This activity presents a picture of a group of individuals with different appearances. It is meant to help you reflect on what you assume about people based on their outward characteristics. Suppose you met the following people and you were asked to guess which one of them is a physicist. Who would you pick?
- A middle-aged man of South Asian descent, with a neat haircut, wearing a dress shirt and tie, and dress pants.
- An Asian woman with long hair, wearing a sleeveless blouse, a knee-length jean skirt and open-toe shoes.
- A Caucasian man in his 60s with a light beard, wearing glasses, a long-sleeved collared shirt, a belt, and khaki pants.
In the case of this particular group of people, the middle-aged man of South Asian descent is a police officer, and the Caucasian man is a graphic designer. The Asian woman is the physicist. But most people are unlikely to make that guess. The point of this exercise is not whether you guessed correctly. Rather, think about what was going through your mind as you are trying to guess the answer. How were you trying to categorize a physicist?
Take a moment to reflect on times when people have made assumptions about your abilities and qualifications, both positive and negative, based on a group that you belong to (gender, age, ethnicity). How did that make you feel?
Similarly, what assumptions do you make about others based on these criteria? What might be the unintended consequence of these assumptions?
In education, it is critical that we become aware of, and manage, the way we make assumptions about people based on stereotypical beliefs about gender, age, cultural background and other characteristics.
Over time, these beliefs shape our micromessages, and these in turn can have a dramatic impact on the students we work with.