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White Male Advantage

March 1, 2011

In numerous discussions of diversity in higher education, one topic is the desire of many minority students to work with scholars who share their backgrounds and serve as role models.

A new study from the American Sociological Association offers an unusual perspective on the advantage that may exist in some cases for minority students who have a white male dissertation adviser. The association recently conducted an analysis of participants in its Minority Fellowship Program, which provides support to top minority doctoral students in sociology. Most of the recipients are black and Latino, with some awards going to Asians as well. Women make up 63 percent of the group.

The study found that of those fellowship winners with white male dissertation advisers, 37 percent landed faculty jobs at research universities -- jobs that many Ph.D.s want and that are very difficult these days for most to get. Of those who had all other dissertation advisers (white women, minority men or minority women), only 7 percent landed such jobs.

Further, the association found some evidence (not yet conclusive) that those minority fellows who had white male dissertation advisers ended up publishing more than those with other kinds of advisers.

The findings are a bit sensitive for the association. Roberta M. Spalter-Roth, director of research at the ASA, said that she presented the findings recently at a meeting of the Eastern Sociological Association, to an audience that largely consisted of black women, and received considerable pushback. She said that the minority women in the audience said that white male advisers "may or may not encourage you to do the kind of research that you want to do, and secondly that they may not know about the research done by other minorities in the field."

Further, Spalter-Roth cited reasons that might explain the greater career success for those minority individuals with white male advisers than with other kinds of advisers. While sociology is diversifying, the most senior ranks are still dominated by white men -- and these longtime scholars are well-connected and have lots of experience helping grad students find good positions, she said.

Spalter-Roth said that the association did not want people to think that the findings suggest that minority doctoral students "should forget everything else and find a white male mentor. We don't want people to think it's bad to have a minority mentor." At the same time, she said the study suggested that there are white male scholars who are in fact advancing the careers of minority doctoral students in sociology.

The study was conducted by Spalter-Roth, her ASA colleagues Olga V. Mayorova and Jean H. Shin, and Patricia E. White of the National Science Foundation.

 

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