Claude Mason Steele (born January 1, 1946) is an American social psychologist and currently the I. James Quillen Dean for the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, as well as Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Stanford.Previously, he served as the 21st Provost of Columbia University for two years, and before that, as a professor of psychology at various institutions for almost 40 years. He is best known for his work on stereotype threat and its application to minority student academic performance.His earlier work dealt with research on the self (e.g., self-image, self-affirmation) as well as the role of self-regulation in addictive behaviors.In 2010, he released his book, Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, summarizing years of research on stereotype threat and the underperformance of minority students in higher education.
Steele was born on January 1, 1946, to parents Ruth (social worker) and Shelby (truck driver) just outside of Chicago in Phoenix, Illinois, during the Civil Rights movement. Claude recalls his African-American family
(including his twin brother, Shelby and two other siblings) as being deeply interested in social issues and the civil rights movement, as these were very much on American minds at the time.Steele even remembers his father taking him and his brother to marches and rallies whenever possible. His father pushed him to achieve security in the context of securing employment, but Claude construed achievement as success in education.He enrolled at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, where he earned a B.A. in psychology in 1967.
At Hiram, Claude’s passion for reading novels naturally led to an interest in how the individual faces the social world. After being fully immersed in the Civil Rights movement and the issues of racial equality, rights, and the nature of prejudice as a child, Steele formed a desire to study these topics in a scientific manner; and was especially keen to discover their effects on social relationships and quality of life. Claude was inspired by African-American social psychologist Kenneth Clark’s TV appearance discussing the psychological implications of the 1964 race riots in Harlem, New York, which led to an excitement for doing behavioral research. Claude conducted early experimental research at Hiram College in physiological psychology (looking at behavioral motives in Siamese fighting fish) and social psychology (studying how African-American dialect among kids maintains ethnic/racial identity), where he worked under the mentorship of social psychologist, Ralph Cebulla. He then continued on to graduate school to study social psychology, earning an M.A. in 1969 and a Ph.D. in 1971 from the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, with a minor in statistical psychology. His dissertation work with faculty adviser Thomas Ostrom at Ohio State focused on attitude measurement and attitude change.