Your Professors May Be Discriminating Against You

Looking for a mentor in college? Well, your odds go way up if you're a white man. A new study reveals that professors are far more likely to respond to mentor requests from white, male students than to women or people of color. And surprisingly, these results remain true even when the professors themselves are not white men.

In the study, researchers emailed a total of 6,500 professors posing as fictional students, the emails simply saying that they admired the professor's work and would like to meet outside of class. The text of each email was exactly the same – the only difference in each email was the name, with some names chosen to convey a particular racial or ethnic background. (Some of the names used included Brad Anderson, Lamar Washignton, Juanita Martinez, and Sonali Desai.) They found that female "students" and "students" of color were far less likely to receive a response from the professors. Even when the professors were themselves women or people of color, the pattern held true.

And, perhaps even more troubling, the amount of diversity on campus also had little to no effect on this overall trend. In other words, increasing diversity on campus does not necessarily mean that professors will begin mentoring more diverse groups of students. Instead, it seems that the same students who have traditionally held the advantage will continue to be favored. In other words, white men still win.

This is especially true given that professors in schools associated with more lucrative fields were even more likely to favor white, male students than professors in typically less lucrative humanities fields. In fact, the disparity in responses was greatest in business schools, where there was 25 point gap in percentage of responses between names meant to convey a white, male identity and names presumably belonging to women or people of color.

And, in truly odd findings, emails from "students" with Chinese names were even less likely to receive a response than other racial minorities. So for all the stereotypes that say Asian students have an edge in education, the truth is not so simple.

There are a few bright spots — professors at public universities were less likely to discriminate than professors at private schools, for instance. But overall it's pretty clear that women and people of color — presumably women of color especially — are at a large disadvantage when it comes to getting professors to take an interest. And this matters, because having a faculty mentor can be hugely beneficial both for a student's academic progress and for their post-graduation career.

So what to do about this? I mean, if greater diversity on campus — including among the faculty — doesn't make things better, then what would? Well, at the moment researchers aren't sure because they don't fully understand the mechanisms causing the discrepancy (beyond, I guess, general sexism and racism). But it's pretty clear that someone should get on this stuff, because the sooner this changes, the better.