Campus Myths and Implicit Bias: The Van Wickle Gates
What’s the worst that can happen if you walk under the Gates other than for invocation and commencement? Well, it depends on your gender. Legend has it that if you’re a woman and you walk through more than twice, you will not get married. But if you’re a guy, well, you just won’t graduate.
The gender discrepancy in this institutional myth indicates the traditions that the University was founded upon. Brown University was only open to males at its founding in 1764; a women’s college, later known as Pembroke College, was established in 1891. The two merged in 1971. For the fall semester of 2018, 54% of undergraduate students enrolled were female.
If you asked any current student if they thought men were intellectually equal to women, it is likely most would tell you yes. However, gender imbalance is still part of the everyday experience for many students, faculty, and staff. For example, in the physical sciences, only 36% of undergraduates are female and only 14% of the faculty are female!
Statistics can tell a story that gender equality has been achieved, but implicit biases abound. Implicit bias can reinforce negative attitudes and contribute to negative stereotypes, which then can affect hiring and promotion practices in addition to everyday interactions. The Implicit Association Test is a common method of assessing implicit attitudes, as it seeks to activate unconscious knowledge. In contrast, measures of explicit associations are often distorted, as participants are often concerned with social desirability. It’s much easier for an individual to self-report their support for women in STEM, but they may not be aware of the automatic activation of their unconscious biases.
Becoming more aware of our unconscious biases is one way to confront the deeply internalized stereotypes we are faced with everyday. I challenge you to take the Implicit Association Test for yourself here. You may be surprised by the results. But more importantly, how will this change your behavior?