Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Science of Diverse Communities

SOC 179N

This seminar is an exploration. Most generally, its aim is to identify distinguishing features of good diverse communities and articulate them well enough to offer principles or guidelines for how to design and manage such communities—all with a particular focus on educational communities such as schools, universities, academic disciplines, etc., but with the hope that such principles might generalize to other kinds of organizations and the broader society. The readings range from those on the origins of human communities and social identities to those on intergroup trust building. They also aim to embed our discussions in the major "diversity" issues of the day; for example, what’s in the news about campus life. Thus the course has a practical purpose: to develop testable ideas for improving the comfort level, fairness and goodness-for-all of "identity" diverse communities—especially in educational settings.

The course also has a basic science purpose: to explore the psychological significance of community. Is there a psychological need for community? Is there something about a need for community that can’t be reduced to other needs—for example, for a gender, racial, or sexual-orientation identity? How strong is the need for community—against other needs? What kinds of human grouping can satisfy it? In meeting this need, can membership in one community substitute for membership in others? What do people need from communities in order to thrive in them? Do strong diverse communities dampen intergroup biases? Can strong community loyalty mitigate identity tensions within communities? And so on. Such questions, the hope is, will help us develop a more systematic understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in diverse human communities.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Claude Steele

“How would you design a school, university or workplace so that people of different social identities—races, sexes, religions, sexual orientations, ages, social classes, etc.—would feel comfortable there together, like they were roughly on equal footing, like they could thrive there? Do psychology, the social sciences, and the humanities offer insights about how to do this? As a psychologist I have long researched the nature of social identities. (Stereotype threat is a concept that comes from this research.) This course is an invitation to join me in taking that work a step further by exploring how our society can benefit from our differences—enriching ourselves and our society—rather than suffering from them. The readings and discussions will address issues as close at hand as campus life and politics, and as large as the impact of inequality on our democracy and the quality of our institutions—all with an eye to how we can better things.”

Claude M. Steele is recognized as a leader in the field of social psychology. His book, Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, examines his theory of stereotype threat, which has been the focus of much of his research and the basis of many practical applications in education. Steele was educated at Hiram College and at Ohio State University, where he received his PhD in psychology. Professor Steele has served as provost at both Columbia University and UC Berkeley. After spending a substantial part of his career teaching at Stanford, he now holds an emeritus role as the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, Emeritus and I. James Quillen Endowed Dean for the Graduate School of Education, Emeritus.