Being Black, Female and STEM

February 27, 2016

 While pursuing my doctorate in Medical Anthropology and joint masters in Digital Arts and Sciences, I became confronted with the reality that most of my cohort looked nothing like me. Black doctoral students, as well as faculty, were scarce in my anthropology department. When beginning my master's program, which was cofounded by the Colleges of Engineering and Fine Arts, I learned that white, Chinese, and Indian men would outnumber a handful of white women, and there would be only one black female—me. Conversely, I found a support system in my PhD program, particularly among individuals in my subfield, fellowship, and professional organizations. However, this support was virtually nonexistent in my masters. I soon discovered a diametric opposition in my graduate training; as a doctoral student, I researched various forms of inequality; however, I became meta aware of my own marginality while pursuing my joint degree.

 

I share this, not out of self-pity, because I am but one of many black professionals who have dealt with being the only dot in the classroom. The lack of racial diversity in advanced degree programs is a national crisis, and arguably, exacerbated in STEM fields. According to the United States Census Bureau, "STEM workers are those employed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations. This includes computer and mathematical occupations, engineers, engineering technicians, life scientists, physical scientists, social scientists, and science technicians" (Landivar 2013:2). Men tend to be employed twice as much as women in STEM fields, and approximatley 6% of all employed in STEM are black (2013). You do the math.

 

In addition to racial minorities, women are another marginal group in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As a black female professional, I am always researching what efforts are being made to help increase the number of individuals who look like me in STEM. In addition to university, community, and government diversity initiatives, which are very much needed, I learned about five STEM gaming products marketed to girls and children of color. Who knows. If I had games like these, I probably would have never converted my silver makeup carrier my mother bought me as a teenager into a toolbox to resemble the one used by my father. CLICK HERE to learn what innovative games are preparing little girls and children of color to become the future STEM professionals of tomorrow.

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Source: Landivar, Liana C. (2013) "Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: American Community Survey Reports." United States Census Bureau. https://census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-24.pdf

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