Prejudice Damages Academia, James Stith WarnsBy:
Jennifer Rehm, Georgia State University
Georgia State University
"The subject of race and gender is systematic in our community,” said James Stith, Vice President Emeritus of the American Institute of Physics. He opened the November 8 workshop “Connecting Diverse Perspectives in Science” with astonishing findings from studies of unconscious bias. During blind, randomized trials, evaluators assigned the exact same job performance a lesser score if told it was completed by a woman rather than a man. Ratings of verbal skills were lower when evaluators were told an African American wrote a piece of text as opposed to a white person. In another study, employers were more likely to hire an applicant if the name on a real woman’s CV was changed to that of a man. Every study showed a significant bias due to race or gender, but most interestingly, the race and gender of the evaluator from which the bias came did not play a significant role.
Stith illustrated this concept using a story told by one of the great civil rights leaders, Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu boarded a plane in Johannesburg one day and, upon noticing that both of his pilots were black, felt so proud to see the day in which this equity was possible. When the plane later hit turbulence, he found himself wishing that his pilots were white. “At that point he realized how damaged he was,” said Stith.
In a later interview, Stith emphasized the importance of discussing diversity among colleagues and the steps all members of a department (students and faculty) should take to ensure their environment is growing toward a diverse perspective. “There should be at least one person in every department to whom reports of discrimination can be made; this should be known by everyone,” said Stith. Those in positions of power who have nothing to lose professionally should speak up and empower those that feel powerless. Said Stith: “Not saying something is a way of condoning the behavior. We need to create a culture of openness. Students and faculty need to have these conversations.” //