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There's a typical pattern of conversation that I've witnessed too many times.  It goes like this:

Administrator:  Of course, we are firmly pledged to hire more women and minorities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, but we can't, because they are all being snapped up by the top schools.

Response:  In fact, that isn't true.  The top schools aren't really doing that, or at least not in all fields.  E.g., the top 50 Chemistry departments hired one African American between the late 90's and early 2000's.

Administrator:  Well, I guess then there aren't any good ones.

What's this conversation tell us?

Given the background agreement that there are women and minorities earning PhDs, the administrator really has two obvious interpretations to account for the fact that the top schools are not hiring women and minorities in the sciences (in all fields).  Either prejudice is much stronger than he realizes or women and minorities really aren't any good in the STEM fields in question.  He isn't going to start off the whole discussion by saying he thinks that women and minorities cannot do STEM, but the belief is right there waiting to be invoked as an explanation.

Still, while it isn't true that women and minorities are missing from the PhD ranks, there are relatively few minority PhD's.  Why?  Are you tempted to think that well, maybe, you know, they just can't...

Today's NY Times has an article about the Meyerhoff program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

It has long been known that teachers' low expectations, particularly those related to race and racism, can depress student performance. At U.M.B.C. sustained success by minority students seems to have alleviated this poisonous problem. Faculty members who once looked askance when asked to take on minority students in their laboratories now clamor for them.  

(my stress)
And the components?  Better science teaching:
The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on.
The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines. Indeed, according to Science, 86 percent of the Meyerhoff participants have graduated with science or engineering degrees. Nearly 9 in 10 of those graduates went on to graduate or professional programs, with a significant number earning M.D.'s or Ph.D's, or both.

You can see in the description the existence of white privilege in universities and the effect it has had on black parents:

The higher education establishment is generally startled to learn that more than half of the high-flying Meyerhoff students are black. This surprise stems from the unstated but nonetheless well-established belief that high-performing science students don't actually exist in the black community.

U.M.B.C.'s president, Freeman Hrabowski III, knows better. He has spent years expanding his school's access to high-performing minority students and has taken great pains to reassure black families that their children will be well looked after on his campus.

So when black kids go into science courses, the normal expectation is that they won't do well.  And too often this will depress their performance.

And when we think about the Meyerhoff program, we might think about the losses both to black students and to the science community :

The Meyerhoff model shows that a vibrant, well-structured science program can produce large numbers of students who excel and remain in the field. It has also debunked the myth that academic excellence and minority access are mutually exclusive goals.

Originally posted to JPete on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:09 AM PDT.


Have you been tempted to think that minorities just can't do science?

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Comment Preferences

  •  No :) (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    digital drano, eru, JPete, ama, NJwlss

    Because I am a "minority" and I know bloody well that I can do science. :)

    Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

    by kraant on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:19:29 AM PDT

    •  here's a depressing thought: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kraant, ama, justCal, RickBoston

      you are in a minority for thinking minorities can do science!!

      Hey, I've fought this battle for some time, and I sometimes think I'm not going to live long enough to see victory.  And that's because so many of the people making decisions do not even notice the absences.  

      •  I am not a minority (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JPete, kraant, NJwlss

        and I suck at science. Wish it weren't true, but we all have to own up to our shortcomings.

        Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

        by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:42:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's going to be interesting to (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          catfish, kraant, RickBoston

          see how the poll turns out, if people can get away from the Lay and Skilling news!  Many of us probably do have at least unconscious scepticism about people doing science that don't fit the stereotype of the white guy in the lab coat.

          Catching it in ourselves can be much more tricky.  

          •  When I was in elementary school (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            catfish, JPete, kraant, ama

            the mother of one of my friends was, in retrospect, a bit of a rabblerouser (and I mean that in a good way).  At the time I simply knew her as D's mother and a very nice lady.

            It was more or less a lily-white town with a few minority families (and looking back I understand how hard it was--some really appalling things went on that I did not understand at the time).

