Myth: Science is becoming more diverse over time.
Truth: Although we want to believe that society is becoming more progressive and an increasing number of members of underrepresented groups (women, underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+ etc.) are entering science, this is simply not the case. The percentage of women and underrepresented minorities entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is not increasing at any appreciable rate. Unfortunately not enough data is available to make any such claim about LGBTQ+ scientists. This is a problem in itself.
Physics Today interviewed 7 LGBT scientists in this eye-opening article. There is very little literature available on the experiences of LGBTQ+ scientists, which makes this article particularly astounding. One primary obstacles facing LGBTQ+ scientists is a lack of awareness and a lack of resources. The Physics Today article is much needed because it breaks the silence around the experiences of LGBTQ+ scientists. The scientists interviewed in this article are an inspiration. We thank them for their bravery and willingness to serve as role models.
We are a group of students who organized a GISP on Race and Gender in the Scientific Community. We are working closely with University Administrators on institutional solutions, and would like to give students the chance to support and critique our efforts. Many university programs only support survival mechanisms, which are necessary but temporary for addressing underrepresentation in STEM. Below are transformative strategies we would like the University to prioritize and implement, focusing on the University’s goal to support underrepresented minorities in STEM. This is what we came up with as a result of our study--we would love to hear your input on what other strategies are necessary to create meaningful change. If you support the strategies listed below and have a Brown University email address, please sign this form.
Google is celebrating Annie Jump Cannon's 151st birthday and so are we! Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) was an American astronomer who was extremely influential in classifying stars and in developing the current classification scheme. In her lifetime she classified around 350,000 stars, a number which has yet to be topped by another astronomer. Read her full biography here, or listen to it here.
Annie Jump Cannon is a testament to the success of (white) women in scientific careers despite the fact that science was dominated by white men. She is one of multitudes of successful non-white-men in science. Unfortunately, many of these other stories have been silenced or forgotten in favor of a more consistent white male narrative. This narrative is not only dishonest, it is also harmful to future scientists who are not given the opportunity to see themselves in the pictures of traditionally successful scientists. We can and should work to tell diverse histories in science classrooms. How we tell stories about the history of science says as much about us as about the history itself. Presenting a white-male-only view of science history is a choice.
The lists of female/black/hispanic scientists are endless. A quick google search will bring up as many results as one could desire. Yet why are these narratives not making it into our classrooms? Here are a few of our favorite lists of female/black/hispanic scientists:
As the course wraps up, we would like to take a moment to thank all of the faculty members and administrators who joined us for our discussions
Finding a qualified female professor for the physics department is “as rare as a fang in an owl’s mouth,” said Michael Kosterlitz, professor of physics and chair of the Committee for Faculty Equity and Diversity.
The recent Brown Daily Herald series on institutionalized racism prompted us to look for older Herald articles. We found an interesting article from 2011, Faculty remains mostly male, white, documenting the faculty demographics then. Included in the article are several quotes from faculty members which fail to show a strong commitment to diversity. We are glad that the more recent Herald articles provide a more researched description of the issue.
Underrepresented minorities currently make up 8.1% of Brown University's faculty. Nationally, 12.6% of the U.S. population identifies as African American or Black, and 16.4% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latin@. (Data from the 2010 Census). Even compared to these numbers, which account only for the largest racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S., 8.1% is strikingly small. Faculty of color face an overwhelming number of structural barriers, from bias in the hiring process to unequal demands on time once hired. For a more detailed description of the inequalities faced by faculty of color, read the full Brown Daily Herald article on structural racism at Brown University.
The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University is well loved by all. Dr. Kathy Takayama, Executive Director of the Sheridan Center, joined our class on Dec. 1 for a discussion of effective teaching strategies and how student identity affects interaction with course material. Dr. Takayama started the discussion by dividing the class in half. She read 28 words out loud to the entire class and asked us all to check yes or no based on criteria written at the top of the sheet. We were then asked to write down as many of the 28 words as we could remember. Individuals on the left side of the classroom remembered approximately 19 words while individuals on the right side of the classroom remembered roughly 9 words. Dr. Takayama then revealed to us that the left half of the class had been asked to decide whether the word was ‘pleasant’. The right half had been asked to determine whether the letters E or G were present in the word. The students who were asked whether the word was ‘pleasant’ were forced to process the word in depth, i.e. interact with the word on a personal level by relating the word to personal experiences. Those looking for an E/G were practicing shallow processing. Clearly, deep processing allowed students to remember significantly more words. This simple exercise illustrates Dr. Takayama’s take home message: what matters the most for successful learning is what you are thinking about when you see new information. Processing information by relating it to personal experience allows for a better understanding of the material.
It is important for professors to understand how students learn and that different students will have different experiences regarding the material. For example, a student who had the opportunity to visit natural history museums during their childhood may have an easier time processing a lecture on fossils on a deep level than a student who did not have such opportunities. This is because the student who has sen fossils in a museum will be able to recall this event while the professor is speaking, i.e. they will be able to relate course material to personal experience. Science, in particular, can often be difficult to process on a deep level because in science we are constantly writing the people out. Journal articles focus exclusively on hypotheses, experiments, or theories, and never on the researchers or authors themselves. This is all a part of the myth of objective science that we continue to discuss in this course. Science may feel that by writing the author out we can collectively ignore identity and in doing so provide a fair platform for all participants. However, it is impossible to ignore identity and harmful to pretend that this is possible. The effectiveness of deep processing over shallow processing shows that an individual’s experiences (where identity plays an undeniable role) are indeed integral to the learning, and thus scientific, process. Additionally, as Dr. Jo Handelsman showed in her eye-opening article Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students, the difference between a male or female sounding name can be enough to change hiring decisions. The study sent identical resumes to several potential employers. Some resumes had traditionally female names, while others had traditionally male names. The ‘male’ applicants were offered positions more often and were offered a higher starting salary on average. This shows that identity and bias do matter and we should not try to write it out. Check your own bias with the Implicit Association Test. The only way to combat the effects of bias are to be conscious of our own biases.
Dr. Takyama asked us to think about the following question: How can science bring the individual back in? We collectively decided that this is a process which has to happen over time. The culture must change so that science is a safe space where individuals feel comfortable discussing their identities. One easy way to write the individual back in to science is to have students in introductory classes spend 15 minutes 2-3 times throughout the semester writing about values that are important to them. This values affirmation exercise has been shown to close the ‘gender gap’ in science classrooms. We recommend that all instructors use this exercise in their classrooms. In addition, we recommend that instructors make an active effort to participate in more discussions surrounding the identities of their students and peers.