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Claude M. Steele

Claude M. Steele

Claude M. Steele, whose research revolutionized our understanding of how stereotypes influence group performance from academics to athletics, will deliver Tufts University’s commencement address on May 19.

Steele is the I. James Quillen Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University. Previously, he served as the 21st provost of Columbia University, as well as a professor of psychology there.

Over two decades, Steele has researched the myriad ways in which negative stereotypes have influenced academic, professional and personal performance and helped develop strategies for overcoming the damaging behavioral effects of such stereotypes.

“A rigorous, innovative and creative social scientist, Dr. Steele has uncovered new truths about difficult social issues,” says President Anthony P. Monaco. “His scholarship exemplifies how academic inquiry can have profound positive impacts on society and the challenges we encounter daily. This is the kind of impact we at Tufts believe should be at the core of higher education.”

While Steele’s early work focused on why African-American and other minority students seemed to do poorly at large research universities, he found that virtually all groups suffer from some negative stereotyping and that pressure to overcome a stereotype affects cognitive performance.

Steele was able to refute the prevailing notion of the 1990s that the problem of academic underperformance among African Americans stemmed from the black students themselves and such issues as poor motivation, lack of family values or social and economic deprivation. Instead, he found that racial minorities, women and others would test on par with their traditionally more successful white male counterparts if language that triggered a stereotype were removed from the test instructions.

He has received many academic honors and published in numerous scholarly journals. His recent book, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, was published in 2010. He was educated at Hiram College and at Ohio State University, where he received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1971.

At commencement, to be held at 9 a.m. on the academic quad of Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, Steele will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Five other distinguished men and women will also receive honorary degrees:

Lois Gibbs is an environmental activist. As a 27-year-old homemaker, Gibbs discovered that her child’s school was built on the toxic chemical dump that came to be known as Love Canal. Gibbs’ local organizing efforts led to the presidential emergency declaration that moved 833 families from the area. Gibbs founded and is executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, which assists grassroots educational efforts about toxic chemicals and children’s vulnerability to environmental exposures. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Gibbs will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Philip Lampi is a historian. Lampi’s work could change the way historians teach and write about the politics of early America. Without training, a college degree or funding beyond his own modest resources, Lampi traveled the country to gather the single most complete record of early American election results ever compiled. He is now the driving force behind the New Nation Votes Project, the most significant database of early American voting records in existence, sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society, Tufts University and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lampi will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Raymond R. Sackler is a psychiatrist, entrepreneur and international philanthropist. Sackler has for decades supported theoretical and applied research in mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry and biomedicine through research grants, lectureships, professorships and institutional support at leading universities. With brothers Arthur and Mortimer Sackler, he endowed Tufts University’s Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundations have endowed more than a dozen academic centers and laboratories in the United States and several in Europe. He is a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur; Honorary Knight Commander, Order of the British Empireand Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau, The Netherlands. He will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Ram Shrestha, N90, is an internationally active nutritionist. Shrestha’s grassroots initiative to empower 50,000 women community health volunteers to distribute vitamin A capsules in his native Nepal helped halve the infant mortality rate there and significantly reduced night blindness in children and pregnant women. The international nutrition community considers this continuing project a model to scale up community-based health programs. Shrestha, a graduate of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, was named a global health hero by Time magazine in 2005 and received the Best Practices in Global Health 2000 award from the Global Health Council. He will receive an honorary doctor of science degree.

Aso Tavitian is a philanthropist and business leader. The co-founder and former CEO of Syncsort, a privately held global technology company, he has long been an active supporter of higher education. His philanthropic initiatives include the Tavitian Foundation, the Tavitian Library at the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Armenian Program at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, which trains Armenian diplomats and government officials. Tavitian will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

In addition, on May 18 Stephen Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School and former ambassador to the Republic of Korea, will address Fletcher graduates during their Class Day ceremonies. This summer Bosworth will step down as dean of the school after 12 years.