Gender bias still evident in college classrooms


By Sanaa Khan

Think back to your undergraduate or high school biology class. Who was the smartest person in class? Now, was that student male or female?

A Feb. 16 Washington Post article referenced a study by anthropologist Dan Grunspan chthat found male students are more likely to assume their male classmates know more about course material than their female classmates, regardless of whether they earned a better grade.

chGrunspan, along with colleagues from the University of Washington, conducted a study surveying 1,700 students enrolled in the same undergraduate biology course at the university. In addition to being asked who among their classmates had the strongest understanding of class material, students were also asked to name who they believed to be the most outspoken in class, to account for the large class size. The study found that males were consistently regarded as more outspoken than females.

And, in all three classes of the biology course, the three highest ranking students were male, even when outspoken females with similar or higher grades were present.

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    The study found that male students expected their male classmates to have a GPA 0.76 higher than equally performing female classmates. While female students gave female classmates a higher ranking than similar males by a GPA of 0.04, this was considered negligible in indicating any gender bias among

    Between 11 different class surveys it was evident that female students had to earn a GPA greater than 0.75 points higher than male counterparts to be considered equally intelligent. In other words, as Sarah Eddy, a co-lead author of the study put it, “That is like believing a male with a B and a female with an A(-plus)Not sure what the (-plus) means have the same ability.”

    Overall, the research showed that gender bias is 19 times stronger in males than females. Considering a biology course was chosen for the study, since undergraduate males and females tend to have equal enrollment in the subject, it seems fair to assume that other, more male-dominated STEM fields have even greater gender bias.

    The results of this study show why so many women switch out of STEM majors — classrooms of male-dominated fields simply refuse to accept their intelligence. The lack of support stands in their way.

    A previous study by the same researchers found female students were generally less comfortable speaking up in class. It also found a student’s level of outspokenness coincided with how intelligent he/she is considered by his/her classmates.

    Therefore, the culture that left female students feeling unwilling to speak actually contributed to their classmates’ negative perceptions of them. Attacking male students for failing to recognize the intelligence of their female classmates is pointless — in reality, changes must be made to academic culture that will allow females to feel confident speaking their minds.

    Addressing systemic gender bias is a complex issue, though, and one with complex solutions. Whether it means developing inclusive teaching methods or finding supportive peers for female students, steps must be taken to solve a problem that has affected generations of women. With the newer generation of college-aged students still demonstrating strong gender preferences, the argument that systemic gender bias will simply extinguish over time is invalid.

    Women still face a double standard in the classroom, as vocal male students receive lighter judgment and stronger acclaim than their outspoken female classmates. While loud males are often considered harmless “class clowns,” female students who speak their minds are often considered bossy or annoying.

    Discrepancies like this cannot be solved without action. It’s up to both college students and the educators of today to put a stop to gender bias that evidently still plagues our generation’s classrooms.

    Our generation can choose to carry on detrimental biases of the past, or we can choose to progress forward, not held down by the weight of outdated assumptions.

    Sanaa is a freshman in [email protected]