Author: Sierra Hellwitz
Date: August 17, 2023
When I learned about pedagogical research, I saw a way to marry my career and academic interests with my commitment to inclusivity in higher education, specifically in STEM field. In the United States, higher education institutions still face challenges in retaining underrepresented minorities (URM) in STEM fields. At 2-year and community colleges, students with disabilities (SWD) are more likely to enroll in STEM majors; however, less than 66% of SWDs enrolled in any 4-year program complete the program within 6 years compared to 49% for the general population (Schreffler et al. 2019). If black students fail or withdraw from their introductory STEM course, their chances of not obtaining their bachelor’s degree is 67%, whereas for white students, the probability is 47.9% (McGee 2020). LGBTQIA-identifying students also face difficulty, with 7% fewer sexual minorities retained in STEM disciplines than their heterosexual peers after 4 years of college (Cech and Waidzunas 2021). Controlling for other factors that support STEM retention, this likelihood increases to 10% (Hughes 2018). Additionally, the demographics of the professional realm are staggering. White men account for approximately half the scientists and engineers employed in the field. White and Asian women together account for 22% (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2019). These inequalities are not new, but finding and implementing solutions has proven considerably difficult.
Naturally, my inclination to prioritize marginalized groups prompted me to consider inclusive pedagogy as a tool for targeting and tailoring material for URM students. Historically, mentoring programs targeting URMs have primarily emphasized training these students to conform to the primary demographics as best as possible to succeed. Consequently, URM students face the decision to either conform as best as possible and navigate an environment that is unwelcoming towards their identity or opt to leave their respective fields (McGee et al. 2019, Van Veelen et al. 2019). The structure of the first-year learning experience might explain why students who change their major had low confidence in their ability to successfully pursue a career in STEM (Dewsbury 2017). The focus has recently shifted from viewing students as deficient and in need of training to transforming the campus culture, including the mindsets of STEM instructors, to support URM students better.
Additionally, if pedalogical practices focus solely on the disenfranchised groups, it can create a social hierarchy between the dominant, “normative” culture and URM cultures and can even lead to a backlash effect (Dewsbury 2017).This phenomenon was described in1960s (Kaplan, 1966), particularly in relation to affirmative action. Legalization of identity-based policies would inevitably lead to a backlash from the majority, who, lacking a complete understanding of the legal framework, the cultural history, and the social research, might perceive themselves as being discriminated against and marginalized (Dewsbury 2017). In American corporations, the occurrence can be observed through corporate diversity training, which can unintentionally fuel racial resentment, a phenomenon also common in today’s political climate (Dewsbury 2017). Though this seems intuitive, it was not something that I had connected with my approach toward teaching before. Today, inclusive pedagogy avoids the pitfalls of targeted approaches by creating a classroom culture that works for all students.
Recognizing the significance of inclusive teaching in providing equal opportunities for all students to thrive was already understood intrinsically. However, discovering that targeted approaches may not be effective and could potentially exacerbate a hostile environment has fundamentally reshaped my perspective on inclusive pedagogy and the teaching practices I intend to implement.
Cech, E.A. and Waidzunas, T.J., 2021. Systemic inequalities for LGBTQ professionals in STEM. Science advances, 7(3), p.eabe0933.
Dewsbury, B.M., 2017. On faculty development of STEM inclusive teaching practices. FEMS microbiology letters, 364(18).
Hughes, B.E., 2018. Coming out in STEM: Factors affecting retention of sexual minority STEM students. Science advances, 4(3), p.eaao6373.
Kaplan, J., 1966. Equal justice in an unequal world: equality for the Negro-The Problem of Special Treatment. Nw. UL REv., 61, p.363.
McGee EO. 2020. Interrogating structural racism in STEM higher education. Educ Res 49:633–644.
McGee, E.O., Griffith, D.M. and Houston, S.L., 2019. “I know I have to work twice as hard and hope that makes me good enough”: Exploring the stress and strain of Black doctoral students in engineering and computing. Teachers College Record, 121(4), pp.1-38.
Schreffler, J., Vasquez III, E., Chini, J. and James, W., 2019. Universal design for learning in postsecondary STEM education for students with disabilities: A systematic literature review. International Journal of STEM Education, 6(1), pp.1-10.
Van Veelen, R., Derks, B. and Endedijk, M.D., 2019. Double trouble: How being outnumbered and negatively stereotyped threatens career outcomes of women in STEM. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, p.150.