- 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.
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.
On Wednesday we continued our discussion of “well represented minorities”, specifically focusing on Asians and Asian Americans. We read the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) Report on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher education. This report discusses Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in both 2-year and 4-year institutions of higher education. In our discussion we noted that the ‘model minority’ myth silences Asian Americans who do not attend one of the nation’s top 4-year colleges.
We also read Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. We found this article to be a very good model for discussing challenges faced by minorities without needing to focus specifically on underrepresented minorities. We also found this article to address well the vital importance of intersectionality, the idea that an individual cannot be broken down into distinct identity groups, but rather that the interplay of multiple disadvantaged identities creates unique perspectives.
“Well represented minorities” present a very interesting perspective. While they are well represented at lower levels, they are still not found in management positions and positions of power. This is true despite the rampant stereotypes that Asian Americans are incredibly intelligent and hard working (in short, the 'model minority' myth). We determined from this that stereotypes do not tell the whole story. It is not true that scientists perform as well as the stereotype predicts they will. If this were true, we would see more Asian Americans in positions of power. We found that the structures in place in academic science do more than disadvantage women and underrepresented minorities. These structures actually privilege white men.
The rest of our discussion focused on the idea that Asian Americans are labeled as ‘perpetual foreigners’ and the xenophobia that produces this stereotype. We also discussed the need for equality beyond representation. Asian Americans have achieved representation in science similar to the proportion of Asian Americans in the American population at large. However we have yet to achieve equality as evidenced by the distinct lack of Asian Americans in positions of power.
On Monday, October 20 we began discussing the experiences of Asians and Asian-Americans in STEM in the United States. Students commented that generalizing the experiences of a wide range of people from dozens of different backgrounds is not only difficult but counterproductive, and even offensive. That, combined with the limited research available on Asian-Americans in STEM specifically and higher ed in general, made this discussion difficult right from the start.
The article Deconstructing the Model Minority Myth lays out well the primary concepts behind the stereotype of the “model minority”, a term often applied to Asian-American populations. There exists a pressure for Asian-Americans to conform to a perfectionist stereotype, meanwhile other stereotypes such as the “Yellow Peril” and “perpetual foreigner” stereotype may cause Asian-Americans to feel less welcome in the United States. Myths and Mirrors, another reading for this class, describes how these stereotypes might affect Asian-American students.
One interesting component of the Myths and Mirrors reading was its chart contrasting typical American values with typical Asian values. One student commented that the American values listed were in fact male American values, including the “promotion of personal accomplishments” and “tough, individualistic, authoritative leadership”. We wondered if these values were inextricable from the way science is conducted or not, and tried to imagine a scientific community which espoused different values, perhaps ones more similar to those in the Asian values column.
The “bamboo ceiling” phenomenon occurs where Asian Americans are absent from leadership roles in the communities and companies in which they otherwise succeed. We struggled to come to a conclusion about to what extent Asian Americans’ differing cultural values might contribute to this phenomenon. On the one hand, it is true that values such as humility and anti-individualism might hamper one’s ability to be seen as a leader in the United States. On the other hand, it may be that non-Asians assume that Asian-Americans possess certain cultural values or attributes even though they may not. The way in which we talk about this particular issue is tricky; we don’t want to impose static cultural values on an entire group of people, or to use reductionist reasoning to explain the differences in achievement and perceptions of different racial or cultural groups. Still, some students thought it very likely that some foreign students genuinely have different values and expectations than domestic students (ex. How permissible do they find it to question authority figures?).
Overall we wondered why there isn’t much talk in general about racial issues and prejudices facing Asian Americans in STEM and at Brown. Perhaps, one student suggested, Asians preferred to be, as they often are, lumped in with Whites and not seen as a racial minority. In this way Asians might be able to more easily access whiteness and make their differences a bit more invisible. Another student suggested that foreign students with very strong ties to their home countries might not have as much stake in changing Americans’ perceptions of Asians while they are here.
Conversations that do take place about Asian-American racial issues are often unproductive. For instance, Asian-Americans are often pitted against African-Americans in an attempt to show that it is perfectly possible for racial minorities to succeed using the current systems in the United States. Just last week Bill O’Reilly used the performance of Asian Americans to argue that white privilege doesn’t exist in a conversation with Jon Stewart. This rhetoric (presuming all Asian-Americans are the same and all achieve the same level of success with little or no barriers) fails to properly address the experiences of actual people of Asian ancestry in the U.S.
