As the semester draws to a close, the all-too-familiar emails reminding me to fill in my course evaluations begin to pile in. If you are like me and it takes you forever to complete simple tasks, chances are that you get multiple of these emails spamming your inbox every day until, one day, you finally decide to sit down and finish them once and for all. You click through it quickly, answering the questions on autopilot without putting too much thought or effort into them, save for the especially passive-aggressive comment you leave for your least favorite professor.

However, you would be surprised to find that you might be unconsciously sexist in these course evaluations that you mindlessly complete. There has been substantial research that suggests that students tend to give their female professors lower reviews compared to their male peers regardless of their teaching quality, affecting the way in which they are evaluated by the institution.

I know what you’re thinking. As a woke Gen Z living in L.A. and attending a liberal university in 2021, there surely is no possible way I can be sexist, right? Not quite. We as students may be systematically perpetuating gender biases in our course evaluations without us being aware of it.

One way in which we may be contributing to this is how we may often expect our professors to adhere to gender norms. Studies have shown that male professors are rated higher when they exhibit masculine and intellectual traits, whereas female professors are evaluated better when they demonstrate stereotypically feminine traits. Due to the gender norms that we have and continue to perceive in society, we tend to penalize female professors when they do not display the stereotypical traits set up for them, such as sensitivity and care. On the other hand, the same system allows male professors to be recognized as more educated and qualified, and tend to be penalized less for being tough graders.

This implicit bias that has been embedded within us as students can also be seen in the language that we use to evaluate our professors. In a traditionally male-dominated field like academia, we unconsciously assume that men are more qualified than women. Often, such presumptions can be seen in how we label our professors — female professors are more likely to be referred to as “teacher” or “instructor” rather than “professor” by students in the comment sections, regardless of their competency.

What can also be seen in these comments and the language used in them is how reflections of professors by students tend to focus more on their personality, rather than the course itself — disproportionately so, for female faculty. Studies have shown that female professors and professors of color are much more likely to receive negative feedback on factors like their personality, mannerisms and professionalism, compared to white men in the same field.

Mikki Kressbach, assistant professor of film, television and media studies, described how we may be unknowingly taking part in this. “The different kinds of language that students use [puts] too much focus on personality in course evaluation,” she said. “Focusing on your instructor's personality can often lead to gender biases and particularly for women and people of color, there tends to be greater emphasis on did you like their personality versus the work that they’re actually doing.”

Why does this matter though, anyway? No way the course evaluations that I haphazardly complete at the end of the semester have any substantial impact, right? You’d be surprised to find that, actually, these seemingly performative questionnaires can directly impact how some professors are evaluated by the school.

Of course, LMU and other universities use multiple metrics to evaluate a professor's teaching, so these student course evaluations are not the end-all be-all assessment of them. However, they are used as one crucial source of evaluation that can affect decisions like who gets promoted or whose contract gets renewed.

“The University does use [course evaluation] as a metric to evaluate teaching still, particularly for junior faculty who are going up for tenure or for faculty who are on a rolling contract,” Kressbach said. “So particularly for faculty who are in untenured or adjunct or kind of temporary positions, they can have a real kind of financial impact on their jobs.”

While these evaluations often matter less to already established full-time professors with tenure — who are mostly white men — it affects new, young professors who are in temporary positions. Often it is women or people of color who are hired in these adjunct part-time positions instead of entering the tenure tracks, and, therefore, these course evaluations have the most impact on those who are already in vulnerable positions to begin with.

Kressbach noted how this affects the professors’ mentality. “I think there is this fear when you don't have tenure, when you don't have this stable position — you do feel a little bit threatened by those course evaluations, even though you know rationally that that's not the only way your teaching is being evaluated,” she said.

So what can we as students going in to fill in these course evaluations do to combat this, and actively make sure we are not being gender-biased in our evaluations?

One thing to begin with is just being aware of the fact that you may be enforcing gender biases in your evaluations. Studies have shown that although not consistent, for the most part when students were warned about the potential biases that they may be inflicting, it reduced biases in faculty rating and comments. Therefore, it is critical for us while we complete the evaluations to be hyper-aware of if we may be projecting gender norms or stereotypes, and ensure that we are assessing the course content itself, rather than anything personal about the professor.

“I would think really hard about the work that your instructors are doing. Really think about the logistics of a course and focus on the work that you saw your professors doing to anything, from were assignments well explained, did you receive feedback? That's really speaking to the labor of teaching,” Kressbach stated. “Think about how [you can] make criticisms that are constructive, because the actual purpose I think, for a lot of these course evaluations, is yes, the University uses them to evaluate teaching, but I think on a semester-to-semester level we as faculty are using them to adjust our classes and improve them in the future.”

Another thing to note is that similar biases can be seen against faculty members of color and faculty with disabilities. As stated previously, some research shows that Asian, Latinx and Black professors are rated lower than their white peers and face similar issues as female faculties. That being said, there is not enough research and there is a significant lack of data in this field, going to show how underrepresented these minorities are in higher education in the first place.

It is displeasing to find out that you may have been unknowingly sexist against your professors in your past course evaluations. This is by no means our fault, necessarily, but is a product of having grown up in a gender-biased society that has systematically taught us to make these assumptions. Going forward, it is critical that we are more aware of these implicit biases that we may be enforcing in ways that have direct consequences.

So when you finally decide to stop ignoring your seven unopened reminder emails and sit down to complete the course evaluations for your classes this semester, please keep this in mind and be aware of your gender biases.

This is the opinion of Yukana Inoue, a junior film, television and media studies major from Chiba, Japan. Email comments to Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.

Asst. Managing Editor

Yukana Inoue ('23) is a film, TV and media studies major from Chiba, Japan. She loves drinking boba, finding good food places and going to concerts.

(1) comment

Ronald Slater

A new Politico poll shows that just 2 percent of Latinos refer to themselves as “Latinx,” the gender-neutral replacement for “Latino/Latina” that has taken root in many elite progressive circles over the course of the past few years. By contrast, 68 percent use “Hispanic,” and 21 percent use the gendered “Latino/Latina” to describe their ethnic identity.

This is not the first poll to show that “Latinx” is remarkably unpopular with actual Hispanics. A November 2019 poll from the progressive ThinkNow Research showed just 2 percent of the demographic preferred the term. An August 2020 Pew poll showed that number hovering around 3 percent. The most favorable sample size in an August 2021 Gallup survey topped out at a whopping 5 percent.

A full 40% of respondents found the use of the term at least somewhat offensive.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.