Identity Safe Classrooms and Schools from Teaching Tolerance- Blog 3 in the Series


Identity-Safe Classrooms and Schools

Submitted by Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas on April 20, 2015
Blogs and Articles: Classroom Practice Prejudice Reduction
Editor’s Note: This blog is the third in a three-part series that links three important ideas—implicit bias, stereotype threat and identity safety—all backed by research.

When you hear the words identity safety, you might immediately think it has something to do with “identity theft.” Identity theft refers to when someone steals your name and financial identity, so you can no longer use your credit cards or fully function as yourself. How would it affect you psychologically to have your identity stolen? Uncertain, defensive, afraid to trust?

That is exactly what happens when individuals must function in an environment where their identities are not respectfully acknowledged—when negative stereotypes are used to define them or when they must give up or hide parts of themselves to be accepted. By understanding the concept of identity safety, educators can help students feel secure in their identities and free to be who they are and thrive at school.

Many teachers have seen the film The Eye of the Storm (called A Class Divided on the PBS website) about an Iowa teacher who conducted a “blue eyes, brown eyes” classroom experiment. Although this experiment reflects outdated research methods and violates modern human-subjects protocols, the impact of stereotype threat comes into plain view. The teacher told her students that having blue eyes meant they were inferior. She had them wear collars in class. The next day she told students that she made a mistake; the brown-eyed children were inferior, and she had them wear collars. And the brown-eyed children wearing the collars performed worse on a spelling test than they had the day before.

When asked why, one student said, “It’s those collars.” The immediate power of stigma was made visible. Because of a long history of race and racism in this country, the social identities of some racial and ethnic groups are linked to academic success while others are linked to school failure. Identity-safe teaching serves as an antidote to that stereotype threat and stigma.

An identity-safe environment values diversity by creating belonging and validating each person’s background and the multiple components of social identity (age, race, gender, culture, language). It’s an evidence-based model; researchers from the Stanford Integrated Schools Project observed 84 elementary classrooms and have found a link between identity-safe teaching and enhanced student performance. Students in identity-safe classrooms performed at higher levels on standardized tests and felt a greater sense of belonging and inclusion.

Identity-safe teaching includes a whole constellation of practices: the arrangement of students and materials, the nature of the relationships, the types of questions directed toward students, cooperative learning activities, student autonomy and non-punitive approaches to dealing with misbehavior. Diverse materials and activities are used as resources for teaching, rather than the colorblind approach that ignores student differences. Research has found that these components, woven together, create the sense of identity safety in students.

To build identity safety in classrooms and schools, educators can draw on the practices spelled out below, organized into four domains[1]:

1. Child-centered teaching promotes autonomy, cooperation and student voice.

Listening for student voices ensures that each student can contribute to and shape classroom life.
Teaching for understanding assures students learn new knowledge and incorporate it into what they know.
Focusing on cooperation rather than competition encourages students to learn from and help others.
Classroom autonomy promotes responsibility and belonging in each student.
2. Cultivating diversity as a resource provides challenging curriculum and high expectations for all students in the context of the regular and authentic use of diverse materials, ideas and teaching activities.

Using diversity as a resource for teaching draws from all students’ lives as part of the curriculum and daily life in the classroom.
High expectations and academic rigor support all students in learning to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and strive to grow intellectually at every academic level.
Challenging curriculum motivates students with meaningful, purposeful learning as opposed to rote teaching and remediation.
3. Classroom relationships are based on trusting, positive interactions with the teacher and among the students.

Teacher warmth and availability to support learning builds a trusting, encouraging relationship with each student based on belief that he or she can succeed and achieve at high levels.
Positive student relationships promote interpersonal understanding and caring among students in a climate free of bullying and social cruelty.
4. Caring classroom environments are ones where social skills are taught and practiced help students care for one another in an emotionally and physically safe classroom.

