White Privilege In Education

The U.S. bleeds the idea that one gets out what one puts into any endeavor, but this idea is only a myth-for non-whites at least.

A recent study conducted by Katherine Milkman and others at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania aimed to find any disparity among the likelihood that professors respond to students’ requests for mentorship. Pretending to be students, Milkman and her colleagues emailed more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 universities in the country, expressing interest in each professor’s field and asking to meet. These emails were identical, except the students’ names differed. In order to diversify the pool of students, Milkman and her colleagues sent these emails under fabricated monikers such as Brad Anderson, LaToya Brown, Juanita Martinez, and Chang Wong. What the researchers found was that women and minorities were less likely to get positive responses from professors. A name such as John Smith might be thought of as normal in comparison to Jose Hernandez, which sounds ethnic and foreign. There are preconceived notions with both names-a professor reading John’s name might think he enjoys the Fourth of July and has two white heterosexual parents, a sister, and a dog. When coming across Jose, however, a professor could be reminded of the news segment he watched the night before about illegal aliens and how they’re taking the jobs from good, hardworking American people like himself-even though a doctoral degree is difficult to earn, especially for someone who recently entered the country. These professors are some of the most learned individuals in the world, yet, as the study proposed, many are ignorant when it comes to race.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 60 percent of full-time professors in postsecondary institutions are white males, 26 percent are white females, 4 percent are black, 3 percent are Hispanic, and 8 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander. In order to find out whether white males are the sole discriminators against students with ethnic names, Milkman et al. looked at female, black, and Hispanic faculty to find that the initial results still applied-Hispanic and black students who reached out to Hispanic and black faculty were less likely to get responses from these faculty members than their white counterparts. One might think that the opposite would be true because people tend to gravitate toward others with whom they find commonalities. Physical markers are more easily accessible than information like others’ income or educational backgrounds. Therefore, skin tones among professors and students of color offer an early link between both parties. Milkman et al.’s study, however, suggests that the bias found with this research extends beyond individual and racial matters. There is a way of perceiving individuals who aren’t white that is ingrained in the fabric of this country-in particular, in the world of academia.

In four semesters at Boston College, I’ve only taken two courses taught by professors of color (not that there are many). Reaching out to these professors and being engaged in their classes have been more comfortable experiences than dealing with most of the professors whose classes I’ve taken at the University. Fortunately, the two black professors that I’ve reached out to have reciprocated the interest I’ve expressed toward them, opposing Milkman et al.’s research, by advising me on how to best use my skills. As an English major and sociology minor, however, I’ve dealt more with faculty working in the humanities than natural sciences, which tends to be a more lucrative field than the humanities. Interestingly enough, Milkman and her colleagues found that there was more discrimination against women and minorities in more lucrative fields such as natural sciences and business, BC’s pride and joy.

The disparity is blatant in business academia-there are currently 2,004 undergraduate students enrolled in the Carroll School of Management, of whom 1,359 are males and 654 are females. Because most of the students at BC are white, my guess is that most of the students enrolled in the business school are white, too. Nevertheless, Milkman and her colleagues found that women and minorities were 25 percent less likely to get a response from faculty in the business field than Caucasian males. The University not only promotes male privilege, but also white privilege because CSOM students, mostly Caucasian males, have opportunities created with them in mind (i.e., Career Launch and Interview Prep Week). Because CSOM is a pre-professional school, the argument could be made that its inherent nature lends itself to such initiatives in order to steer students to internships and jobs post-graduation. Furthermore, one could argue that the University is not promoting male and white privilege, even though the effect is a byproduct of how CSOM operates, but when weighing Milkman and her colleagues’ research, bringing the effect to light is important. Although the study does not provide concrete reasons behind why women and minorities were less likely to get a response from professors in business schools, I infer that these professors conceive “business people” to be male and Caucasian. Perhaps, if established professionals in the world of business were mentoring more female and minority students, there would be more students of these systemically marginalized groups applying to programs such as CSOM and using the term “businesswoman” wouldn’t be out of an obligation to be politically correct.

Education should not be engaged solely within the classroom, especially if, as Peggy McIntosh writes, “[one is] taught to think of [certain groups’] lives as morally neutral, normative, and … ideal,” whereas others are seen as deficient because they don’t align with dominant ideologies-white, heterosexual, and male. I don’t believe there are BC students who wake up thinking about flaunting their white privilege, but I do think there are students on campus who act or say things without being considerate of others’ feelings because they’re unaware of their privilege. The University should promote programs such as Dialogues on Race more, and a cultural competency course should be implemented into the undergrad core and faculty training because the issue applies to both students and faculty. Although I have a duty to educate my fellow Eagles about Latino culture since I have a firsthand experience of it, I should not be perceived as a spokesperson for all Latinos. Additionally, there must be a greater effort made by the predominant group to understand those who are the minority.

Professors must be mindful of the students they are teaching, because what works for one group does not necessarily work for another. The first step in working toward a solution for the systemic bias against non-whites in this country is to be informed about it.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.