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Why We Wrote This Book
When you first consider discussing diversity with your colleagues or students, you may experience a moment of doubt. How can you handle this often volatile issue without people becoming uncomfortable about participating in the conversation? How can you facilitate the discussion so that everyone leaves with a sense of respect and even some insight?
If you are new to this conversation, you may feel tempted to stop at this point. The situation may seem too risky. But first, consider these facts.
Even though proportionately higher numbers of African Americans aspire to science graduate degrees than European Americans do, the actual percentage of doctorates in the sciences awarded to African Americans in 1995 was only 2.0% (Maton, Hrabowski & Schmitt, 2000).
The percentage of full professorships in the sciences currently held by women is currently under 15% (Nelson & Rogers, 2004). In many cases, talented girls are discouraged from entering the sciences before they graduate from high school. Studies have documented that women face exclusionary behavior in college and in graduate school (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Ferreira, 2002).
These percentages are not representative of the numbers of African Americans and women in the general population. This discrepancy indicates that the scientific community is not fully connecting with the professional potential of college and graduate students. Research by Sheila Tobias has documented that many college students have the academic preparation and talent to enter the sciences, but are discouraged by the education they receive in large introductory courses (Tobias, 1990).
Why, despite efforts towards recruitment and social support, do these discrepancies persist? Many factors contribute to the loss of women and minority students from science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. As you will see when you read through the case studies that follow, exclusion is rarely deliberate. A well-intentioned professor who enjoys talking with his male students may be oblivious to the fact that his female students are leaving the course. An international student Teaching Assistant may be puzzled by unfriendly reactions in class. White students may not know how to react when their underrepresented minority peers express discomfort with the classroom culture. These dynamics are often both subtle and complex.
The advantage of the case study method is that it allows for multiple points of view, to create discussion and foster greater understanding. The cases in this book are designed not to have "one right answer." Understanding diversity is not a simple project that can be addressed in one hour or one day. Diversity is a complex and evolving aspect of the academic community.
This case book deals extensively with teaching technique, as most of the scenarios take place in instructional settings. Therefore, this book may particularly interest faculty and graduate students who would like to enhance their teaching by discussing ways to resolve challenging situations. Just as research in the physical sciences increases in depth and sophistication, so can our understanding of teaching practices.
Now is an ideal time for this dialogue. The U.S. population is becoming increasingly multiethnic, and college students are mirroring this increased diversity. Greater numbers of students with disabilities are entering college. Greater numbers of women are also pursuing higher education. It is time to discuss the issues that discourage promising students from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Ferreira, M. M. (2002). The research lab: A chilly place for graduate women. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 8, 85-98.
Maton, K. I., Hrabowski, F. A., Schmitt, C. L. (2000). African American college students excelling in the sciences: College and postcollege outcomes in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(7), 629-654.
Nelson, D. J. (2005). A national analysis of diversity in science and engineering faculties at research universities. Retrieved May 2, 2005, from http://cheminfo.chem.ou.edu/~djn/diversity/briefings/Diversity%20Report%...
Seymour, E. & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: why undergraduates leave the sciences. Colorado, Boulder: Westview Press.
Tobias, S. (1990). They're not dumb. They're different. A new tier of talent for science. Change, 22(4), 11-30.