subscribed to lifestyles of compromise. Milkman’s data concerns not only to issues of race and gender, but how these identities intersect.
Milkman performed this study by sending identical emails to 6,500 professors across 89 disciplines from the top 259 schools in the United States. The only difference between emails was the sender’s name. The results: professors hold a bias in favor of white male students. There was a 25% gap in the response rate to Caucasian males when compared to women and minorities. Minorities have to work harder not only to be accepted into the academic world, but also while seeking opportunities through their institution’s resources.
Racial bias surfaced the most often against Asian students, which contradicts the myth that Asian-American students are a sort of “model minority,” a term used by Milkman in an interview with NPR. Asian-American students are often percieved to be more academically, economically, and socially successful than other racial minority groups — an intersectional issue confronted by my personal identity.
As a Japanese-American woman, I am minoritized by both my race and gender. Where my experience may be similar to other Japanese-Americans and other women, it’s not identical and can’t be adequately compared to the experiences of white women or Japanese men. The components of one’s identity are expressed differently according to the components that frame them. The differences in how they interact as a whole, make it imperative that all factors be considered collectively. The success of minoritized individuals does not reflect a low level of oppression. Rather, this indicates the high degree of effort they had to put in to overcome adversity.
How can we avoid systemic racism and sexism in academia? How can we promote intersectional consideration? Speaking first to Puget Sound students, and encouraging enrollment in courses that prompt critical discussion, will always be a step in the right direction. Speaking next to faculty, staff and all other campus community members, and disciplining ourselves to question the reasoning behind opinion and first impressions, can help to cultivate critical thought overall.
Distrusting our conception of what we understand to be true encourages this growth. Critical thought benefits all.
In a university setting, this critical thought should be expected, even natural. Perhaps the reason why I find this study so disturbing is because it destroys the idea that academia strives for equality in opportunity. We should always be asking ourselves how this prejudice operates on our own campus. The ideal behind intersectionality shouldn’t be confined to cases of minoritized identities.
It can be applied to broadening intellectual capacities across all categories of thought: academic-oriented knowledge, social experiences, political engagement, and so on.
By increasing our spread of knowledge, we can apply seemingly unrelated information to developing new thought and, by doing so, can achieve a more thorough understanding of the world and its inhabitants. Then, we can positively engage with what we’ve discovered to be present.