Professors' Perceptions of Students' Academic Success based on Students' Race and Clothing Formality

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Weber, Marcela
Phillips-Pitts, CJ
Bardi, Al
Issue Date
Scholarship Sewanee 2011 , University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee , Undergraduate research , Academic success , Racial prejudice
First impressions often have lasting effects on perceptions of other people (Rule, Moran, et al. 2010, Rule & Ambady 2010). First impressions of physical appearance can even affect whether a person is hired for a job (Barrick et al. 2010, Rule & Ambady 2010), and the effects of appearance-based first impressions are equally critical in the academic sphere. Previous research shows that a variety of clothing- or race-based factors can influence a students’ academic success, based on students’ perceptions of race (Strayhorn 2010, Cook & Gibbs 2009, Murray et al. 2008), students’ perceptions of clothing (King 2008, Etherton & Workman 1996, Sebastian & Bristow 2008), teachers’ perceptions of race (Goldhaber 2010, Behling 1995, ), or teachers’ perceptions of clothing (Behling & Williams 1991, Behling 1995, Shimizu 2000, Cook & Gibbs 2009). We sought to address several areas that lacked previous research. First of all, research on the effects of students’ clothing styles on academic success was so outdated it was not applicable in the present day, because clothing trends have changed so much since Behling’s and Williams’ early-1990’s studies. Secondly, research on students’ clothing focused on various stereotypes, such as “preppy” and “artsy” (Behling 1995), rather than level of formality. Because Sebastian’s study found that the formality of professors’ clothing affected students’ perceptions and thereby academic success, we sought to measure whether students’ formality of dress affected professors’ perceptions as well. Previous research on the effects of race on academic success focused on student-teacher relationships (Goldhaber 2010, Cook & Gibbs 2009, Murray et al. 2008), students’ stereotypes of themselves (Strayhorn 2010, Okeke 2009), and teachers’ awareness of diversity (Cook & Gibbs 2009, Hollingsworth 2009). Our study aimed to measure the effects of professors’ racial prejudices and impressions of students’ clothing formality on the grades they expected of students. We hypothesized that professors would expect a higher potential Grade Point Average (GPA), a measure of higher academic success, from students of White racial background than from students of Black racial background, and from students dressed formally rather than from students dressed casually.