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Student recruitment and stereotype threat

Studies conducted both locally (Dr Debra Shepherd from SU's Faculty of Economics) and internationally (African-American scholar, Claude Steele) indicate that stereotype threat hinders excellence in performance. Stereotype threat is defined as the influence that fear of failure can have in confirming the stereotypical views others have of the performer. Steele's studies show how negative announcements that female/black students generally perform poor in mathematics, followed by administration of a mathematics test, are linked to under-performance by that group in when compared to a control group who did not hear the announcement.

In higher education, the impact of stereotype threat can lead to loss of self-confidence and the inability to consider all available career options. In the South African context, we cannot ignore the reality that the educational landscape is not equal, making stereotype threat even more relevant among designated and minority groups. Addressing stereotype threat as it exists among prospective students (while they are still in the decision-making process) is critical for the promotion of diversity and inclusion at SU. The Centre for Student Recruitment (CSR) addresses this need by directing our activities at recruiting a more diverse student population, in line with the SU's broader focus on inclusivity.

​We believe that one of the best first steps in addressing stereotype threat is the provision of information to empower (and inspire) school learners with the knowledge needed to change their self-beliefs and futures. By providing knowledge, learners can be encouraged to dispel their feelings of 'not being good enough' for further education and taking action in terms of their career choices. Once learners realise that there are options, we can pave the way to excellence in education.​