Education researchers from around the globe are meeting in Vancouver, B.C. this week at the annual American Education Research Association (AERA) gathering.
I attended several sessions over the weekend. By far, the most interesting was a presentation from a student at UCLA, "Como Te Ven, Te Trantan: A Critical Race Analysis of Chicana Eyebrows and 'Masked' Resistance."
PhD student Iris Lucero presented research showing that media images, like the one above, "promote Chicanas as one-dimensional, inconsequential and unacquainted with Eurocentric standards of beauty."
Lucero's research, conducted along with fellow UCLA student Maria Olivares Pasillas, focuses on how teacher perceptions of student styles - specifically so-called "sharpie eyebrows" - impacts their expectation of those students. Basing their study on Critical Race Theory, Olivares Pasillas and Lucero argue that such perceptions put students at a deficit in the classroom, thus impacting their educational potential and opportunities. A similar study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, "Brains, Brow and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture," came up with the same findings. Essentially, what both studies revealed is that teachers shouldn't judge a student strictly by their style.
The two claim, "like wrinkles that line the traces of lived experience, our eyebrows impart a story of struggle and fortitude, sculpted by the nuanced intersections of our perceived race, gender and age that characterize our daily social interactions as young Latina women."
Their presentation came the day after a speech by Stanford University professor Claude Steele, "What We Know about Stereotype Threat and What We Should be Doing with That Knowledge."
Steele's work has focused on how people from various groups, feeling threatened by stereotypes, experience situations in different ways. For instance, several years ago Steele studied the performance of female students on math tests. He found that when female students were told that other females had performed poorly on a given test (reaffirming negative stereotypes that females have weaker math ability) it resulted in them performing poorer on the tests than their male counterparts. When the same students were told they were expected to do just as well as male students on a test, they actually got higher scores.
Steele says that when a person's social identity (like the Chicana girls with sharpie eyebrows or African American males with baggy pants) is attached to a negative stereotype - the anxiety that stereotype creates will cause the person to underperform in a way consistent with the stereotype.
Steele maintains that overcoming "stereotype threat" is key to achieving an integrated society.