Teacher skill is the capacity to establish an orderly, purposeful classroom that facilitates student learning.
Emotional and physical comfort are crucial so that each student feels safe and attached to school and to other students.
Attention to prosocial development incorporates social and emotional learning (SEL) into all aspects of daily life, teaching students how to live with one another, feel empathy for one another and solve problems with respect and care for others.
Identity safety is an approach that works not only for children but also for educators and society at large. As we come to create not only identity-safe classrooms but also identity-safe schools and communities, we will all feel a greater sense of belonging and compassion and ultimately reduce the prejudice, implicit bias and stereotype threat that causes so much harm and hurt in our world.

Cohn-Vargas is director of Not in Our School and coauthor of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn.

[1] Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn, Cohn-Vargas and Steele. (This book offers an array of ways educators can create identity safety in their classrooms and schools.)

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This is Part 1 of the 5-part Identity Safety Blog Series, a partnership project of Not In Our Town and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC). Watch the companion webinar to this collaborative series.

Blog by Dorothy Steele Ed.D and Becki Cohn-Vargas Ed.D

The goal of most American teachers is to successfully educate all students, but too many black and Latino students underperform academically and fail to meet their potential. Educating all students well is not only important for the students themselves, but for our nation as a whole. We cannot have a just and democratic society without fully educated citizens.

Among the many remedies for student underperformance, we find didactic teaching aimed at skill remediation and zero-tolerance policies. These remedies have not worked. Disproportionate numbers of low-income students and students of color are pushed out of school and fail to graduate. Our work on identity safe teaching shifts our focus from the deficits of students to an examination of what we do in classrooms that helps them succeed socially and academically.

Identity safe classrooms are those in which teachers strive to ensure that students feel that their social identity is an asset rather than a barrier to success in the classroom, and that they are welcomed, supported, and valued whatever their background.
Our work evolved from the body of research on “stereotype threat” done by Claude Steele and colleagues. They wanted to understand why black college students had lower grade point averages than white students with the same ACT scores—at every level. Stereotype threat theory states that people from negatively stereotyped groups may fear, in situations that are relevant to them, that they might “be judged or treated in terms of the stereotype or that [they] might do something that would inadvertently confirm it” (Steele, Spencer & Aronson 2002, p. 389).

Literally hundreds of studies have demonstrated the power of stereotypes to depress human performance. For example, black students performed less well than white students on an intelligence test when it was described as a test of ability. But when the same test was called a game, they did as well as the white students. Studies of women taking math tests had similar results.

In another set of studies, white athletes did better than their black teammates when the task was described as one based on “sports intelligence.” By contrast, the black students performed better than the white athletes when it was described as a “test of natural athletic ability.” (See

Our research, the “Stanford Integrated Schools Project” on identity safe teaching practices, explores how to lift the threat to improve success in elementary classrooms. How can teachers reduce the sense of stereotype threat for students whose social identities (race, gender, ethnicity) link them to low school outcomes? Our question: Are there ways to incorporate social and academic practices so students from all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging and purpose in the classroom, so they can fully engage in learning?

Our researchers observed in 84 classrooms to document the arrangement of students and materials, the nature of their relationships, the types of questions directed toward students, the presence or absence of cooperative learning activities, the level of student autonomy, and the teachers’ approaches to dealing with misbehavior. We looked for evidence of the use of diverse materials and activities as a resource for teaching, rather than a more color-blind approach that ignores student differences. We discovered a link between identity safe teaching and enhanced student performance. We found:

Students in higher identity safe classrooms had higher scores on standardized tests than students in lower identity safe classrooms.
The Student Questionnaire revealed that students from higher identity safe classrooms had an increased liking for school and motivation to learn, liked challenging work, and felt a sense of belonging compared to students from less identity safe classrooms.
This approach is based on the assumption that teaching and learning are social processes that depend on building trusting, positive relationships between teachers and students and among the students—no matter what their social identities.