            By the time we got to 5th grade, Mrs. M had apparently decided Black History was being shortchanged in our curriculum. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to get the teacher to let her come in once a month or so to give a lesson on Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, racial prejudice, etc. She was a great educator, and we all looked forward to her lessons. But at the time I don't think a single one of us kids had any idea of the larger social context which compelled her to do it. Strange looking back at that.

            I remember they showed the whole school a film narrated (made?) by Bill Cosby about racial prejudice. I was puzzled because I had never heard a single stereotype mentioned in the film. But the parts about the self-image of Black children was truly disturbing.

            Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

            by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:03:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Can't vote (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JPete, kraant

    Please add an option:

    No, I think it is absolute rubbish.

    Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

    by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:22:32 AM PDT

  •  They don't count? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JPete, kraant

    Back in the 80's, many of my math, statistics and computer science professors were Asian Indians.

    •  It's so interesting. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, kraant

      Asian Indians are minorities for some statistics and not for others.  Generally speaking, and in the US, if you are counting generally whether a school has minority students, they count.  BUT if you are looking for science grants to up the participation of minority/under-represented students, they do not count - except for women Asian Indians,that is, who may count as members of an underprepresented group - i.e., women.

  •  Can't comment on the minority issue (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catfish, JPete, kraant

    but I did want to mention something I read about 10 years ago about women in science. It was an article in the Boston Globe about a study published by a top woman scientist looking at the underrepresentation of women PhDs in the "hard sciences" (chemistry, physics, esp. nuclear). What she suggested was that it appeared to be driven not by an effort to exclude women, but by a vast overrepresentation by men in PhD programs in the '50s and '60s. That while there was a steady rise in applications from women in that time period, the number of applications from men skyrocketed.

    Why? To avoid the draft! Because a hard science PhD was the surest ticket to get a draft exemption short of having kids (think Dick Cheney).

    Anyway, I agree the cultural expectations--both malicious and well-meaning but condescending--are a huge problem. The question is, how do we break through them? Will it take a few Nobel Laureates? Can we get the success stories out there to undermine pre-conceptions, both of those adults who pre-judge, and those children who opt out?

    Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

    by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:41:08 AM PDT

    •  Devils Advocate... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      catfish, JPete, NJwlss, RickBoston

      IIRC Men are also more likely to be on the Autistic spectrum.

      Do you think that might have some effect on representation in "hard" sciences and maths?

      Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

      by kraant on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:44:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maths? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        catfish, JPete, kraant have unmasked yourself as a lurking Brit! (or a mathematician).

        Actually, what fascinated me in reading that was that it was an excellent example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

        Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

        by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 09:49:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well, I've wondered about (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        catfish, kraant, RickBoston

        people in mathematics and physics!  [semi-snark]  I really got into autism trying to understand some of my colleagues - of the 4 worst, only one was in that sort of area of study, though.

        I suspect it's terribly complicated once one starts to think that autism might give guys an advantage.  Some of the stuff we should think about include:

        1.  Autism is often an impairment, and even when it leaves the ability to calculate in tact, it can lessen imaginative capacities that lead to scientific creativity.  Perhaps ditto the borders of the ASD.
        1.  It is true that science career expectations now fit the single and solitary man, or the man with someone in the background willing to do everything else his life might involve.  But that's arguably a fault of the institutional setting and expectations.  There's no doubt, however, that the baby problem has had some effect.
        1.  When we try to make institutional and social factors more favorable to women, they do much better.
    •  On breaking through them (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      catfish, JPete, kraant, RickBoston

      I think it's a long haul process -- and sure, some Nobel Laureates would help... but I think the best way in the long run to get more women and minorities into the sciences is to make sure that women and minorities are well represented in teaching math and science.

      For most kids at the high school or early college levels, I think that their more important role models tend to be the ones with whom they interact directly.

      It's the early childhood stuff that I'm not entirely sure how to address, honestly.

