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Trust Networks: A New Perspective on Pedigree & the Ambiguities of Admissions

September 7, 2017 @ 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm EDT

Attending a selective college or university is one of the three strongest predictors of admission to graduate programs; however, access to these institutions is stratified by race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Broadening participation in graduate education and the professoriate requires a critical look at default judgments of college quality, which starts with understanding how judgments of pedigree are currently formed. In this talk, based on a paper in press with Review of Higher Education, speaker Julie Posselt will 1) discuss trust as a mechanism of social judgment, 2) propose individual and institutionalized trust networks as a framework for understanding preference for elite pedigrees and 3) present evidence from qualitative research that trust networks enable faculty to invest in the future of Ph.D. applicants whose relative merits are difficult to determine. She will close by highlighting selected efforts to broaden the trust networks affecting access to graduate education and the professoriate.

About the speaker

Dr. Julie Posselt is an assistant professor of higher education in the USC Rossier School of Education and a National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation postdoctoral research fellow. Rooted in sociological and organizational theory, her research program examines institutionalized inequalities in higher education and organizational efforts aimed at reducing inequities and encouraging diversity. She focuses on selective sectors of higher education— graduate education, STEM fields and elite undergraduate institutions—where longstanding practices and cultural norms are being negotiated to better identify talent and educate students in a changing society. Posselt is author of the book “Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping” (2016, Harvard University Press), which is based on an award-winning ethnographic study of faculty judgment in 10 highly ranked doctoral programs in three universities. Her other current work includes a multi-institutional comparative case study, funded by the Spencer Foundation, of organizational conditions and institutional practices in highly-ranked STEM graduate programs that have been successful enrolling and graduating women and students of color.

Posselt also holds a National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellowship for the first national study of graduate student mental health. This project identifies factors associated with depression and anxiety; investigates the roles of discrimination, competitiveness, and faculty support in graduate student wellbeing; and measures disparities within and across academic disciplines. She has published or has forthcoming research in the American Educational Research JournalResearch in Higher EducationJournal of Higher EducationTeachers College Record, Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. She is a member of the Journal of Higher Education’s editorial review board.