Research from the Pew Research Center in 2021 and 2022 shows that despite longstanding efforts to increase diversity in STEM, Blacks and Hispanics remain vastly underrepresented. How might we do better?
A 2022 survey asked Black adults what would attract more young Black people into STEM careers and found that seeing “more examples of high achievers in these areas who were Black…would help a lot.” Of those who ended up working in STEM, 81% identified positive experiences, such as having someone who made them feel excited about their abilities in STEM, helped them see ways STEM could be useful in their career, or encouraged them to keep taking STEM classes. Yet, nearly half of those employed in STEM (48%) and other college grads (38%) reported at least one negative experience or microaggression in STEM classrooms, such as treating them like they couldn’t understand the subject, making them feel as if they didn’t belong, or making repeated comments or slights about their race. Further, Black respondents perceived professional science and engineering groups as less welcoming of Black people than other professions. The more educated the respondents were, the more likely they were to have these perceptions.
These results suggest that visible role models, mentorship, welcoming climates, and active encouragement can increase STEM representation. At Michigan Tech, we can celebrate the achievements of Black colleagues in ways that resonate with Black communities on and beyond campus. We can make sure students in our classes have positive experiences and we can engage in mentoring and microaffirmations. We can provide opportunities to build relationships between students and Black STEM professionals. And by employing microaffirmations, we can help Black students, staff, and faculty Through collective diligence, we can ensure that all students, staff, and faculty experience a welcoming and safe environment free from microaggressions. These efforts simultaneously make STEM careers more viable for everyone. In the end, we will all gain from making STEM fields more welcoming.
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