- Begin an Office of Institutional Diversity official project on Race and Gender in STEM striving to address the complicated effects of race and gender on student experience. In order to be transformational in a systematic way, the University has to articulate its commitment to these issues. We recommend the Office of Institutional Diversity launch a “Race and Gender in STEM” project that will address retention head-on and also provide a confined and institutionalized space for the work done in this GISP to continue. The goal would be to better the experience of women and minorities in STEM at Brown by transforming the way we think about science and the scientist identity. The recommendations that follow would also be overseen by Office of Institutional Diversity members under this project.
- Make the course on Race and Gender in the Scientific Community a permanent offering, and consider making it a requirement for STEM concentrators in the future. Members of the GISP have thoroughly studied the assumed objectivity of the scientific community and framed structural issues in that context. This is what makes a course like this unique and resulted in such transformation for GISP members. In order to ensure that this work continues, we request that the University implement plans to add this course to the curriculum. Who will be qualified to teach this course is the next question that comes to mind. This can be found in understanding what made this GISP so successful. GISP members are all studying a STEM subject and therefore familiar with the scientific environment. In addition this, certain GISP members also study issues of race or gender and sexuality. This combination is key and is why we suggest a joint teaching of the course. The University Course on Race and Gender in the Scientific Community should be led by two instructors- one from a STEM department and one from a faculty member with expertise in issues of race, gender, and/or sexuality. For example, an ideal combination would be a faculty member in engineering and a graduate student in Africana Studies. The syllabus and model used for the GISP can and should be used for this course with adjustments based on the liking of the instructors. Most members of the GISP will graduate in 2015, therefore, it is critical for an appointed administrator or administrative staff member to familiarize herself with the syllabus and the details of the course in the spring semester of 2015. Syllabus, classroom blog, and more information is available on this website and members of the GISP are open to meetings to finalize these plans.
- Investigate and implement strategies and solutions that address and incorporate existing research on the experience of being an underrepresented minority, focusing on teaching styles and assessment methods. (Education and training about stereotype threat and differential learning styles explicit about race and gender effects at Brown). The GISP syllabus reveals the abundance of scholarship available on these issues. It is our belief that the University is not adequately utilizing this existing scholarship. We resolve specifically that administrators and students advisors be educated on stereotype threat and differential learning styles of students. That is only the preliminary step; we suggest the Office of Institutional Diversity incorporate that scholarship into programs that help students. For example, Office of Institutional Diversity can collaborate with Kathy Takayama and the Sheridan Center to develop the language and format of exams and performance assessment in STEM courses. One important issue that we came to understand is the inability of minority students to talk about science material in or out of the course and the way in which that hinders a student’s ability to 1) articulate questions and 2) understand why they may be under-performing. We envision a space where these students are informed that this may be a problem for them and provide resources that will help them learn the “language of science”.
- Make administrative support more visible to students. It is our understanding that administrators have been making plans to address the experiences of underrepresented minorities in STEM. We recommend a tab on the Institutional Diversity Website that is a space for information on Diversity in STEM initiatives and plans. This would also be a great space for a link to our GISP website. Office of Institutional Diversity can also add some of this information to our “Why are there so many White and Asian males in STEM” brochure and hand them out around the University for students wanting to know about these existing plans.
- Development of new teaching techniques in introductory courses as well as assessment. Brown is one of eight research universities chosen by the Association of American Universities (AAU) as a project site to improve undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It is our understanding that plans are being made to transform the way science is taught at Brown and science culture at Brown. Efforts to address the experiences of underrepresented minorities need to be explicit and intentional in these efforts. We suggest also developing a “survival kit” that will help underrepresented minorities and women navigate science degree programs at Brown. Our fear is that these efforts to improve STEM education will leave the unique experiences of underrepresented students invisible and further perpetuate the problems.
- Hire a learning specialist available to work with students on understanding their style of learning and to work with Science Center + STEM departments on plans to transform STEM courses. Minority students are often advised to work with SEAS to receive support for results of stereotype threat and other psychological effects associated with identity. SEAS is only equipped to provide standard accommodations for students such as extra time or separate rooms for exams. Many minority students in STEM are receiving these accommodations even though they have not been proven to address issues related to the experience of being a minority in STEM. We suggest Brown hire a learning specialist available to work with students in STEM and contribute to the improvement of undergraduate science education. This learning specialist should be charged with the work to provide strategies that will help Brown support minorities in STEM. We also find it concerning that SEAS staff members are not trained to identify when students are having learning and testing anxiety as a result of being racial minorities in our academic community. In addition to hiring a learning specialist, we recommend the University train SEAS staff to address these issues carefully and appropriately. Currently, Diane Green is available to work with undergraduates who are a part of the PLME program and medical students. She does not work with other STEM undergraduates. Brown might consider adding a learning specialist who will in fact work with minority students in STEM to figure out new and possibly unknown learning needs.
- Create a medium for students to express concerns and experiences to faculty and administrators who have the power to implement changes. NSP or Catalyst would be a great medium for administrators to hear about the experiences and the concerns of students. There needs to be a more visible administrative component to the NSP program. It is not clear to students that the Dean of the College or other administrators find the low rates of retention for underrepresented students in STEM to be a priority. This needs to be visible to students, and one way to make this happen is to create spaces for students to engage with administrators.
- Form collaborations between Brown Center for Students of Color (BCSC) and administrators who work on these issues. We suggest that BCSC designate a person to provide input on minority concerns in STEM. Shane Lloyd from BCSC was extremely helpful in the planning of our GISP’s “Why are there so few women and minorities in STEM?” workshop for introductory science courses. BCSC staff members are familiar with facilitating discussions on race across campus. We found it concerning that there is not a connection between programs for minorities in STEM and the BCSC. Many first year minority students attend the pre-orientation program TWTP, but there seems to be silence surrounding the experience specifically in the scientific environment at Brown. We suggest a visible collaboration between a designated person in BCSC and NSP or Office of Institutional Diversity in order to bring science and issues of the scientific community into the BCSC space.
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.