APLU supports #ShutdownSTEM’s call to action to eradicate racism and develop real plans of action to build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive STEM community. Public research universities have a key role to play in this goal. While important work is being done to attract more black students into STEM fields and to build a professoriate whose diversity is representative of America, much more work needs to be undertaken by public universities. We seek to use this moment to share some of the work we have underway at APLU to address these issues, but also want to take time to recognize we need to listen and learn more so we can do much more.
Simply put, there is a stunning lack of diversity in STEM. A 2015 NSF study found that underrepresented minority faculty occupied a mere 8 percent of associate and full professorships in STEM fields at four-year institutions. The burden of being part of that 8 percent is real and well documented in social science literature. It is upon organizations like APLU and public research universities to address this loss of potential and make our organizations work better. We know that having more scholars of color as part of STEM faculty will have a direct impact on our ability to attract more black, brown, and other historically underrepresented students into STEM fields. Data show when underrepresented students are taught by minority faculty members they achieve at significantly higher rates; as much as 20-50 percent of the course achievement gaps between minority and majority students are eliminated.
At APLU, we are committed to supporting public research universities as they seek to improve their work in this space. Our NSF-funded Aspire Alliance, which we co-lead with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is bringing together dozens of public universities to develop institutional policies and practices that will diversify their STEM professoriate and ensure all faculty utilize inclusive teaching practices. In addition to working with research universities to change their own practices, Aspire is focused on regional change through partnerships with two-year colleges, four-year regional universities, public research universities, and the private sector. The project also partners on a national level with an array of disciplinary societies to provide STEM faculty professional developers with tools and resources to increase institutional capacity to cultivate inclusive faculty.
We also use intersectional data to shine a spotlight on the lack of African American and Hispanic students earning engineering degrees. An NSF-funded report from APLU, 2018 Status Report on Engineering Education: A Snapshot of Diversity in Degrees Conferred in Engineering, found that while the overall number of engineering degrees earned by black and Hispanic students had risen in recent years, it was not enough to close the gap in nearly every state between the share of engineering degrees and their representation in the college age population of the state. We are now beginning a similar analysis of diversity in computer science.
The horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, as well as many, many, other acts of violence against black people and persistent racism and racial injustice are forcing us all to reflect on the problems at hand and to identify steps we can take to address them. APLU’s Network of STEM Education Centers’ (NSEC) conference happens to coincide with today’s #ShutdownSTEM. The conference quickly adjusted its schedule to ensure that it devoted the day to discussing how STEM Education Centers, which are the hub of campus-based efforts leading the transformation of undergraduate STEM education, can act locally while thinking globally to address racism and anti-blackness.
Out of so many great tragedies and instances of racial injustice, we must do our part to change policies and practices as well as to take individual responsibility to engage in personal work to address bias thoughts and actions that pervade our systems and institutions. We must recognize the burden of being black in STEM fields, the burden of being a woman in STEM fields, the burden of having intersectional minority identities in STEM fields. And we must truly recognize the incredible value these scholars bring to our institutions, disciplines, and communities. Together with #ShutdownSTEM we commit to eradicate racism and build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive STEM community. APLU pledges to continue our existing work while listening, learning, and acting to do much more.
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