Resetting and renewing approaches to student support: reflecting on personal bias

While reading Stephan Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man (1981) which focused on racial and cultural biases that were taken as fact due to “scientific research” that was not challenged and was taken as pure fact during the 1700 and 1800’s.  Further, through the readings of Medicine Stories (1998).  I found myself posing two questions. 1. Am I’m biased in the approach I take working with my students?  2. Are the actions and interventions I am implementing with my colleagues helping the student, or actually fixing the problem?  When looking at the former, I know that I am not looking to disenfranchise a population of people that could be inferred through Gould (1981) The Mismeasure of Man, rather that I have some preconceived notions of backgrounds on my students and may not truly know the root of issues as suggested by Howard (2003). In my nine plus years of working in higher education, primarily in housing, at large public institutions and mid-sized private schools, I have had the opportunity to work with a large and diverse student population.  Throughout this time I have dealt with student issues pertaining to academics, behavior, adjustment and personal development.  I have always taken the approach that each student is an individual, I need to hear their story, only then can I begin to help them.  However after several years and multiple stories, I cannot but help to start categorizing and making assumptions about my students before even really hearing their complete story.  I contradict myself as it relates to one of the central tenets “rejection of deficit-based thinking” (Howard 2003, pg.197).  Now I know that students from diverse backgrounds and of lower socio-economic standing can achieve academically, but I also see these two factors as the root of the issue, not looking deeper into the individual. For instance, some colleagues and I have worked with a student that is from an underrepresented group, comes from low income and is first generation.  The student was struggling academically and was disengaged from peer groups.  Naturally conversations went towards helping the student get connected socially; perhaps through student groups, mentorship, etc., help the student learn study skills, and connect them with opportunities for employment, done and solved.  This was not the case though, I did not listen to the story, and I did not do a critical reflection of myself and the student.  After another colleague had the opportunity to talk (listen) to the student, we discovered the student to be from the foster system, providing for another family member, was hungry, and has a distrust in authority figures.  After reading Howard and Gould I had the gut check moment of how easy it is to fall into patterns, seeing a demographic, a university indicator score, a geographical location and say to myself, here is the issue and here is the solution, when in fact, this could be further from the truth. In Medicine Stories by Aurora Levins Morales, she talks about whom as the authority to tell stories, dictate what is and will become history and more importantly how people and groups can initiate change.  While some of the stories in the collection really made think about my own history, where I grew up and the influences/biases I was predisposed to think, I feel that through my education and interactions with others I can see the other sides and what is not being said.  This was a high moment for me, what grounded me was the reference to the feminist that is able to create equality and shared duties in her own home with her husband, although great for her, does not solve the overall problem in which she is committed too. I like to think that the work I do with the individual student is what I am supposed to be doing, however when looking at the overall theme of access, equity and impact, while the impact for that individual is great, the overall concept of equity and access to the whole, assuming that there is more than just the one student out there that needs help, I am failing.   I am able to help those that ask questions, are willing to talk, share and be open to assistance.  If I truly want to help students, I need to look at the bigger picture, the root of issues and look to solve from the onset, rather than from the after effects. Overall the readings were a reset for me, a reminder that there are plenty of personal bias and assumptions made by myself and others that have a lasting effect on the student populations we serve and are here to help.


Howard, T. C. (2003).  Culturally Relevant Pedagogy:  Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Levins-Morales, A. (1998).  Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Identity.  Cambridge: South End Press. Gould, S.J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. Shulman, L., Golde, C., Bueschel, A., & Garabedian, K. Reclaiming Education’s Doctorates: A Critique and a Proposal. Educational Researcher43, 25-32.

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I appreciate your honesty in recognizing that w are all socialized to see and respond to categories. This is the ultimate challenge of life, not just in education but in life, to break way from the socialization that relies on stereotypes and the meanings assigned to social group membership. I appreciate your courage.

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