Word to the Wise: Feedback Interventions to Moderate the Effects of Stereotype Threat and Attributional Ambiguity on Law Students

18 U. Maryland L. J. Race, Relig. Gender & Class 99 (2018)

40 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2017 Last revised: 14 Jan 2019

Date Written: October 6, 2017

Abstract

The academic underachievement of minority students in law school can be explained, in part, by a psychological phenomenon called stereotype threat--a form of identity threat that occurs when a negative group stereotype exists, and the possibility exists that an individual member of a stereotyped group can be devalued by a stereotype because of membership in the group. Because negative stereotypes about the intellectual and academic ability of Black and Latina students persist, these students are susceptible to stereotype threat in any academic environment, including law school. Providing critical feedback to students facing negative stereotypes about their group’s intellectual capacity presents a unique challenge to educators. When receiving critical feedback a stereotype threatened student’s decision to respond to negative feedback by increasing effort carries more than the possibility of failing to meet the standard; for the stereotype threatened student failure also threatens to confirm the stereotyped limitation, both in the eyes of others, and potentially in the eyes of the student. Rather than expose themselves to such a possibility, the student may diminish the importance of the task, reduce their effort, and disengage from the task, and even from the domain itself - i.e., law school because of a reluctance to invest effort in an area where they may be subjected to biased treatment, or because the risk of confirming the negative stereotype comes at too great of an emotional and psychological cost. This article provides specific strategies law school faculty can employ in their written and verbal feedback statements to improve outcomes for their students. Known as "wise feedback" in the social psychology literature, this two-faceted intervention assures students both that critical feedback is the result of high standards, and that the student is capable of meeting the standards. By employing "wise" techniques, faculty can convey critical feedback in a manner that encourages effort and persistence, and minimizes or eliminates the negative motivational effects of stereotype threat, thereby achieving the goal of improving performance and retention of minority law students and takings steps to close the minority achievement gap in law school.

Keywords: stereotype, stereotype threat, law school, law student, feedback, wise, wise feedback, growth mindset, attribution, attributional ambiguity,

JEL Classification: 120, 124

Suggested Citation

Manning, Paula J., Word to the Wise: Feedback Interventions to Moderate the Effects of Stereotype Threat and Attributional Ambiguity on Law Students (October 6, 2017). 18 U. Maryland L. J. Race, Relig. Gender & Class 99 (2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3052321

Paula J. Manning (Contact Author)

Western State College of Law ( email )

1 Banting
Irvine, CA 92618
United States
7146098044 (Phone)

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