There Are Virtually NO African-American Women in STEM: And Here’s Why

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By: Ariana Bailey

Copy edited by: Amanda Hirsch and Maggie McPherson

Research edited by: Sean Cotnam

Format edited by: Arthur Carlton-Jones

Working in STEM allows you to figure out ways to enhance the future of technology and medicine. The field is also known to be financially stable with low unemployment rates. STEM is a field that provides the perfect combination of practicality and innovation. Other fields of work usually can only provide one or the other.

That’s why I decided to major in animal biotechnology when I enrolled in college. I knew that this major wasn’t a popular choice. However, when I sat down with my academic advisor and learned that you could count the number of black girls with the same major on one hand, it’s safe to say I was quite surprised. It wasn’t just my major that had an extremely small amount of black female participation, this trend permeated throughout all fields of STEM and at all levels of higher education. The number dwindles even more when looking at the amount of women with higher-level positions in STEM jobs.

The Numbers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a survey conducted in 2014 on American college freshman who were attending 4-year universities and intended to major in science or engineering. Out of all the African American/black females who were surveyed, only 5% were planning on majoring in engineering and only 2% were planning on majoring in math or computer science. These percentages are pretty low in comparison to those of African American men, among which 14.6% were planning on majoring in engineering and 6.8% were planning on majoring in math or computer science.[1] Based off of this sizeable gap, it is clear that African American women are reluctant to pursue STEM at a college level.

The NSF also released data in 2016 showing that black women comprised 10% of all women who earned a bachelor’s in science or engineering[2] and 9% of all women who earned a masters in the same areas.[3] The proportion decreases significantly when looking at all women who have earned doctoral degrees in science or engineering, with black women comprising less than 3% of that population.[4] Black women with STEM doctorates also comprised less than 4% of all women with STEM doctorates in the STEM workforce.[5]

Why So Few?

I am an African-American woman who plans on having a successful career in biotechnology. When I retire and look back at all of my achievements, I want to be able to say that I not only changed the face of science and medicine, but also opened doors for other black women who wanted to do the same. But before I do that, I must understand what factors are causing so few black women to pursue STEM in the first place.

Of course, the first factor that comes to mind when determining how to be successful in STEM is educational attainment. However, in the case of black women in America, educational attainment truly isn’t the problem. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, African-American women are one of the most educated demographics in the United States. Between 2009 and 2010, black women earned 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s degrees and 65 percent of all doctorates awarded to black students.[6] We can see that educational attainment isn’t the reason why black women aren’t moving forward in STEM, many other individual and environmental are at play here. I believe that the classroom and workplace environments are greatly implicated in the deficiency of black women in STEM.

The Culprit

Black woman are definitely tokens in the STEM field and will often be in environments where they are one of a kind, and much like any other environment with a major and minority population, stereotyping and discrimination are bound to occur. Stereotyping isn’t just stressful on a personal level, but can also implicate a person’s ability to establish the networks necessary for doing well in difficult classes or advancing to higher positions at work. Stereotyping can also cause the ideas of black woman to be overlooked in the classroom or workplace. Majority groups tend to over-scrutinize the behavior and performance of a token classmate or employee.[7] Being black and a woman in a white-male-dominated field like STEM can be extremely stressful because you are constantly trying to prove that you are just as knowledgeable and innovative as your co-workers or classmates, even though you are obviously qualified. The combined stress from a discriminatory workplace and a strenuous workload of STEM could cause any person to decide to pursue other endeavors.

It’s up to people like me, the of black women in STEM on campus and on the job, to speak up about tour personal discriminatory experiences, and promote an inclusive space for future black female scientists and engineers.

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Stop and Frisk; Stop or Continue?

By: Levan Ungiadze

Copy edited by Dominique Croons and Brett Levenstein

Research Edited by Brett Levenstein

Format edited by: Arthur Carlton-Jones

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What is Stop and Frisk and why is it important?

During the first presidential debate between Hillary R. Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the New York Billionaire suggested that violence in Chicago is even worse than that of Afghanistan, and called for stop and frisk, which is a policing tactic that has been widely condemned as racial profiling. Stop and frisk gives police the power to detain and search people if there are specific reasons for suspicion. Critics of this practice claim that there is often no specific evidence and that it disproportionately affects minorities.[1] It is extremely important to consider that the U.S. District Court judge ruled this practice unconstitutional. Still, the topic has been brought back up by the presidential candidate Trump, and hence the conversation has once again opened. Even though stop and frisk was ruled to be unconstitutional, should the US still practice it?

Racial profiling and its negative consequences?

In the federal class action lawsuit Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al, “Floyd focuses not only on the lack of any reasonable suspicion to make these stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but also on the obvious racial disparities in who is stopped”.[2] (gramma-Dominique) Since 2002, New York residents have been subjected to over 5 million cases of stop and frisk, and “Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports”.[3] Out of these 5 million stops, approximately 85 percent were either Black or Latino, even though these two groups together only make up 52 percent of the city’s population. For many, such obvious racial profiling “constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”.[4] For example, in 2006, New Yorkers were stopped by the police a total of 506, 491 times. Out of these, 90 percent were totally innocent, 53 percent were Black and 29 percent were Latino, while white people only made up 11 percent of the stops.[5]

Such blatant racial profiling can possibly stem distrust of the police force in the Black and Latino communities and will turn a structure that is supposed be a symbol of help and hope into something feared. In case of emergencies, many might not seek for help of the police because of mistrust or some might decide to run from them even when innocent due to the fear of their words not having enough weight.

Violent crime decline and its possible reasons?

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Ray Kelly claimed that the streets of New York are much safer now and that is true, violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, but no research has tied this decline to the stop and frisk regime. In those years “large cities experienced larger violent crime declines without relying on stop and frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore”.[6] Hence, the stop and frisk practices in New York did not decrease crime rates and the reason for the 29 percent drop needs to be found in other variables such as growth in income, lower unemployment rates and decreased alcohol consumption.

Bottom Line

As someone who has experienced this practice firsthand, I can certainly talk about the negative sides related to stop and frisk. I was once stopped without any real reason while walking back home from a friend’s apartment. Since I had already heard from a couple of my friends just how roughly they were treated, I did not question anything the police told me, and I simply complied. They patted me around, laughed, emptied my backpack onto the ground, and once done searching, did not pick anything up. The whole experience was morally demeaning as I was put in a situation where I was being treated unjustly, but couldn’t do anything about it. I knew how any hint of struggling would be used completely against me. In conclusion, not only is stop and frisk unconstitutional, inefficient, morally wrong and promoting racial profiling, it also leaves the victim with a distrust of the police force and divides communities. Bringing such a hurtful regime back would be a mistake.