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Steele the Show

By Stacey Kim on November 01, 2011 08:44 AM

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A Reed education is founded on reading: great books, research papers, poetry, prose, nonfiction, and everything in between. It's natural, then, that the first major initiative to come out of the new institutional diversity office is a Community Reading Project.

Dean Crystal Williams has invited Reed students, faculty, and staff to read social psychologist Claude Steele's seminal work Whistling Vivaldi in advance of the lecture Steele will deliver Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. in the chapel. Steele's lecture is free and open to the public.

Williams is passionate about the Community Reading Project, and thrilled that its inaugural incarnation focuses on Steele's important and relevant work. Whistling Vivaldi introduces the concept of stereotype threat: the idea that many of us are members of groups about which negative stereotypes are made, and that those stereotypes affect how we perform--at school, at work, in athletic pursuits, in any situation that involves the pressure of defying our particular negative stereotypes. In his work, Steele has delved into how this affects the academic performance of students of color in particular, and how traditional approaches to integrating such students into higher education are simply not enough. Steele examines ways to construct relationships, give feedback, diffuse stereotype threat, and build trust, thus leading to improved academic performance.

The dean's office has already hosted a first Friday conversation about Steele's work, and will follow his lecture with another first Friday conversation devoted specifically to Whistling Vivaldi.

Williams plans for the Community Reading Project to be an annual event, and is working to integrate it more fully into campus programming such as orientation. The institutional diversity office will offer a variety of programming throughout the year in addition to Steele's lecture and the first Friday conversations.

Read more about Claude Steele's work, specifically his thoughts on the SAT and stereotype threat in test-taking, in this interview done for the PBS series Frontline.