Finding a college professor to mentor you may not be easy, unless you’re a white male or at least appear to be one by name alone. In a recent study of more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools, researchers found that professors were more likely to deny opportunities to women and minorities — a bias that appears after only knowing a student’s name. This is especially evident in faculty linked to more lucrative professions.
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In the study, professors were sent identical mock emails from prospective doctoral students requesting time to meet and discuss research opportunities. The only difference in the email requests were the names of the students, which were randomly chosen to indicate gender and race, and included names like: Brad Anderson, LaToya Brown, Juanita Martinez, Meredith Roberts, and Chang Wong.
The researchers, Katherine Milkman of the Wharton School, Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School, and Dolly Chugh of NYU, reported that faculty “ignored requests from women and minorities at a much higher rate than requests from Caucasian males, particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions.”
NPR’s Shankar Vendantam interviewed Milkman, who says the bias was especially extreme at business schools, where they found a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males versus women and minorities.
Surprisingly, race and gender of the faculty was not a factor. In the NPR interview, Milkman says, “There’s absolutely no benefit seen when women reach out to female faculty, nor do we see benefits from black students reaching out to black faculty or Hispanic students reaching out to Hispanic faculty.”
Another surprise for the researchers was the extreme bias shown towards Asian students. Milkman says the study showed more discrimination toward Indian and Chinese students than other groups. As to why faculty from more lucrative programs had stronger bias overall, researchers from the study could offer no certain explanation.
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