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Avoiding (Un)Conscious Discrimination

Traditional patterns and roles (such as gender stereotypes) in teaching are reproduced in various conscious and unconscious ways. Here are some examples of stereotypes and discrimination:

  • Using discriminatory language; selecting discriminatory images and other learning material or course content
  • Assigning work based on stereotypical roles
  • Recognizing the same performance inconsistently
  • Granting trust and support unequally
  • Granting time and financial resources unequally, for example in access to doctoral programs
  • No provision for compensating for cases of hardship, such as non-EU students struggling to support themselves due to visa policy
  • Less frequent incorporation of certain people/groups into information networks
  • Imbalanced recommendations to potential employers
  • Lack of transparency regarding processes related to an academic career

The list goes on.

In these and other cases, lecturers are often not conscious of giving unequal treatment. Studies from as early as the 1980s showed that teachers who were instructed to divide their attention equally among boys and girls exhibited a glaring gap between self-perceptions (girls received preferential treatment) and objective measurements (girls continued to receive less attention than boys).

A study from the 2000s (Münst 2005) likewise concluded that lecturers in comparable classroom situations unintentionally:

  • Responded differently to female and male students
  • Created different conditions for male and female students
  • Modified agreed-upon procedures based on gender
  • Drew one-sided comparisons or refrained from comparisons based on gender
  • Used female students’ knowledge reserves without honoring their performance accordingly

These findings for gender could be replicated for other categories (such as racism or ableism). Reflecting on your own communication during teaching can help you unlearn subconscious differences in treatment.


Czock, Heidrun, Dominik Donges, und Susanne Heinzelmann. 2012. Diskriminierungsfreie Hochschule - Mit Vielfalt Wissen schaffen. Endbericht zum Projekt. Hrsg. Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes. Berlin.

Frank, Karsta. 2011. [1992] Sprachgewalt: Die sprachliche Reproduktion der Geschlechterhierarchie, Elemente einer feministischen Linguistik im Kontext sozialwissenschaftlicher Frauenforschung. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter

Münst, Agnes Senganata. 2005. Lehrstrukturen in natur- und ingenieurwissenschaftlichen Studienfächern und die Herstellung der Geschlechterhierarchie in Lehrprozessen. In Naturwissenschaft und Technik - (k)eine Männersache. Aktuelle Studien zur Förderung des weiblichen Nachwuchses in Naturwissenschaft und Technik, Hrsg. Diana Steinbrenner, Claudia Kajatin, und Eva-Maria Mertens, 103–112. Rostock: Koch.

Münst, Senganata. 2008. Hierarchie, Fachkompetenz und Geschlecht in Lehrveranstaltungen: Ergebnisse einer ethnographischen Teilnehmenden Beobachtung. In Perspektiven der Hochschulforschung, Hrsg. Karin Zimmermann, Marion Kamphans, und Sigrid Metz-Göckel, 179–196. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Version April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, this content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.