Stanford scholars examine racism, social change and how to build a more just future

The recent acts of violence perpetrated against Black communities has led many to question racism and racial injustice embedded in American society. Stanford scholars have been looking for ways to reduce racial disparities and how to create meaningful change.

The tragic deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky have shown the world how deeply embedded racial injustice and racism are in the social fabric of the United States.

These recent acts of violence have raised a set of complex and challenging questions about inequality in our society: Why are Black Americans repeatedly targeted by the police? What can be done to stop further atrocities against minority communities from occurring? As some protests against these deaths turn violent, are political protests and demonstrations an effective way to instigate change? How can we build a more just society?

These important questions are among the subjects of Stanford scholars’ work. Some researchers have worked with police agencies to develop recommendations for how officers can build safer and stronger relationships with the communities they serve. Others have examined what makes some political protests effective and why others turn violent. Researchers have also looked at how racial injustice cuts across other parts of society – such as schools and workplaces – and what can be done to reduce disparities. Here is some of that research and more.

Identifying bias in the police

Stanford social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt. has worked with police departments across the country to help them recognize implicit bias and understand racial disparities in policing. Her work with the Oakland Police Department, for example, resulted in 50 recommendations about how police agencies can build better relationships with the communities they serve.

Eberhardt’s work with the Oakland Police Department underscores how important data and transparency is for police agencies to identify specific problem areas and create evidence-based solutions.

“Our recommendations are broad but are anchored in our primary mission of pushing agencies to collect more data and to do more with the data they collect,” wrote Eberhardt in the report. “For many agencies, this will require a change in mindset: it requires seeing themselves not only as crime-fighting institutions but also as institutions of learning.”

Helping communities leverage better data between the police and the public are Sharad Goel, a professor of management science and engineering, and Cheryl Phillips, a computational journalist and lecturer at Stanford. Together, they founded the Stanford Open Policing Project, to help researchers, journalists, and policymakers investigate and improve interactions between police and the public.

Cops speak less respectfully to black community members

Professors Jennifer Eberhardt and Dan Jurafsky, along with other Stanford researchers, detected racial disparities in police officers’ speech after analyzing more than 100 hours of body camera footage from Oakland Police.

Stanford big data study finds racial disparities in Oakland, Calif., police behavior, offers solutions

Analyzing thousands of data points, the researchers found racial disparities in how Oakland officers treated African Americans on routine traffic and pedestrian stops. They suggest 50 measures to improve police-community relations.

Numbers about inequality don’t speak for themselves

In a new research paper, Stanford scholars Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt propose new ways to talk about racial disparities that exist across society, from education to health care and criminal justice systems.

Helping journalists use data for investigative reporting

Stanford University scholars are launching a data-driven initiative to help journalists find stories at a lower cost, to support local newsrooms explore public interest issues and fight against misinformation.

A ‘veil of darkness’ reduces racial bias in traffic stops

After analyzing 95 million traffic stop records, filed by officers with 21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police forces from 2011 to 2018, researchers concluded that “police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias.”

Race and mass criminalization in the U.S.

Stanford sociologist discusses how race and class inequalities are embedded in the American criminal legal system.

Raising awareness and creating change

As protest erupts across the country, what makes some demonstrations more effective than others? Stanford sociologist Robb Willer is studying what causes certain social protests to be successful and others to backfire. For example, he studied violent confrontations between white nationalist protesters and anti-racist counter-protesters in both Charlottesville, Virginia, and Berkeley, California, and found that violence by anti-racist protesters can lead people to view them as unreasonable, which may, in turn, lead to people identifying less with the group.

Willer, a professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Graduate School of Business (GSB), also found that when anti-racists turn their protest into violence it can backfire even further: In some cases, it can even result in support for the other side.

Some of Willer’s colleagues in GSB have also studied what makes social movements successful. For example, Sarah A. Soule, the Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior, has studied how social movements are more effective when they are part of coordinated efforts with legislators. 

