Blacks Face Bias When Seeking Mentors Among University Faculty

A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and New York University found that university faculty members were less likely to respond to requests from prospective Black students than White students who were seeking information on research opportunities before applying to doctoral programs. The researchers contacted more than 6,500 professors at 259 research institutions by email asking for meetings about research opportunities. The names of the fictional students sending the requests had names that the researchers believed would be identified as either White of Black. For example the emails used the names Brad or Meredith, which the researchers believed the recipients would identify the sender as White. Names such as Terrell, LaToya, and Keisha were used as senders of the emails by the study’s authors as they believed these names would be identified by the email recipients as Black.

The results showed that faculty members were more likely to ignore the requests for information from prospective Black students than was the case for Whites. Even minority faculty members were more likely to respond to Whites than Blacks. The disparity in response rates was particularly high in the sciences and business.

Katherine L. Milkman,  the James G. Campbell Jr. assistant professor of operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the lead author of the study, stated, “The very worst in terms of bias is business academia. We see a 25-percentage-point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males versus women and minorities.”

A co-author of the study is Modupe Akinola, an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School. Dr. Akinola holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, an MBA, and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard University. She joined the Columbia University faculty in 2009.

The study, “What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations,” can be downloaded here.

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  1. Perhaps the university should look closely at the staff. Individuals who do not value all students should not be permitted to work with any student. We are so busy being open that we fail to look closely at who’s walking in.

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