Social Mobility In Higher Education


A large body of social psychological research has established the existence of stereotype threat where individuals internalize as a self-characteristic a negative social stereotype about one’s group. Psychologists Steele and Aronson (1995) first used the term to describe experimental results showing that Black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than White students when their race was emphasized immediately prior to testing. When race was not emphasized, however, Black students performed better and equivalently with White students. The results showed that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one’s behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes. This internalized worry about self-performance based on stereotype can undermine the academic performance of members of negatively stereotyped groups, underrepresented minority groups in particular. Many subsequent psychological studies have confirmed that stereotype threat acts like an intellectual headwind preventing success across academic, athletic, and social contexts. This project considered policy changes that colleges and universities and other academic institutions might undertake to enhance educational equity by reducing the effect of stereotype threat for at-risk minority groups.


Paul Brest

Paul Brest

  • Interim Dean
  • Professor of Law, Emeritus
  • Director of Law and Policy Lab
  • Interim Executive Director, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance


Clients & Deliverables


  • Legal and Policy Memoranda

Participants joined a small interdisciplinary team of faculty and students from the Schools of Law, Education, and Humanities and Sciences to explore scalable interventions aimed at increasing the enrollment at elite universities of high achieving economically disadvantaged students. This project also considered policy options to help colleges, universities, and other academic institutions enhance educational equity by reducing stereotype threat for at-risk minority groups within their communities.