What’s in a Name? Racial Identity & Academic Expectations

By Dr. Gina Haughton — Have you ever wondered how you received your name?

I am currently nine months pregnant, and my husband and I have been back and forth feverishly thinking about a name for our baby boy. I think your name says a lot about you and is an identifying factor in which others often make presumptions about you, particularly about your racial identity.  Throughout my teaching career, I have always been curious about my students’ names, and I know they have been curious about mine.

Now that online education has become more popular, I find myself interested in what my students might look like based on solely on their name. One might argue that when you are teaching online, the racial identity of students no longer matters and that it is probably the answer to eliminating bias when grading online students.

I wanted to know what would happen to the scores of names associated with certain racial identities so I decided to explore and research this topic about three years ago when I began working on my dissertation.

I decided to design a quantitative study to see how instructors would grade online posts written by online students only being able to see the student names. The findings demonstrated that in each trial, when the student online post was assigned a name that was associated with a student that was Black, the score was statistically significantly higher than the student online post of that which was associated with the student that was White. Even when the online post should have been scored lower, it was scored higher when assigned the Black sounding name.

Are we giving all students the grades that they earned or are we assigning “pity points” and lowering our expectations for certain students?

What does this mean for teachers?
We need to implement high expectations for all students. Being able to visually see and connect with students in online courses when teaching or implementing curriculum is essential to building relationships and student success; however, when assessing online work, anonymity is best.

So, the question becomes: How do we eliminate the bias in online teaching while keeping our high standards in tact?


HaughtonDr. Gina Haughton, Ph.D. is presently an Assistant Professor at Cardinal Stritch University serving in the Master of Arts in Teaching program as the regional chair for the Madison, WI Campus.  She teaches methods courses which involve lesson planning, effective instruction, assessment, and field work.

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