White evaluators may go easier on minority students for fear of appearing racist, according to a new study.
Psychologists at the University of British Columbia gave a group of white undergraduate students essays that were identified as being written by white or minority high school students. Though the essays were all of similar quality, the undergraduate evaluators gave fewer negative critiques and higher grades to minority students than to white students.
To determine the cause of the differing critiques the evaluators were given a questionnaire where they were asked to rank the degree to which they agreed with statements like “being non-prejudiced toward people of other ethnicities is important to my self concept” or “I attempt to act in non-prejudiced ways toward people of other ethnicities because of pressure from others.” The questions were designed to find out whether the essay graders were guided by internal goals of acting non-biased or by what they perceived as external, societal pressures to appear non-biased. The results show that evaluators were more concerned about the latter.
That’s not only unfair, it’s bad for minorities. “Minority students,” the authors write, “are more likely to experience an underreporting of the information that would allow them to improve their writing rather than an over-reporting of the positive aspects of their work.” You can’t learn from your mistakes if no one tells you what they are.