      On the historical exclusion of women -- I don't have data, but anecdotally I will tell you that women are not formally "kept out", but instead are made to feel unwelcome in some fields through a steady supply of condescention, for example. This still happens -- very badly, in fact, in chemistry, math, physics (though in physics at least nobody pretends that women aren't underrepresented, which is what tends to happen in chemistry). Add to that that the fields in which women are not underrepresented -- biology, for example -- are also given less respect (and less pay) because they're seen (almost entirely unfairly) as "easier". Of course, they must be easier! I mean, even women can do them!

      I'd be willing to bet that these trends hold true for minorities as well.

    •  In fact, the number of women before the 560's was (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, digital drano, kraant, RickBoston

      extremely low.  Women getting PhDs in sciences has started to accelerate in last 70's.  There hasn't been a comparable acceleration in women assitant profs.  And the promotion rates for women are dismal, comparatively speaking.  Of course, having babies accounts for some of this.  Another factor:  tons of women report that they had such a miserable time in grad school with harassment and exclusion that they don't ever want to go near a university again.

      I've really lived in the middle of this problem for some time, both as a woman in a science-y area and married to a scientist who is alert to the problem and trying to solve it.  Time and again he sees women undervalued.  And there are dismal statistics:  E.g., a scandinavian report uncovered that to get a science grant a woman had to have 2.5 the credentials as a man who got one.

      There's a recent article in Science bout MIT's falling back to its usual mode of discrimination.  Some prominent people suggest the most effective people to address the issue are deans.  That makes sense to me, though it's good to have higher-ups who give deans incentives.

      •  opps. Should have been (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Spit, catfish, kraant, RickBoston

        before the 50-60's.  But it is true that before 560, the number wasn't very good either.

      •  What are the statistics on... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... getting papers published in journals like?

        Are the peer reviews done blind?

        Don't be a fuckhead! HTH k thnx. ps. THERE IS NO SEKRIT TROLL-HUNTING CABAL! (Feed trolls not.)

        by kraant on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:04:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's really hard to do science grant reviews (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          blind, because you have to identfy institutional resources and there are similar factors with papers.  I don't know about most of the science journals, but I think biology and chemistry aren't done blind.  Also, in a lot of fields, there isn't much point, since all sorts of stuff is aired at conferences beforehand, and so on.

        •  eeeeckkkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Armando's saying that the decision is in and heads will roll.  Or: there will be banning.

          It's in a thread to which I contributed with a comment with "posse" in the title.

      •  My sister is a woman academic (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        catfish, JPete, kraant

        and is in a field that attracts 90% women (equine science), so I have some first-hand knowledge of the problems faced.

        Listening and seeing what she goes through has immensely reduced my respect for all academics in adminstrative roles. Sorry, to say that, but I have never seen such a spineless, venal collection of people.

        </end rant>

        Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

        by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:10:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was out to dinner last night with (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          catfish, kraant, RickBoston

          a group of women friends.  One, at a different university, had just lost her job as chair of a devision.  She was told it was for "egregious actions" of hers.  No one would tell her what the egregious actions are.

          She suspects it was because (a)she opposed a tenure decision of an administrative beloved who had published just about nothing and (b) planned on hiring a known lesbian to be her vice chair.

          She's suing.

          University politics are completely awful.  That's one reason why my professional interests turned to psychopathologies.  Once I became a visible woman I got garbage you might find it hard to believe, and I had to understand where all this nuttiness was coming from.  

          I had a dean and a chair at one point trying to fire me,with a chief counsel who hated women helping them.  It all ended with the dean being fired, the counsel "getting a better job elsewhere" after the university was fined for his actions in another case, and the chair losing all credibility in the group he was trying to take over from me.  When people ask how I got the dean fired, I say that he gave me a lot of help.

          •  What I know from my sister's case (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            catfish, JPete, kraant

            is that justice is often slow in coming, if it comes at all. In her case many of the involved parties did eventually crash and burn, but she was long gone by the time it happened.

