Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation brings together more than ten years of research on high-achieving, underrepresented racially minoritized (URM) students and faculty in STEM fields. I attempt to offer a deep appreciation of what it means to be a STEMer of color and academically successful in contexts where people of color are few and negative beliefs about our ability and motivation persist. I explore questions such as these: How do some students manage to survive brutal academic climates, and what does it cost them? Why do schools continue to recruit URM people into disciplines whose climate regularly drives them away? How does excluding people of color from STEM disciplines limit innovation?
My research had similar or overlapping questions and comparable critical theory of race frameworks. It revealed that most of the stress STEMers of color reported was not associated with academic demands. Stereotyping colored their daily interactions with others, becoming cognitively intrusive and creating constant tension in their academic lives. The impact of being successful in STEM yet marginalized manifested in mental health difficulties, disrupted STEM career trajectories, minority status stress, impostor phenomenon, and other problems. Layers of conscious and unconscious bias sapped the motivation of the most determined and well-prepared students and faculty. Some URM STEMers managed to cope but not heal from these obstacles and succeed in their studies and careers.
My research goes beyond reciting basic principles and the virtues of mentoring and gets down to the nitty gritty. I argue for the implementation of sustainable actions that create equitable and inclusive contexts in which URM students and faculty feel welcome, can be open about who they are, and can see themselves as thriving in their chosen disciplines. I expose the need for unique supports designed for URM students in STEM, ones that go beyond ensuring their mere survival to helping them flourish and feel like valued members of their disciplines. These supports include a race-conscious acknowledgement of the challenges URM STEM students endure and the willingness of institutions and departments to confront their own racial discrimination, stereotyping, and hostile environments. Solutions do not involve fixing the URM student; rather, I put the burden for change on STEM departments and their racialized cultures.
As an associate professor of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, I investigate what it means to be racially marginalized while minoritized in the context of learning and achieving in STEM higher education and in the STEM professions. I study in particular the racialized experiences and racial stereotypes that adversely affect the education and career trajectories of underrepresented groups of color. This involves exploring the social, material, and health costs of academic achievement and problematizing traditional forms of success in higher education, with an unapologetic focus on Black folk in these places and spaces. My National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant investigates how marginalization undercuts success in STEM through psychological stress, interrupted STEM career trajectories, impostor phenomenon, and other debilitating race-related trauma for Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx doctoral students.
Education is my second career; I left a career in electrical engineering to earn a PhD in mathematics education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago, and a NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship at Northwestern University. With funding from seven NSF grants, I cofounded the Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initiative or EDEFI (pronounced “edify”). I also cofounded the Institute in Critical Quantitative and Mixed Methodologies Training for Underrepresented Scholars (ICQCM), which aims to be a go-to resource for the development of quantitative and mixed-methods skillsets that challenge simplistic quantifications of race and marginalization. ICQCM receives support from the NSF, The Spencer Foundation, and the W. T. Grant Foundation.
My first solo-authored book is entitled Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation: https://www.hepg.org/hep-home/books/black,-brown,-bruised#
My research has been featured in prominent media outlets, including The Atlantic, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Nature Human Behaviour, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Higher Education Today, NPR’s Codeswitch, The Hechinger Report, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, US News & World Report, Inside Higher Education, Tennessean, Washington Monthly, and The UK Voice Online.
Visit the EDEFI website at https://blackengineeringphd.org/
Visit the ICQCM website at https://www.icqcm.org/