NT 4.3.2 School/Classroom Climate

College students in lab conducting titrations

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

Bernice Sandler coined the term “the chilly climate” decades ago and has been writing, testifying before Congress, and fighting for a warmer climate ever since! The chilly climate in academia refers to how female students (or students of the less-favored group) are treated differently, by male and female faculty alike as well as by their fellow students.

These behaviors ultimately undermine a person’s self-confidence in his or her academic ability, lower academic and occupational aspirations, inhibit learning, and generally lower self-esteem. A chilly climate is essentially micro-inequities in action. One by one, these inequities are innocuous and easily over-looked. However,

  • When a female student receives a short one-word response to a correct answer repeatedly while her male peers receive more direct and effusive feedback, she learns that her input is less valuable.
  • When students are interrupted frequently in class and the teacher does not correct the behavior, they receive the message that their thoughts are not as important as others are.
  • When men face an educational or work environment that subtly retains the unfortunate stereotypes about male nurses being gay or male early childhood educators having pedophiliac tendencies, they may unintentionally feel forced to validate and prove themselves in an unnecessary way, or ultimately leave the field.

Indeed, some of the chilly climate behaviors are intended to be helpful.

  • When a male student takes a heavy wheel off a robot in an electronics class because it is heavy, externally it appears that he is acting with concern. However, it is sending the message that the female student is incapable of doing the heavy lifting herself.
  • When it is always a female who is selected to take notes the rationale is frequently, “She is the best at it” or, “My handwriting is awful!” However, the message she hears may be, “They don’t think I’m capable of combining the solutions in the beaker correctly” or “See, I can’t compute the formula correctly and they know it!” Confidence is undermined and task mastery is not attained.

Females have reported feeling as though they were not welcome or that the males took over the groups and allocated the lesser tasks to the females. Additionally, females report being more interested in achievement as opposed to “besting others and winning external accolades” (Allison & Cossette, 2007, p. 10). However, once a student graduates and is on the job, he or she needs to perform every task required. All students, regardless of gender or cultural group need equal opportunities to perform all types of tasks in the classroom so that they are better prepared for the workplace.

Review the following presentation for a short “chilly climate” scenario and some remedies suggested by Bernice Sandler.

Please note the presentation above contains audio.

Text Alternative for “The Chilly Climate”