Hayley Glicker, Department of Chemistry

Without recognizing students’ varying intersectional identities, students will not feel supported by their educator and feel alienated from their community. A memory of this occurred in my senior seminar/thesis course in my undergraduate institution. This course brought together different majors, so there were a few students that I have never met or interacted with. A student asked if, as a part of student introductions, students could also name their gender pronouns. Attending a historically all-women’s undergraduate college, the professor abruptly said “she,” in reference to gender pronouns, and pointed at all students. Consequently, the demeanor of the classroom immediately changed to a hostile one. My professor’s lack of acknowledgement of student’s identities and presentation of her direct assumptions created and maintained a hostile learning environment.

Over the past few decades, many higher education institutions have actively recruited diverse students (Killpack and Melon, 2016). However, the diversity of faculty and administrative leadership does not mirror this commitment. This reflects a lack of change in institutional culture to promote diversity among students in STEM. Furthermore, research on intersectionality and STEM, honing in on black women’s experiences, has described their journeys as the double bind: where they experience the unique problem that their academic and career paths conflict with their racial identity and gender identity (Charleston et al., 2014).

Following this disconnect between lack of diversity and diversity education on the faculty front and the student’s intersectional identities’ not being supported in the classroom, it is difficult to foster student academic development in STEM. However, as faculty members and educators dedicated to fostering community and retaining underrepresented students in STEM, there are ways we can initiate both our own learning to support student’s intersectional identities and support these students in our STEM classrooms:

Learn about our own implicit biases and biased judgments

Our goal as educators is to set equitable standards for students. However, research shows that we are all vulnerable to our own biased judgments which can impact our interactions with students. Implicit biases, based personal experiences, lead to problematic assumptions in the classroom (Killpack and Melon, 2016). Implicit Association Tests (IATs) allows us to measure our implicit biases. Harvard University has online IATs that are free and available for use found here.

Give out a “pre-course survey” to students prior to the start of the course to make equitable course decisions

How is our pedagogy implementation influenced by our individual experiences? Gathering information from students will make sure we are not unintentionally disadvantaging students before the class even begins. When are assignments due? If we have a class filled with students who live off campus, have jobs and/or primary caretakers of their family, how can I help remove structural barriers from my students’ potential success in the course?

Encourage your academic institution to have diversity education for faculty members and educators.

Certainly incorporating this type of training reduces biases among faculty members. A recent study by Carnes et al., 2015 showed an increase in self-reported actions due to a faculty workshop introducing deliberate strategies to reduce gender-biased habits. This type of intervention has proven results to break department climate to support career advancements of underrepresented groups in STEM.

We must recognize our own lack of knowledge of certain diversity issues prevalent to our students’ intersectional identities and, like what we encourage our students to do, take time out of class to research and learn on how support these students in STEM.

References

“Gender Pronouns,” Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

“Towards Inclusive STEM Classrooms: What Personal Role Do Faculty Play?” Tess L. Killpack and Laverne C. Melón, CBE- Life Sciences Educations, 15 (2016)

“Intersectionality and STEM: The Role of Race and Gender in the Academic Pursuits of African American Women in STEM.” LaVar J. Charleston, Ryan P. Adserias, Nicole M. Lang and Jerlando F.L. Jackson, Journal of Progressive Policy and Practice, 2 (2014)

“Effect of an Intervention to Break the Gender Bias Habit for Faculty at One Institution: A Cluster Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Molly Carnes et al., Academic Medicine, 90 (2015)

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on April 22nd, 2019.

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