Stereotype Threat Reduction and Wise Schooling: Towards the Successful Socialization of African American Doctoral Students in Education

Article excerpt

Efforts to increase minority representation in education faculty have generated changes in a number of departments of higher education. These changes, however, have lacked a unifying conceptual framework to either guide reform or measure outcomes. This article proposes stereotype threat and its antidote-wise schooling practices-as a conceptual framework to clarify and consolidate attempts to protect, nurture, and sustain the intellectual lives of minority students. Using interview data from African American graduate students in education, we show how some departments have significantly reduced stereotype threat and positively influenced students' academic career aspirations.

Considerable attention has been paid to the low numbers of minority faculty at our nation's colleges and universities and the barriers faced in building a diverse professoriate (Collins, 1990; Gainen & Boice, 1993; Garcia, 1993; Harris, 1989; Klein, 1991; Lessow-- Hurley, 1989; Magner, 1993; Miller, 1991). The recent backlash against affirmative action has caused further concern that these numbers may erode. There have been systemic efforts to increase the number of qualified minorities pursuing faculty careers but their strategies have not been clearly conceptualized nor has their effect been well measured. This article juxtaposes departmental practices with the current experience of socialization for African American graduate students in education. Using Steele's stereotype threat reduction and wise schooling theory (1997) as a framework, we describe how policies and practices influence the academic career aspirations of African Americans. Based on interviews with graduate students at six universities, we discuss the substance of departmental reforms and assess how students' career goals are shaped by the interplay of faculty relationships with a receptive climate. This paper may have implications for other disciplines seeking to increase the number of minority students in the pipeline of Ph.D. production and describes specific practices that can protect, sustain, and nurture the academic and intellectual development of groups who are negatively stereotyped. Background and Rational

The paucity of minority faculty is well recognized. It is rare to sit on a search committee that does not lament the dearth of qualified minority applicants coming through the Ph.D. pipeline (Brown, 1994; Jackson, 1991; Justiz, Wilson, & Bjork, 1994; Thomas & Asunka, 1995). Although rates of college attendance are nearly on par, with African Americans (who represent about 12% of the population) comprising 10% of undergraduates, the percentage of African American faculty is 5.1%. When those teaching at Black colleges are considered, the number at predominantly White universities is just 3.7% (Allen, 1992; Mickelson & Oliver, 1991; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1995; NCES, 1997a). Graduate and professional school attendance by African Americans has increased significantly, in part because a number of departments have attempted to transform themselves into more democratic, diverse, and supportive programs. African Americans now earn 3.1% of all doctoral degrees, many of who are potential candidates for faculty positions (NCES, 19976). Why or why not these individuals choose academic careers remains poorly understood.

Reasons for low representation of African Americans in the professoriate have been examined (Brown, 1994; Dey, 1994; Jackson, 1991; Justiz et al., 1994; Smith, 1992; Stanfield, 1995; Tack, 1992; Thomas & Asunka, 1995). For disciplines such as the physical and life sciences, with small numbers of African Americans, the lack of African American faculty can be explained as a supply-side problem. The situation in education, which has the highest percentage of African Americans in graduate school, appears to be more complex. African Americans now earn 10.4% of the Ph.D.s awarded in education (NCES, 19976). …