Michelle Liu, MBA Class of 2017
This is my second time involved in Stern’s Inclusive Leadership Day. The first time I was a giddy MBA1, and this time I moderated discussions for the incoming class. Stern is a diverse and welcoming environment where I often felt well-insulated from the gender and racial bias of the real world, but this year, and for the first time in a long time, I felt uncomfortable. I have less of a problem when you say something sexist or racist to my face, because we can call it out for what it is and address it. But when exclusion happens subtly and systematically, I find it more dangerous.
Two questionable things happened in my classes. First, one of my professors uses self-grading as part of the grade. When I mentioned to him that it is well-documented that women tended to rate themselves lower compared to men, I was surprised to hear that not only was he not aware of this, instead of offering to adjust for the inequity, he told me I should not worry because self-grading is only a small part of our grade. I know this is an attempt to help students learn, but there must be better ways to do so which does not perpetuate gender bias. I also believe that as a professor, there is a responsibility to know the full implications of “creative” grading methods.
Second, another professor consistently starts class with an update on college football, and for the first half of the semester, only called on students who attended those schools to perform live problems in class. If you attended college outside of the US, a liberal arts college or private university, or just do not follow college football for any reason (and this population skews female), this is a large part of the class conversation that you are left out of. It’s like a big inside joke only half of the class is in on. I’m aware anyone can become interested in college football, and there are plenty of women who are, but I would posit that if alternatively a professor began every class with a female-audience-skewed non-sequitur such as, say, trends in over-the-knee boots this season, there would be more grumblings from students.
Finally, I will draw on an example from daily life. I was taking the free Downtown Connection shuttle around Tribeca when a woman and her child got on the bus, demanded to know how many seats were left, and started yelling at the driver when he said he didn’t know, using phrases such as “you are not doing your job” and “I will report you.” She expected him to take his eye off the road, hold the bus still while he counted up the seats, and deliver this information to her. Again, this bus is free! To this day I regret not speaking up in defense of the driver. Is this one horrible person’s entitlement? Probably. But since this was in Tribeca, it also landed on racial lines. The driver was black, and the woman and majority of the passengers were white, as it so often is the case between those serving and being served in such a neighborhood.
None of the actors in these cases set out to be sexist or racist. In fact, I know the professors intended to make the class memorable and fun. But to perpetuate a known bias in in academic grading situation is wrong, and today’s professor-led college football conversation is tomorrow’s boys-only happy hour after work. I wish that in the academic setting, we can set an example for what should be in the real world. “Making future leaders” is more than just a marketing ploy for Stern. As for the last case of the entitled woman on the free shuttle, I did not need to come to Stern to know I should have stepped in and said something. Next time, I will. And I hope you will too.