Stigma Threat and the Fat Professor: Reducing Student Prejudice in the Classroom

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The Fat Studies Reader, Page: 205-212

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Escalera, Ellen
New York, NY, US: New York University Press; Saint Mary's Digital Commons
stigma threat; fat professor; student prejudice; classroom; Psychology
book chapter description
Weight discrimination in the workplace has long been documented in many disciplines (Kristen, 2002; Roehling, 1999). This study looks at how fat discrimination plays out in a very specialized venue: the college classroom. I decided to approach stigma threat in the classroom as anxiety. To reduce the students' anxiety from stigma threat, I used a classroom technique of assigning anonymous five-minute reaction papers at the end of each topic. This not only provides a qualitative measure of threat and challenge but also provides a way for students to express their anxiety, thus reducing physiological and psychological reactivity. Wilson (2004) notes that reflective writing can be an effective way to deal with anxiety. In addition, the reaction papers allow the students to shift their focus from me to their own attitude change processes. I hoped to find a reduction in the anti-fat bias of the students over the course of the semester. To measure this effect, I used the IAT (Implicit Association Test) (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). Responses from the reaction papers fell into four categories suggested by the Stigma Threat Hypothesis: neutral responses, challenge responses, threat expressive responses, and threat defensive responses. It is concluded that although the classroom is not a laboratory that can be controlled and manipulated without confounding variables, it is a very real crucible of social interaction that affects the lives of both students and professors. Not only does stigma threat endanger the professional safety and freedom of professors who belong to a stigmatized category, but it may actually interfere with the learning process itself. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)