A recent study from researchers at the University of Illinois found that the overall racial climate on a college campus — as determined by experiences of racial microaggressions — is a contributing factor in the lack of representation of students of color in STEM education programs.
In other words, the study found when students of color in STEM majors felt excluded, invisible, or isolated on their college campus because of their race, sometimes combined with discouraging experiences in academic settings, they were less likely to continue in STEM.
Survey participants responded to questions asking, for example, if they have had their contributions minimized in classrooms because of their race; experienced negative and insulting comments because of their race; or felt invisible or unwelcome on their campus because of their race. Some students reported dropping out of STEM majors because of these experiences or having been encouraged by advisers or instructors to change to a non-STEM major.
Jasmine Collins, assistant professor of organizational and community leadership at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the study, stated that “in order to educate our workforce, students have to come through our doors and if these are the kinds of experiences students of color are facing — the campus signals to them they don’t belong in STEM, their peers in class don’t want to work with them because they think they’re incompetent, or their adviser recommends they switch majors because this might be too hard for them — if it’s just message after message saying, ‘you don’t belong here, you’re not smart enough, you’re not skilled enough to have this kind of job,’ then we’re losing a lot of talent in the pipeline.”
Dr. Collins is a graduate of Indiana Univerity, where she majored in communication and culture. She holds a master’s degree in educational policy studies and a Ph.D. in educational organization and leadership from the University of Illinois.
The full study, “’If You Aren’t White, Asian or Indian, You Aren’t an Engineer’: Racial Microaggressions in STEM Education,” was published in the International Journal of STEM Education. It may be accessed here.