Insurmountable barrier or navigable obstacle? Gender differences in the construal of academia



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Psychologists have begun to examine factors that influence the achievement gap between African American and White students. This is a pressing issue especially for African American students (Steele, 1997; Shelton & Sellers, 2000; Cokley, 2001). To better understand the effects of race and gender on perceived discrimination and academic disengagement, 81 African American students at the University of Texas at Austin were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. Participants either listed ten instances of discrimination they have experienced, five academic successes and five academic failures, or made no lists. The impact of these manipulations on responses to the Disengagement Scale (Major & Schmader, 1998) and the Everyday Discrimination Scale (Williams, Yu, Jackson, & Anderson, 1997) were assessed. Results suggest that gender plays an important role in African American students’ academic function. More specifically, African American males perceive more discrimination in academia than African American females, which is related to higher levels of disengagement. Researchers suggest this difference is related to African American males’ socialization to see discrimination as an insurmountable barrier rather than a navigable obstacle.