Stereotypes focus of 2012 Common Reading

Stereotypes and their effect on society are the subject of the book “Whistling Vivaldi,” the selection for Rice University’s 2012 Common Reading.

“The Common Reading program is really an effort to introduce new students to the academic life at Rice,” said Jaclyn Youngblood, a Martel College senior. “It’s sort of a first attempt to draw them into what intellectual conversations look like outside of the classroom.”

“A primary goal of the program is to show students how their Rice education can disrupt their thinking and thereby help them grow,” Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said. ”Our intent is that our students learn to think differently, to question assumptions, to challenge their own ideas and those of others. We selected the text ‘Whistling Vivaldi’ precisely because it is disruptive in its conclusions and is a great example of how an academic approach to a subject can be incredibly illuminating.”

In “Whistling Vivaldi,” author Claude Steele shares through a number of personal stories the experiments and studies that show how exposing subjects to stereotypes impairs their performance in the area affected by the stereotype. For example, telling a group of female math majors who are about to take a math test that women are considered naturally inferior to men at math might have a negative effect on their test results. The book offers insight into how people form their senses of identity and ultimately lays out a plan for mitigating the negative effects of “stereotype threat” and reshaping American identities.

“The concept of ‘stereotype threat’ as developed in ‘Whistling Vivaldi’ is one which should be of significant value to our students as they develop their individual identities and as they join and participate in a thriving intellectual community,” Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matt Taylor said. “The book should stimulate terrific discussions in our faculty-led groups during O-Week.”

Youngblood said the opportunity to have intense and fun discussions about academic and intellectual issues outside of the classroom is one of the great things about Rice.

“The Common Reading program tries to piggy back on this and give students a shared experience to talk about. They can come to Rice having read the same book and can have these conversations during O-Week and hopefully beyond O-Week,” she said.

Currently in its seventh year, Rice’s Common Reading program was established to welcome students to the Rice intellectual community, stimulate conversations across the campus community on pressing issues of the day and introduce new students to the critical inquiry, scholarship and civility they will encounter – and learn to practice – at Rice. The program includes faculty-led discussions and a lecture by the book’s author during O-Week. The Office of the Dean of Undergraduates sponsors the program.

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About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.