            The pig who was department chair was eventually demoted, but not before keeping a number of women from getting tenure. My sister was denied, won the appeal, which only allowed her to start over. As soon as she won, she wisely got the hell out of there rather than sticking around to let him sabotage the process again.

            There was another woman in the dept who just up and left. No notice, no forwarding address, don't think she even cleaned out her office. Many were afraid she killed herself. She later turned up elsewhere on the other coast doing fine. I had to smile broadly at that one.

            Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it...

            by RickBoston on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:48:12 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  A little tale about a state run university. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JPete, kraant, RickBoston

        This tale was probably repeated in many cities across the USA.  I think this was in the 1970's.  Recall is horrible anymore; so sorry.

        The females in this particular university were NOT paid as much or promoted as often as the males.  The females brought a lawsuit against the university and won.  The female who initially agitated for the lawsuit was a mathematics professor.  Some time later, she became the head of the department.  

        Oh yes, one more thing, the females received monetary compensation, and the above professor bought herself a huge diamond ring and wore it daily to remind herself and others of the past "sins" committed.

  •  I can't vote twice. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JPete, kraant, RickBoston

    Both nos apply to me. I had never before considered the issue and now that it's been presented to me, I'm sure it's absolute rubbish.

    The Skeletor Show as seen on BoingBoing and Wired!

    by Arken on Thu May 25, 2006 at 10:19:58 AM PDT

    •  problems with polls? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Do you see an easy way to fix that problem?

      Does it matter for getting the community opinion?  That's a genuine question.

      I'm surprised you never ran into the issue at all.  Any idea of how you escaped it?  I suspect I was brought up (largely in DC) in a very, very racist setting.  Though the sweet Irish nuns seemed mostly involved with stereotypes of Jews.

  •  Science from an employer's perspective (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catfish, JPete, kraant

    I occasionally participate in hiring decisions of science-oriented employees (mainly chemical engineers, geotechnical engineers, environmental engineers, geologists, hydrogeologists, chemists, and biologists).

    As far as women and minorities go, we have no problem finding and hiring female caucasian staff.  In fact, over the past three years we've hired more women than men in these positions in my office.

    But I don't recall one applicant who was non-caucasian over that time.  Part of that might be caused by where I'm located -- Portland, Oregon is not the most racially diverse place -- but I can't help believe that part of it is caused by the choices made by college students on what major they declare.  

    I'm curious if any others who are in a science/technical field have significantly different experiences.

    •  in a way, that's part of the diary, though it isn (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      obvious.  Bright minorities get a very negative message from day one from a lot of sources.  UMBC is succeeding because in part they act against that message, though they start with kids who survived it through high school.

  •  A dream deferred... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JPete, kraant

    As a Black woman with degrees in BioEngineering, I can say that people of color can definitely handle the physical, bio, chemical and engineering sciences.

    But the politics of getting your degree(s) then manuvering in your career can be a bitch.

    I got my masters from a Big 10 University 20 years ago. I started on my doctorate. I was one of the few, but that didn't bother me. Physics, advanced math, nuclear science, neurobiochem class didn't bother me. My grades were great.

    What bothered my was how many white professors/supervisors put roadblocks in my way to derail my career. I have been told "Don't go into 'X' because I will do everything I can to stop you."

    Yes, they really said that AND they did it too. Marginal/poor recommendations,  vague/minimal reseach guidance, obscure questions to jeopardize comprehensives, higher performance standards than your white peers to "ensure the program's reputation," blatantly racist remarks, straight-out blackballing, humiliating dress-downs in front of white peers, etc.

