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Racial Ideologies, Biases, and Broadening Participation in the STEM Academy

Sat, April 18, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Virtual Room


Purpose & Conceptual Framework
Research on school climate has been limited to undergraduate or K-12 students, suggesting a need for graduate-specific studies (Mattison & Aber, 2007). The STEM climate is often perceived as competitive and hostile (Gasman et al., 2016). The negative experiences of SoC in STEM cause friction for achieving institutional (e.g., Spaulding Smith Fellowship at UMass) and national (e.g., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016) diversity and broadening participation in STEM goals. The climate within academic spaces have implications for motivational and achievement outcomes. With experiential knowledge, race and racism, and social justice being at the centrality of this investigation, a Critical Race Theory framework was deemed appropriate (Solorzano & Yosso, 2000). Our aim is to understand racial barriers to achievement facing STEM doctoral students by asking, 1) How do graduate SoC conceptualize issues of race?, 2) How have graduate SoC experienced racial discrimination within their own STEM departments?, and 3) Does students’ experience with racial discrimination affect their perceptions of the racial climate?

17 STEM doctoral students across multiple Midwest universities were sent a one-time questionnaire with open-ended and Likert scale questions. Open-ended questions were analyzed using a grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Likert-scale items across all the quantitative measures were aggregated to create the appropriate subscales. Most subscales had acceptable reliability (> .70). Simple linear regressions were conducted to answer research question three.

24% of the students acknowledged racism as a responsibility on a system of oppression, and 76% of them conceptualized racism as a responsibility of the individual. 35% students did not define implicit bias as unconscious. 41% identified a microaggression as something with small impact, or an offense that “feels bad” to a lesser degree. For examples, see Table 1.
76% reported an experience of racial discrimination within their own department. Worth noting, of the students who had not witnessed any, 50% were within their first year still.
We transformed the experience to a binary yes/no category and conducted 15 simple linear regressions against each of the Likert-subscales. The regressions indicated only experience (t = -2.63, p = .02) has a significant effect on mainstream socialization, (F(1, 15) = 6.92, p < .05, R2 = .32).

Scholarly Significance
Results reveal doctoral SoC in STEM are seeing their departments as having a lack of cultural exchange in STEM, and more alarmingly some have witnessed other faculty and students explicitly telling students they need to assimilate into their “American” culture. Students failing to assimilate their identities and cultures in STEM, and even speaking out about problematic behaviors and climates, feel at risk of academic setback in their doctoral studies. This has both financial (e.g., loss of paid GA position) and academic/career implications (e.g., intention to stay or leave) for students, because of something outside their individual-level of control. We need to leave the concept of broadening SoC participation in STEM behind, and focus of the more apparent problem: graduate Student of Color retention in STEM.