Ponnada: ‘Sri Ponnada?’ Delete.

BY SRI PONNADA | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Do you email your professors? I email mine all the time with questions, concerns, and sometimes just to show them something cool that relates to class material. Sometimes, I get responses right away, sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes I don’t get a reply at all. I don’t feel bad, though, because I assume they probably got busy or my email got buried under the thousands of other emails in their box.

However, the findings of a new study are telling me something else.

A study led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania involved the researchers sending emails to 6,500 professors from 89 disciplines at the top 259 schools, pretending to be students.

These emails all had the same message — they were from fictional prospective students asking if they could discuss research opportunities before applying to the school’s doctoral program. The only thing that was different in each email was the sender’s name, which was manipulated to signal a different gender and race (white, black, Latino, Indian, Chinese) each time so the professors’ gender and racial bias could be tested.

And — survey says — professors seem to love white males.

“Steven Smith” and “Brad Anderson” got the most positive replies, while professors more often ignored requests from “Lamar Washington,” “Juanita Martinez,” “Deepak Patel,” and “Mei Chen” — who are all indubitably not white, not male, or (worse) not both. There was a 25 percent gap in the response rate to white males versus women and minorities.

Women and minorities are suffering from systematic oppression in institutions of higher education? That’s no surprise. But hold on, it gets worse.

If you are a woman or a minority at a private university, in business school or in a “lucrative” non-humanities field, such as computer science (one of my areas of study), you can forget looking for a mentor. According to the study, faculty at private institutions, business schools, and in “lucrative” fields were more likely to discriminate than those at public schools or those who work in the humanities.

I often hear many people (usually white males) arguing against affirmative action and saying there’s no institutionalized racism anymore but rather a lot of reverse racism against them. Then, there are all these silly studies about women achieving more in the classroom than men.

It’s all hogwash.

This new study shows just how much institutionalized racism and gender bias there still exists in postsecondary institutions.

Of course, professors aren’t going to yell slurs at students in their classes or fail people on tests because of their race. But many of them are expressing their biases in much more subtle ways that can’t be traced. And these micro aggressions have a lot more effect on a female’s or minority student’s life than a public display of prejudice.

White men are still the main recipients of academic privilege, while women and minorities are struggling to build strong personal connections on campus, which is inarguably necessary for success in an obviously unequal playing field.

I have to admit, I was very disheartened when I found out about the study. I never thought a professor would ignore my email because of my gender and race. Now, I worry every time I send out an email and don’t get a response. I don’t know if they’re ignoring me because I’m an Indian female or because they just didn’t see my message.

How is it possible to detect micro aggressions you can’t even see? I might just start using read receipts.

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