Wharton Study Shows the Shocking Result When Women and Minorities Email Their Professors

Marcie Bianco, PolicyMic, May 1, 2014

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New research has found that university professors exhibit a bias in favor of their white male students, information that, while perhaps not unexpected, is seriously bad news for the nation’s aspiring academics.

According to a segment produced by NPR, researchers led by the Wharton School’s Katherine Milkman emailed 6,500 professors from 89 disciplines at the top 259 schools, pretending to be students. These emails replicated the same message; the only variable was the sender’s name–for example, “Brad Anderson, Meredith Roberts, Lamar Washington, LaToya Brown, Juanita Martinez, Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen”–deliberately crafted in order to test the racial and gender bias in professor response.

The type of student who garnered the most responses? The white male. As Milkman told NPR, professors “ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from white males. . . . We see a 25-percentage-point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males versus women and minorities.”

“All they were measuring was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with the students,” notes NPR’s Shankar Vedantam. “And what they found was there were very large disparities. Women and minorities [were] systematically less likely to get responses from the professors, and also less likely to get positive responses from the professors.”

Faculty at private universities, business schools and those in “lucrative” (read: non-humanities) fields were more likely to discriminate than those at public schools or those who work in the humanities.

Racial bias was most evident against Asian students, which surprised researchers, who assumed the stereotype of “Asians as a model minority group” would be reflected in faculty response. The assumption, as well as the final data, reveal how both Southeast Asians and East Asians collectively remain the silent minority whose mythic “model minority” status conceals their lived discrimination in American culture.

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Scholars behind this research attribute the difference to minorities entering college with “weaker academic skills,” which, they contend, can be countered by “building strong personal connections on the campus.” Unfortunately, as Milkman’s new study suggests, they are not even receiving this type of institutional support.

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