As of 2016, Brandeis’ undergraduate student body was 5.4 percent African American. While this number is bound to have increased with diversity efforts implemented by the University, to call the campus truly diverse is inaccurate. There have been several instances where, personally, I have been one of few Black students in the room. The same can be said for other students of color at predominantly white universities. This in turn creates stressors for students that impede their learning and overall ability to thrive in the university setting. 

In psychology there is a phenomenon known as “stereotype threat” that refers to the psychological threat when one is at risk of adhering to stereotypes about their social group. Experiments conducted on this show that when standardized tests were administered under the guise that Black students perform worse than white students, the Black students actually performed worse. However, when racial disparities were not mentioned, there was no difference in performance levels. This threat of inadequacy and underperforming is always present on college campuses, manifesting itself as the desire to prove one’s worth as a valued member of a community. Therefore, stereotype threat will always be an issue. Even outside of the academic setting, this is a problem that manifests itself in the professional world. 

Just as it occurs in school, stereotype threat influences workplace performance. Described in the paper “Stereotype threat and feedback seeking in the workplace,” in positions where intelligence is seen as an important determinant of success, such as a managerial position, minorities are held to higher standards and care more about their performance and ability to overcome certain stereotypes. This stress to not engage in stereotypical behavior can affect work performance and ironically further perpetuate negative stereotypes about work ability. Similarly, “token status” in a group also leads to stereotype threat — being the sole representative of a racial group reflects not on oneself but on the group of which one is a part. It shows that the company is not dedicated to creating an environment diverse in thought and people but instead is just complicit with homogeneity. The paper states that “the presence of tokens highlights group differences, resulting in tokens being viewed by others in terms of their identity group memberships.” Every decision made has to be carefully planned to prove that they are actually qualified for their position. Again, the pressure to succeed under the lens of one’s racial or ethnic identity is only detrimental in the long-run. 

There is no prestige in being a “token member.” Yes, it is worthwhile to say that one may have been the first Black CEO or Black professor at a prestigious university, but being the first and only member means that one has had to not only overcome the systematic barriers, but also deal with certain microaggressions in their respective field. An April 25, 2018 CNBC article states that some very common microaggressions that occur are commenting on one’s ability to speak English, using condescending tones, hijacking a conversation or even choosing a seat near a person of color only when there is no other option available. These might not be intentionally offensive, but these subconscious and harmful acts only make it more difficult for a person of color to thrive in an environment where one’s otherness is already made painfully obvious. 

As someone entering the workforce soon, most of the positions I have interviewed for are in predominantly white companies. While I’m not uncomfortable, I do feel anxious about my work performance. If I don’t excel in all aspects of the job, will they think it’s due to my inexperience, or the color of my skin? In a position where one is essentially the representative of their entire race, this is something that has to be considered. 

How can this be solved? In order to generate a more diverse group of employees, newer hiring strategies need to be implemented. An Oct. 29, 2017 Forbes article details methods of improving diversity; these include removing bias from the hiring process that might only appeal to a specific group of people, employing more diverse interview techniques and expanding the pool of candidates considered for positions. Similar steps can be taken for university admissions. Not all students are good test takers, and allowing students to supplement SAT scores with something like a writing sample — which was an option when I applied to Brandeis — would be a good start. Similarly, recruiting students from more diverse backgrounds can be achieved by implementing more school visits to high schools or an increased presence in college fairs around the nation. These strategies will hopefully improve the breadth of students admitted to private universities like Brandeis and improve racial, socioeconomic and gender identity status on college campuses.