    It didn't just happen to me. It happened to many talented, bright, ambitious Black scientists. I can list ten colleagues off the top of my head whose careers were actively sabotaged by professors, advisors or employers. (Ray, Dale, Julie, Godfrey, Joe, Judy, Yvonne, Gia, Marie, Kim, David, Chris, another Joe...) Smart, hard-working, ambitious scientists/engineers with the degrees to prove it. Only 2 in the list above were able to sidestep academic career sabotage to complete their doctorates. One had to sue the university to get his degree conferred...mind you his research was already published in the top journals in his field...but that was the problem.

    You have to be REALLY GOOD, but you have to play it small.

    See, so much of getting through advanced degree programs is political. As a Black person you have to be "hard-working", but not too can't be percieved as a "threat" to their ego, you cannot be percieved as "arrogant," you can't be perceived as competative because "you might get THEIR job."

    The politics gets old and it is incredibly stressful. You try to side-step the roadblock, take a different angle, fix the "problem". You get worn out. So you take a different path...

    Me? I work at a small marketing firm. They call me the professor. (smile) No cutting-edge imaging systems. No neurophysiology. No stochastic partial differential equations. Yes...I miss it. I loved that stuff. But it wasn't worth the stress.

    Edward R. Murrow:We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

    by digital drano on Thu May 25, 2006 at 12:03:01 PM PDT

    •  You are clearly a survivor! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm so impressed with what you've done.

      I hope I didn't in any way suggest there was a real question about minorities and science talent.  The question is:  can racism get out of the way?

      •  My first thought... I doubt it. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JPete, kraant, justCal

        But I hope so.

        Racism can only get out of the way when it is perceived by the dominant culture as counterproductive. Much of racism is about sequestering wealth, opportunities and power.  

        In the fifties, Negro professional athletes were not in any of the major leagues. When it became financially advantageous to the powers that be, BOOM.

        Maybe that will happen in science. I hope so. You see American Black culture values creativity... thinking out side the box, doing it a different way, creative individualism. That's what lead to blues, jazz, rock and roll, R&B, rap. Thats what you see in sports showboating, ratcheting up the level of play. You see it in fashion and dance and anything else we do.  And as in music, when we push the envelope there is more space for everyone to play. Imagine that in science. WOW!!

        Edward R. Murrow:We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

        by digital drano on Thu May 25, 2006 at 12:49:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A billion people will be watching him, but..... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JPete, kraant

          .....they should be watching the rest of his family.

          This is kind-of off topic.  But I thought it was interesting.

          One of my favorite soccer players, Oguchi Onyewu, comes from a family that is involved in the sciences.  (More info on them is about half way down the article.)

          Oguchi will grind Jan Koller into a wet spot on the turf in Germany while his siblings are kicking butt in the lab.  Very cool.

        •  Also, off topic (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JPete, kraant

          Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers in 1947.  I am pretty sure that the NBA had black players in the 50's.  The NFL had black players in the 50's.

          Believe it or not, I think there was a black hockey player in the 50's.  Willie O'Ree?

        •  I had to run off and wanted to say something that (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          digital drano, kraant, RickBoston

          really caught my attention in your first comment.  It was about the young person who had published.  Now that I'm back...  I think something that also applies to white women in many contexts is that things that can count FOR white guys can count AGAINST women, African Americans and Hispanics.  For all of us, being different is NOT good.  So a young black guy who publishes is doing something suspicious, or at least may be.  You can't stand out.

          There is a lot of pressure now on universities to push up their minority/female figures in STEM areas, but that doesn't translate well down to tenured faculty who make the decisions.

          AND many people are just clueless about the way bias works.  You can have the most well intentioned committee in the world and they won't necessarily break away from what is normal; the non-normal is perceived as risky, no matter how good someone's credentials may be.  

          •  Obviously, digital drano, I don't (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            digital drano, kraant

            need to say that to you.  But it seems to me another facet of discrimination that lots of people don't realize is out there.

            I'm pretty sure I just experienced it.  I had put together a deal for my university which was pretty staggeringly good.  Collaborating with Nobel Prize winner-level players to build something.  Turned down by a group of faculty members.  It was very outside the box, especially for my third rate place.

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