Speaker fights stigmas

By Drew Teague

A top educator will be on campus Monday and Tuesday to promote awareness about the effect of stereotypes on students.

Dr. Claude Steele, a professor of social psychology and Provost at Columbia University, will speak to students and staff for two days to bring attention to how stereotypes affect people’s ability to do the best they can, because they have a preconceived idea of how it is.

Insitutional Diversity Vice President Judy “J.J.” Jackson has worked to get Steele on campus to help UK with its war on attrition.

“All those stereotypes we have of each other serve to impede our progress in a lot of different areas,” Jackson said. “As you know, UK has declared war on attrition.”

Attrition is the wearing down of something with continual harassment. After declaring war on attrition, UK wants students to open their eyes and look past those stereotypes that they know to help improve their lives, especially with the stereotypes the state of Kentucky as a whole has, Jackson said.

“The stereotype we battle as a state is that most of the other states think Kentucky’s backwards,” Jackson said. “When a Kentuckian finds him or herself among people from say Massachusetts, which is supposedly the education capital of the world, you know, do we feel dumb…because we are among all the Harvard scholars?”

Steele wrote a book titled “Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us” that has gotten the attention of the UK Provost and the Dean of the College of Communications, Jackson said. Jackson hopes students will be like these two and  help fight the stereotypes.

“Students have to be willing to realize that they are capable of doing as well as any Harvard or Yale or Princeton student can do, but if the stereotypes are hindering your thinking about yourself and impeding that then it’s going to be harder to get there,” Jackson said.

This is the first of a large dialogue that will come to campus to continually combat the stereotypes that are found on a place like a college campus, Jackson said.

“We think [Steele’s] coming here will us to open up a whole bunch of dialogues across the campus that in the long run will have the net effect of our being aware of and combating those stereotypes,”  Jackson said.

Jackson said that Steele began his research into stereotypes with a small portion of society, but as he continued looking into it, he was able to see that they affect almost every group in the world.

“He started out his research by looking at the stereotypes around blacks in white institutions,” said Jackson. “The more he studied the phenomenon of this stereotype, the more he realized other stereotypes were at work.”

With stereotypes at work, Jackson said the world is missing out on a lot of potential greatness from those who do not feel they could do as soon as someone else, because of a stereotype they have in their head.

“No one thing holds us back, each time we take charge of another thing, and conquer it, we push ourselves a step closer toward premier status,” said Jackson. “When we hold back, we actually rob both ourselves and the rest of the world of the contribution we could be making to improve a lot of the conditions of human kind.”