“This professor is competent, nurturing, and really cares for students. They always welcome questions and are mindful of how students are doing in the coursework.”
What gender comes to mind when you read this review?
If it was female, you’re not alone. Language surrounding gender is complicated and reflects something important about the roles we assign to specific people based on their appearance and perceived gender. As a university that tries to eliminate the biases we often see at other institutions, we unfortunately can’t put ourselves high above anyone else.
As our features story this week reveals, we students use different words more frequently for male and female professor evaluations, especially if the professor being evaluated is non-white or does not speak English as a first language. There is some selection bias determining who writes the reviews seen on Rate My Professors. Generally, people review professors they hate or love; this doesn’t excuse the difference is how female vs. male professors are described, however.
Reflections of gender bias can also be seen in end-of-quarter course evaluations. Implicit biases are common, and even the most culturally aware and justice-minded people aren’t immune (side note on justice: even though it’s helpful for analysis’ sake, the language we used to describe how different professors are assessed also reinforces the gender binary, which is important to be aware of). As students, we can try to be aware of our own implicit judgments and be conscious of how our actions and perceptions can affect the people we talk about. Language is heavily linked to perception; changing how we communicate about people can help to change some of our hidden biases.
Alyssa Brandt is a senior and lead designer who loves all things brain-related. She likes illustrating and sugary cereals, and will eventually go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in neuroscience.