“With the rise of the internet,” Soule said, “modern movements can mobilize constituents through their websites and social media. If your end goal is to get 500,000 people to turn up on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Twitter is great at that. Facebook is great at that. But if your goal is to actually make lasting change in the system, you have to work within the system – to essentially get a seat at the table.”

How violent protest can backfire

When a protest group with strong public support turns violent, people may perceive them as less reasonable. In turn, this leads people to identify with them less, and ultimately become less supportive, according to a new study by Stanford sociologist Robb Willer.

It takes more than mass protests to drive change

Those large-scale protests on everything from climate change to wealth inequality make for engaging news segments. But do they result in real change? It turns out social advocacy organizations have greater impact on federal legislation when their experts get to testify.

Robb Willer: The powerlessness paradox

Researchers find that feeling powerless can lead people to support systems that disadvantage them.

Seven factors contributing to American racism

Of the seven factors the researchers identified, perhaps the most insidious is passivism or passive racism, which includes an apathy toward systems of racial advantage or denial that those systems even exist.

Where do advocates come from?

A strong sense of conviction can both encourage and discourage people from speaking out.

How protests can swing elections

A new study shows that both liberal and conservative protests have had a real impact on U.S. House elections.

A better way to diffuse racial discrimination

Research shows why understanding the source of discrimination matters.

Building a more just future

Overcoming racial injustice requires a critical examination of how it cuts across different sectors of society, such as in the workplace and in schools. 

Sean Reardon, a professor in the Graduate School of Education, has looked closely at how poverty intersects with the educational achievement gap. While racial segregation is a major indicator of educational inequality, Reardon’s research has also shown the impact of attending impoverished schools on Black and Hispanic students.

“It’s not the racial composition of the schools that matters. What matters is when Black or Hispanic students are concentrated in high-poverty schools in a district,” said Reardon, who has set up the Educational Opportunity Project to help other researchers identify solutions in their areas to reduce educational disparities throughout the U.S.

Meanwhile, other researchers have shown how academic achievement can be hindered in other ways. For example, Claude Steele, a professor of psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences, found that even if students are well-prepared, negative stereotypes can affect how they perform. 

School is not the only setting where stereotyping results in devastating consequences. Stanford research has also shown how it leads to hiring discrimination and underfunded companies, among other problems.

New evidence shows that school poverty shapes racial achievement gaps

Racial segregation leads to growing achievement gaps – but it does so entirely through differences in school poverty, according to new research from education Professor Sean Reardon, who is launching a new tool to help educators, parents and policymakers examine education trends by race and poverty level nationwide.

Access to program for black male students lowered dropout rates

New research led by Stanford education professor Thomas S. Dee provides the first evidence of effectiveness for a district-wide initiative targeted at black male high school students.

Science lessons through a different lens

In his new book, Science in the City, Stanford education professor Bryan A. Brown helps bridge the gap between students’ culture and the science classroom.

Toolkits help tackle real-world problems

A lab in the Psychology Department at Stanford has created a set of free toolkits to help people resolve complicated issues, including resources to help people deal with disagreements.

Stereotyping makes people more likely to act badly

Even slight cues, like reading a negative stereotype about your race or gender, can have an impact.

Race influences professional investors’ judgments

In their evaluations of high-performing venture capital funds, professional investors rate white-led teams more favorably than they do black-led teams with identical credentials, a new Stanford study led by Jennifer L. Eberhardt finds.

How emotions may result in hiring, workplace bias

Stanford study suggests that the emotions American employers are looking for in job candidates may not match up with emotions valued by jobseekers from some cultural backgrounds – potentially leading to hiring bias.

Racial disparities in school discipline are linked to the achievement gap between black and white students nationwide

Research using a Stanford database of test scores from all U.S. public schools is the first to document the relationship at a national level.

Teaching difficult histories

Michael Hines talks about why students need to hear their own stories reflected in history books and classes.

Reducing racial disparities in school discipline

Stanford psychologists find that brief exercises early in middle school can improve students’ relationships with their teachers, increase their sense of belonging and reduce teachers’ reports of discipline issues among black and Latino boys.