Social identities are attributes in each of us—whether we are white or black, young or old, rich or poor, gay or straight, Methodist or Muslim, etc. Everyone has multiple social identities. Sometimes, because of our racialized American history, some social identities are linked to school success and others are not. In identity safe classrooms, student diversity becomes a resource for learning.

Identity safe teaching is in stark contrast to schools whose curriculum is high on remediation and low on inspiration, and whose discipline is punitive and based on heavy-handed control that does not promote compassion, responsibility, and problem-solving.

By contrast, identity safe teaching focuses on how what we do affects students’ experience in the classroom. From our research, we learned there is a constellation of things teachers can do that change life in the classroom so that students achieve at higher levels and improve their liking for school, their willingness to work hard, and their feeling of belonging in school. The components of identity safety fall into four major categories: child-centered teaching, cultivating diversity as a resource, classroom relationships, and caring environments. How to put the components into practice is the topic of the next four blog posts in our series.

The components of identity safety are:

Child-centered teaching: promotes autonomy, cooperation, and student voice.
Cultivating diversity as a resource: teachers provide challenging curriculum and high expectations for all students in the context of the regular and authentic use of diverse materials, ideas, and teaching activities.
Classroom relationships: relationships are based on trusting, positive interactions with the teacher and among the students.
Caring classroom environments: social skills are taught and practiced to help students care for one another in an emotionally and physically safe classroom.
This blog was co-authored by Dorothy M. Steele, ED.D. Dorothy is co-author of the new book, Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn, and former Executive Director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University. She is an early childhood educator who is interested in public schools including teaching practices that are effective for diverse classrooms, alternative assessment processes that inform teaching and learning, and strategies that build inclusive communities of learners in schools. Her work with the Stanford Integrated Schools Project was an attempt to look at these various aspects of schooling in a large urban school district.

Becki Cohn-Vargas, EdD is currently the director of Not In Our School (NIOS), designing curriculum, coaching schools, and producing films and digital media on models for creating safe and inclusive schools that are free of bullying and intolerance at national nonprofit the Working Group. She also teaches online courses on bullying prevention for the University of San Diego. Becki worked in educational settings for over 35 years as a teacher and administrator. She co-authored the book Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn with Dr. Dorothy Steele. The book was published by Corwin Press.

Countering Stereotype Threat


Reprinted from Teaching Tolerance

Submitted by Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas on April 7, 2015

Blogs and Articles: Classroom Practice Prejudice Reduction
Editor’s Note: This blog is the second in a three-part series that links three important ideas—implicit bias, stereotype threat and identity safety—all backed by research.

Most teachers want to be fair to each student. How many times have you heard educators say, “I treat everyone the same”? But is this even possible—or desirable? When we ignore differences, even in the absence of overt negative stereotypes, implicit bias is still at play—and there is another detrimental force that can flourish under the surface: stereotype threat.

Stereotype threat theory states that people from negatively stereotyped groups may fear being “judged or treated in terms of the stereotype or that [they] might do something that would inadvertently confirm it.”[1] In other words, individuals may worry that they’ll in some way confirm that negative stereotype, and this worry has been found to lower performance.[2]

How Does Stereotype Threat Work?

Over 300 studies involving people of all ages who are subject to a range of different stereotypes (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, age) have consistently shown the power of stereotypes to negatively impact all kinds of performance, depending on the stereotype.

Researchers have found, for example, that awareness of the negative stereotype that black and Latino students are less intelligent than white and Asian students can actually negatively affect performance levels in black and Latino students. In one study, black and white students were given the same test. When the test was described as a game, the students performed equally well. But when it was described as a test of ability, students of color scored lower.

In another study, black students were broken into two groups and given a test. One group was told to write their name and ethnicity on the top of the page. The other group wasn’t. Those who wrote their ethnicity at the top did not perform as well. Similar results occurred in studies when women were asked to identify their sex on math tests and senior citizens were asked to identify their age on memory tests.

