Black Women Used Social Networks to Help Them Persist in STEM

Black women pursuing undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) create and rely on dynamic social networks in order to persist and overcome barriers in their education, according to a new study from University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers. The lead author of the study is Paris Wicker, a recent graduate of the university’s educational leadership and policy analysis doctoral program, who recently was hired as assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at The State University of New York at Buffalo.

The new study sought to shed light on how relationships and community support success for Black women as they pursue education in STEM fields. The authors said their work used a critical narrative approach to explore how strong relationships at Spelman College — a private, historically Black, women’s liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia — helped Black women thrive in STEM degree programs at historically Black colleges and universities and beyond. One of their key findings was pointing out the power of students’ families being connected to campus or campus actors.

“It was not simply that the Black women alumnae identified multiple forms of support, but that the alumnae described ways that the supporters were linked to their academic program,” they wrote.

The authors also pointed out that while their analysis focused on HBCU environments, the concepts uncovered should be considered widely applicable across all types of institutions seeking to support Black women in STEM fields. “Predominantly White campuses could undoubtedly adapt the idea of finding ways to connect various parts of a support network,” the authors wrote.

The full study, “A Web of Support: A Critical Narrative Analysis of Black Women’s Relationships in STEM Disciplines,” was published in The Review of Higher Education. It may be accessed here.

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