Stereotypes, Expectations, & Students At Risk: A Conversation with Professor of Psychology Cyndi Kernahan

Dr. Cyndi Kernahan is the Chair of the Psychology Department at UW-River Falls. She is a social psychologist specializing in race and racism. I've worked with Cyndi on a few research projects and have done diversity presentations with her around the state and at various conferences.  In these contexts, I've heard her talk about the phenomenon described by social psychologists as "stereotype threat," or the "fear that the stereotypes about one’s group will be applied to him or her in a given situation (women and girls in advanced math; blacks in academic endeavors; whites and athletic ability)."  While this topic directly connects with the UW System's broad concept of Inclusive Excellence, we can use it to think more inclusively and specifically about a set of students we frequently encounter in the UW Colleges.  As our 13 campuses increasingly address the needs of its "at-risk" students (those at risk of disappearing from our classes, dropping out altogether, or ending up on academic probation or suspension for a variety of reasons), I wondered how this concept of stereotype threat was related to our attempts to help such historically under-represented and underprepared students succeed on campus, so I asked Cyndi for an interview. --Nancy Chick, 2011 VTLC Director

Ready to Listen?
  • Click here to listen to the podcast on your computer.  (Turn up your sound!  Next time, I'll boost the voices much more.)
  • Cyndi has also provided this brief handout to accompany her podcast.
    • If you're unclear about the use of the word "contingency" in our discussion, Cyndi sent me this definition:  "the parts of your identity, some of which may (depending on context) put you at risk of confirming a stereotype (an illness you have, your race, your sex, social class, disability, religion, orientation). All these things may or may not be visible and may or may not come up.  For example, a mental illness might not be visible to anyone but you, but it impairs your ability nonetheless as you fear being found out or fear you aren't as productive as you could be, etc. There are visible ones, too, that only matter in certain contexts. A white man may not feel any stereotypes at all until asked about his athletic ability when there are black people around; then, that might be a contingency." 

For Further Study, Reflection, and/or Discussion

Reflect, Respond, or Interact

Think about this concept of stereotype threat and how it relates to our students. Have you inadvertently invoked it in the past?  More importantly, how can you work to mitigate it and help your students (especially "at-risk" students) succeed in the future?

To respond to the notion of stereotype threat and your students, feel free to send your thoughts to  You can also interact with the content and each other more directly on this VoiceThread page.  (Need a VoiceThread tutorial? Go here.)