As discussed in the first blog in this series, breaking down negative stereotypes is one important way to reduce the prejudices that lead to unconscious prejudice and racism. And the same effort will also counter stereotype threat. To tackle negative stereotypes in the classroom and schools, here are some suggestions:

1. Reflect on Ourselves

It is important that we take time to reflect and ask ourselves difficult questions. How have we inadvertently absorbed some of the negative stereotypes that surround us? Try to notice the stereotypes you see and hear in your daily life from the media and from your personal encounters. Have you heard any in the staff room? A common one is using the phrase “those kids” as a code that separates the speaker from—usually—low-income students or students of a specific identity group, implying that they are a problem.

2. Address Negative Stereotypes in the Moment

As soon as you hear a negative stereotype in your classroom, name it. If you are short on time, do it quickly and then come back for a deeper dive later. Teach the students the definition of a stereotype (with younger children, you can use the word “label”). Do it respectfully; your goal is to raise awareness, not to humiliate the person who used the stereotype.

3. Have Conversations About Negative Stereotypes

Even when stereotypes do not emerge from the students, they are found everywhere in literature, curricular materials and current-events articles. This provides a great opportunity to open the discussion of negative stereotyping with students. For example, you might tell younger students, “Whether it is trucks or dolls, in our class, toys and games can be used by both boys and girls.”

Media literacy activities work too. As a running assignment, ask students to point out stereotypes they find in books or movies and discuss them as a class.

4. Use Events and Activities to Reduce the Power of Stereotypes

In Oakland, California, a Harley Davidson motorcycle club volunteered to lead a Not In Our School bullying prevention assembly. At first, my own stereotyping came into play. I wondered if any school would want to invite bikers. It ended up being a very eye-opening experience.

At the assembly, besides taking a stand against bullying, the bikers decided to teach about stereotypes and asked students, “What did you think when you met us?”

“We thought you were mean,” said one boy.

“Tough guys,” said another.

One biker told the students that he played Barbies with his grandchild. Another said that she was a tax accountant. The point? Don’t make assumptions about people based on their appearances.

Small-scale activities can also be effective in reducing the power of stereotypes. A middle school in San Francisco asked each student to write about how they do not fit a certain stereotype on a strip of paper. One boy wrote, “I wear a hoody, but I am not a gangster.” Then all the strips were posted so others could think about how stereotypes influenced their peers. In another activity, Dissolving Stereotypes, students wrote stereotypes that have hurt them on a slip of rice paper, put them into a pool of water and watched them disappear.

5. Recognize that Breaking Down Stereotypes Liberates Us All

Breaking down stereotypes through dialogue and activities sends a clear message that negative stereotypes do not define us or our communities. Countering stereotype threat requires going a step further and embracing our unique identities and differences as assets to us. By fostering these beliefs, we create “identity safety,” a sense that our identities have value and that diversity is a true resource for learning.

Creating identity safety will be the topic of the third blog in this series.

Cohn-Vargas is director of Not In Our School and co-author of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn.

[1] Steele, Spencer and Aronson

[2] Dovidio and Gaertner

Creating a Welcoming and Intellectually Challenging Classroom: Edutopia Article by Suzie Boss about our book “Identity Safe Classrooms, Places to Belong and Learn”


Creating a Welcoming and Intellectually Challenging Classroom
AUGUST 29, 2014
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As you set up your classroom for the new school year, try spending a few minutes in your students’ chairs. Are you comfortable? Now look closer: Will the seating arrangement invite conversations between students, or keep them isolated? What do you notice about what’s on display around the room? Will students see themselves and their families reflected in the diversity of images and books?

Are whiteboards, laptops, and other tools for learning within reach for students, or reserved for the teacher? Any other clues that you’re entering a space where all learners will feel welcome, safe, trusted, and curious about their world?