On Monday we explored the scientist identify and specifically how it intersects, interferes or conflicts with other identities. We used a mixture of history, data, narratives and observations to inform our ideas about the “ownership” of the scientist identity. Our discussion started with a short history article detailing the transition from a female dominated computer science world to the male dominated one we have today. This piece highlighted the institutional barriers and cyclic controls that are intentionally established to push women out (and keep them out) once computer science became a science and computer scientists became scientists. Women could not own the identity scientist as long as they were women, not because these identities actually are incompatible, but because society says they are. The characterization of science and scientists by society is the root of the conflict between certain identities and the scientist identity. This is why when children are asked what a scientist looks like they all describe Albert Einstein. This is not only problematic because it is not always true, but because misrepresentation and underrepresentation do effect one’s feelings towards science and one’s ability to do science and to be a scientist. This relationship is expressed well in a paper we read that used data collected from thousands of students in many different countries to show that there is a relationship between the female/male academic performance gap and the degree to as which science is seen as male or female. Through our discussion, we affirmed how damaging the narrow description of scientist can be, but we also discovered a simple way to begin to combat it: validation. This is in no way a solution, but it is a place to start. Validate the “non-traditional” scientist and own the identity of scientist no matter one’s other identities.
Our class discussion on Wednesday the 24th focused exclusively on one reading: Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele. We invited Professor James Valles, chair of the physics department, in to contribute to our discussion, as we knew he had read this book before and had experience dealing with the issues surrounding stereotype threat within his own department.
The sections we read in Whistling Vivaldi were Chapters 1, 2, 9, and 10. These sections first outline the definition of stereotype threat and the preliminary studies that initially outlined the phenomenon, then provide a variety of interventions and strategies that may be used to alleviate the reduced intellectual performance of groups affected by it. At its most basic level, stereotype threat occurs when the fear of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group (ex. Girls can’t do math as well as boys, Latino students aren’t as intelligent as white students, white athletes aren’t as talented as black ones, etc.) causes a type of background anxiety which impairs performance and thereby perpetuates the stereotype. Studies show that, since most people have already been exposed to our society’s set of stereotypes countless times, this threat is often “in the air” even when racial or gender stereotypes are not mentioned explicitly before people perform tasks relating to them. What this means is that it often takes a conscious effort to alleviate the problem at hand and to reduce underperformance by stereotyped groups.
We started discussion by polling the room to see who had previously heard the term “stereotype threat” outside of the context of our GISP. Although quite a few students had heard it used before, some had not, and even more stated that reading sections from Steele’s book had changed the way they understood the term. A few people said that they had thought of stereotype threat as a purely individual issue rather than a systemic problem. After this reading, however, we all came to see the term as referring to something much broader and more insidious. Still, many students in the group claimed to have individually experienced this phenomenon themselves in science and math settings at Brown.
A large part of this class was devoted to writing up the following list of “interventions”, many of which were suggested in Whistling Vivaldi, as strategies to alleviate stereotype threat among students at Brown:
The problems being studied by this GISP are embedded in our society at a fundamental, structural level. But despite this large-scale nature, it is important that we not neglect the crucial role of the individual experience. To that end, our second class meeting was dedicated to a discussion of personal experiences.
Before class, each GISP member was asked to write a personal narrative piece, in which they would reflect on their personal experiences in the context of the issues being investigated in this course. During the class discussion, each student summarized the main themes of their narrative and/or shared a few excerpts from the piece.
While each student’s story was unique, there were a few common concepts present in multiple narratives. One such concept was the trend of explicit exclusion. One story told of how a student was informed by a professor that their background might be insufficient for a certain class, despite this professor knowing nothing about the student’s background; quite evidently, the professor’s remark was based on the student’s demographics. Another story involved students of certain demographic groups being given explicitly different academic and career advice than students of the dominant demographic groups. Whether intentional or not, this act served to directly exclude the students in question from fully succeeding in their scientific careers.
Not all interactions were as explicit as these, however. Some experiences were much more subtle, falling into a category of events known as microaggressions. Microaggressions can be defined as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership" (Granger 2012). Multiple students shared stories of specific microaggressions that they have encountered within the scientific community. Since microaggressions are often not evident to those not directly involved, this part of the discussion was incredibly beneficial in helping the class gain a better understanding of how pervasive microaggressions are in the scientific community and why that is problematic.
Another recurring concept was the higher level of expectation applied to members of underrepresented groups. One student described how, unlike members of well-represented groups, they felt that they were expected to, in some sense, earn their place in the sciences. Another student explained that they felt they only deserved to stay in their field if they were at the “top of the curve”; if their performance declined below the very best, they experienced a sense of shame that caused them to consider leaving their field.
The last pervasive concept was the dichotomy between different communities at Brown with respect to these issues. Several students described the harsh difference between progressive communities at Brown, where issues of race and gender were constantly discussed, and the scientific community at Brown, where issues of race and gender were essentially never mentioned and where structural inequalities were still strongly present.
Overall, the class discussion of the personal narratives proved incredibly fruitful. It enabled students to better understand the backgrounds and motivations of their classmates, and it highlighted several key issues that will undoubtedly resurface again over the course of the semester.
Granger, Nathaniel. "Microaggressions and Their Effects on the Therapeutic Process." Society for Humanistic Psychology Newsletter (Oct. 2012). APA Division 32: Society for Humanistic Psychology. American Psychological Association. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.