Eye of the Beholder: How Perception Management Can Counter Stereotype Threat Among Struggling Law Students
Christopher, Catherine Martin
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When individuals belong to a group about which there is a negative stereotype, their fear of confirming that stereotype will often suppress their performance ability. This phenomenon is known as “stereotype threat,” and it has been documented with regard to gender, race, age, social class, athletic ability, and any number of other classifications, so long as a negative stereotype exists about that group. Law students with low grade point averages (GPAs) are at greater risk that their higher-GPA peers of failing the bar exam, and they know it. Left unchecked, the pressure of this correlation—the stereotype threat—may itself depress their bar exam performance. Together with school-wide efforts, however, academic support programs and messages can be developed so as to diffuse the negative stereotype of low GPA resulting automatically in bar failure. This Article discusses how the bar exam can be reframed, its consistency emphasized, and other techniques to help move students away from the fear that struggling in law school means bar exam failure. The Article also discusses how law schools can create a positive stereotype for students participating in bar preparation programming, by manufacturing a sense of belonging to a group that is stereotyped to do well on the bar exam. Such positive affiliation may result in a “stereotype boost,” or overperformance compared with peers.