Veteran educators Dorothy M. Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas offer this simple but powerful suggestion to build a more inclusive, equitable environment for learning: “Look at life in the classroom every day from the perspective of each of the students.” They have coined the term “identity safe classroom” to describe learning environments where every child feels welcome and eager to learn. This isn’t just feel-good talk. Building an identify safe classroom offers a deliberate strategy to reach students who feel alienated from school because of repeated failure, heavy-handed discipline, or negative stereotypes.

Their book, Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn (Corwin, 2013), offers thoughtful advice, grounded in research and practice, that’s worth considering throughout the school year. Steele, an early childhood educator, is former executive director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University. Cohn-Vargas, currently director of Not In Our School, has been both teacher and principal during her 35 years in education.

The authors’ field-tested suggestions deserve special attention early in the year when you and your students have a fresh start on building a positive classroom culture.

Supporting Student Voice and Collaboration
If you’re planning to give project-based learning (PBL) a try this year, you’ll benefit from their suggestions to encourage student voice and collaboration — key ingredients for effective PBL. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Aim high: Warm and safe doesn’t mean easy. Set high expectations for all learners, the authors advise, and then provide necessary scaffolding to ensure that each student is working toward mastery.

Foster collaboration: Encourage collaboration rather than competition so that students benefit from peer feedback and help each other improve. If students are new to teamwork, start by having them work in pairs. Model what it means to be an active, respectful listener. Reinforce norms about resolving conflicts respectfully. That’s different from expecting your classroom to be a conflict-free zone.

Cultivate diversity as a resource: Cultivating diversity is not the same as taking a colorblind approach to teaching. The authors suggest drawing on students’ diverse backgrounds through music, literature, language, and current events. Foster critical thinking to help students analyze negative and stereotypical messages, in school and in the wider world. Don’t shy away from hard conversations about race and culture. Avoid what the authors call a “tourist” curriculum, which reduces multiculturalism to a tour of holidays. Invest time early in the year to learn about students’ diverse interests, talents, and backgrounds, and then incorporate this information as you plan projects. This will reinforce the message that students’ diverse experiences are classroom assets.

Listen for student voice: To develop their confidence as learners, students need regular opportunities to share their thoughts, make decisions, and reflect on their classroom experiences. That’s why the authors suggest strategies to amplify student voice. With regular opportunities to formulate ideas, explain their point of view, and elaborate on the ideas of others, students “feel the importance of their participation,” according to Steele and Cohn-Vargas. Peer feedback, common in PBL, is one of many ways to amplify student voice in the learning experience.

The authors also suggest rotating classroom roles, such as a “greeter” who welcomes visitors, or giving students a say when it comes to managing their own behavior. They share an example of a girl who learned to manage her restlessness by taking two-minute relaxation breaks in the library, whenever she needed them.

Promote autonomy: A classroom that promotes autonomy gives students room to make choices and take responsibility for their learning. Encourage autonomy by involving students in setting norms and reflecting on their progress. Use class meetings as opportunities for students to solve problems for themselves. As you gradually release responsibility to students, they will see themselves as capable people who can “make something happen,” the authors report. This goes hand-in-hand with PBL practices. At the end of a successful project, teachers often say they see students “standing a little taller.” It’s an apt metaphor for students developing autonomy and growing as learners.

What steps are you planning to ensure that your students feel welcome, safe, and intellectually challenged in your classroom this year? Please share your strategies in the comments.



Trayvon Martin: The Wakeup Call to End Stereotype Threat


Trayvon Martin: The Wakeup Call to End Stereotype Threat

APRIL 24, 2012 (reprinted from Edutopia)

While some who hear the term “identity safety” automatically think it means protection against identity theft, that actually serves as a good analogy. A colorblind environment, where differences are left “at the door” is a form of identity theft.

At Not In Our Town, we have been looking deeper at the implications of stereotyping and profiling that led to the killing of Trayvon Martin. We are probing not only deeply held bigoted attitudes that contribute to acts of bullying and hate, but also more subtle, equally devastating educational achievement and opportunity gaps. They both stem from the same sources: a lack of acceptance and inclusion coupled with unfair stereotypes. We have been examining the concepts of stereotype threat and identity safety as two powerful concepts that not only offer insight into these problems, but point to solutions.

Stereotype Threat: Deep-Seated Negative Expectations

In his book, Whistling Vivaldi, renowned social psychologist and Stanford University Dean of Education Claude Steele discusses his theory of stereotype threat. He writes about how he learned he was black as a seven-year-old in Chicago during the 1950’s. He discovered that he could only go to the swimming pool one afternoon a week because he was black. That, says Steele, was his first “encounter” with the racial order of the time. Steele describes the “conditions of life tied to identity” that change as times change, but nevertheless consist of what social psychologists call contingencies that go with identity.

We all have multiple contingencies that make up each of our identities: our age, race, religion and gender, to name a few. Steele describes the tremendous hold these contingencies have over people’s psyches, a hold so strong that the person stereotyped is adversely affected even by being afraid to confirm a negative stereotype. This fear of possibly confirming a negative stereotype is what Steele dubbed “stereotype threat.”

“If you have to deal with things in situations because you have a certain identity, that identity will be important to you,” he wrote. “Most psychologically impactful identity contingencies are those that in some way threaten the individual.”

That threat is illustrated in Whistling Vivaldi. The book’s title came from New York Times journalist Brent Staples, who described his experience as a college student.

“I became an expert in the language of fear, couples locked arms or reached for each other’s hands when they saw me. Some crossed to the other side of the street . . . . I tried to be innocuous but did not know how. . . . I began to avoid people. I turned out of the way to side streets to spare them the sense that they were being stalked . . . . Out of nervousness, I began to whistle and discovered I was good at it . . . . I whistled the Beatles and Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons.’ The tension drained from people’s bodies when they heard me.”(Watch Dr. Claude Steele read from and discuss the book.)

Steele writes that “Staples was dealing with a phantom, a bad stereotype about his race, that young African American males in this neighborhood are violence prone.” When Staples whistled classical music, he was trying to dispel the stereotypes about him. The example demonstrates the psychological toll borne by all African American men in a society that fears them. In Staples’ case, the whistling worked. Trayvon Martin was not so lucky.

Perhaps stereotype threat caused Trayvon to tell his girlfriend that he was afraid but not sure he should run, because by running he would confirm a negative stereotype or provoke a response. Black youth describe being followed in convenience stores or being pulled over or frisked by police repeatedly; the experience is pervasive.

It is part of our biological imperative to categorize and stereotype, and it is natural to be affected by stereotypes about us. Steele demonstrated this in a famous experiment where African American students were placed in two groups. One group was told their intelligence was being tested, the other group was asked to give feedback on the exam questions.

While both groups had matched achievement levels, those who thought their intelligence was being tested performed worse. This research has been replicated many times with different forms of stereotyping, always resulting in the same conclusion each time: fear of confirming a negative stereotype impacts performance, whether it is older individuals who are stereotyped for losing their memory or women stereotyped for not being good at math. In each case, when the stereotype is salient, the person’s performance goes down. A whole international field of study of stereotype threat has emerged. But what of the solution?

Identity Safety: An Antidote to Stereotype Threat

Steele not only wanted to pose the problem, he wanted to find solutions. He proposed counteracting the power of the stereotypes by “inoculating” a person with a sense that his or her identity has value and is an asset not only to themselves, but to the world.

Along with his wife Dorothy Steele and other colleagues, Steele coined the term “identity safety” and tested it in 80 classrooms. They found that when students were in an environment where they felt valued, where their identities and ideas were considered to be a resource, where they could develop positive relationships and it was assumed they would achieve, their performance and liking of school improved. In addition, the negative consequences of stereotyping and stereotype threat were reduced.

The Trayvon Martin murder has woken all of us up to the fact that we do not live in a colorblind society. Stereotypes and stereotype threat are alive and well. Prompted by Trayvon’s story, recording artist Donna Summer described her own experiences being profiled. She captured the urgency of waking up to the tragedy of letting these stereotypes go unchecked when she said:

“We need to hear those bone-chilling screams and the shot that killed Trayvon seconds later. Yes, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare come true. But it mightfinally wake up the whole world.

Let us hope that the world does wake up to the need for identity safety and create environments where students of all backgrounds feel valued, accepted and included, and where they are free from debilitating stereotypes and stereotype threat.

You can learn more about this problem and its solution by visiting

Racial Profiling: Not In Our Country


“Young black men know that in far too many settings they will be seen not as individuals, but as the ‘other,’ and given no benefit of the doubt. . . . Society’s message to black boys — ‘We fear you and view you as dangerous” — is constantly reinforced. . . .  Even those who keep their distance from this deadly idea are at risk of losing their lives to it. The death of Trayvon Martin vividly underscores that danger.”

—Brent Staples, New York Times   

Art on a Santa Monica, Calif., street in reaction to the killing in February of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager.Street art in reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Source: New York Times

By Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director
What are the collective costs for us in a society that stands silent when its own children are targeted? Let’s work together to find solutions.
Profiling is alive and well. It is a kind of shorthand that allows us to dehumanize young black and brown men, and we have just seen it lead to a deadly chain of events in the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. The costs are high for every family whose men live in the shadow of profiling. Mothers fear for their children’s lives, black and brown men of all social classes are routinely stopped by the police. Our whole society pays a price of fear, inequality, and the polarization we are seeing now in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial verdict.
At Not In Our School, we have taken on the challenge of finding solutions. We begin by exploring the phenomenon of stereotype threat and stereotyping. We believe the key to making change is opening dialogue and sharing stories to build bridges of understanding. We also believe in working to create identity-safe and inclusive environments and work together to change the underlying systemic barriers that have existed throughout this country’s history.
We offer some films and tools to help schools and communities get started.
Dr. Claude Steele Speaks About Stereotype Threat:
Many African-American men go to great lengths to counteract the pernicious stereotypes to avoid being profiled. One such example was journalist Brent Staples, who whistled Vivaldi when he walked down a street at night to ease any tensions (Steele, 2009). Claude Steele, Dean for the School of Education at Stanford University reflects that “this is something that Trayvon Martin didn’t really have an opportunity to do in those final horrible closing moments of his life, was to somehow reveal ….to Zimmerman who built up in his own mind from the stereotype, a sense of being under life-and-death threat. If Trayvon had a chance to be seen, he could have maybe punctured the stereotype and would be alive today. But under the circumstances, all that didn’t happen, and you get a particularly tragic eventuation of a stereotype.”
Steele and his colleagues spent years studying the causes and effects of stereotyping and discovered that, even when stereotypes are not uttered aloud, the phenomenon of stereotype threat, which is the fear of confirming a negative stereotype, can be a stigma that affects attitudes and behaviors. These ideas are very important to Not In Our School because our core principles focus on creating safe, inclusive and accepting environments, free from stereotypes, bullying, and intolerance.  In this interview Dr. Steele explains the concept of stereotype threat and its antidote “identity safety.”
Silent Beats: Let’s Examine Our Own Prejudices
Here is a short film that challenges our assumptions on profiling. Use it to open dialogue on profiling in your school and in your town.
Join The Movement to End Racial Profiling
The following groups joined to help create a dialogue and curriculum on profiling: NAACPNot In Our Town/Not in Our SchoolNEATeaching Tolerance/Southern Poverty Law CenterThe Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under LawAmerican Federation of Teachers (AFT), Human Rights Educators of the USA (HRE-USA) Network, and Facing History and Ourselves.
Racial Profiling Tools for Educators, Parents and Administrators
Tips for youth on how to interact during encounters with law enforcement