In an effort to address problems of inclusivity in Yale’s STEM departments, undergraduates plan to lead a workshop next Tuesday that will invite Yale students to share with faculty the challenges they have faced in STEM classrooms.
Titled “What Yale Students Want You to Know about Being Human in STEM,” the event aims to use anecdotal student experiences to inform STEM faculty of persisting problems in Yale’s STEM culture.
The workshop is just one of several initiatives organized by Being Human in STEM, a fall 2016 seminar class that provided students and faculty with a space for open discussion of potential solutions to problems pervading STEM at Yale. Physics and Center for Teaching and Learning postdoctoral teaching scholar Claudia De Grandi, a co-instructor of the class, said that she hopes the workshop will shock STEM faculty and inform them that “something really needs to be done.”
“One thing we hope the faculty become aware of is the difference between equity and equality,” said physics professor Simon Mochrie, the head instructor of Being Human in STEM. “STEM faculty understand equality — where every student gets the same treatment — but it’s also important for them to recognize that people arrive at Yale with different experiences and levels of preparation.”
Although Being Human in STEM is not offered this semester, six of the eight students from the fall class are continuing work on many of the initiatives they began in the fall. The team has also joined forces with students and faculty from the Academic Strategies Program, a CTL initiative that focuses on providing academic planning resources to underclassmen.
In addition to organizing the faculty workshop, one of the team’s ongoing projects is analysis of the Diversity in STEM Climate Survey distributed to Yale undergraduates last October. Although the group has not yet compiled their data into publishable results, team member Laura Goetz ’17 noted that students with different demographic backgrounds reported very different experiences with the STEM climate at Yale.
“Having very significant numbers to illustrate [these results] is powerful for thinking about where we need to put our efforts when we want to create new interventions and innovations to create a better STEM climate at Yale,” Goetz said.
Goetz noted that based on the survey’s preliminary analysis, one of the most striking breakdowns was gender: For almost every question asked on the survey, cis gender women responded that they had significantly different or worse experiences than cisgender men, she said. Goetz added that data from transgender students was not available for public release due to low number of responses from these students.
Another student on the team, Fadeke Muraina ’17, pointed out that although women and minorities were most likely to identify problems in Yale’s STEM climate, cis white male respondents also recognized that there were issues.
De Grandi said the team hopes to disseminate the results of the Diversity in STEM Climate Survey to the Yale community next September, and eventually submit their findings to an academic journal.
Being Human in STEM also looks forward to building a website that will raise awareness of inclusivity problems and provide the Yale community with resources to address these issues. The website will also serve as a step toward creating a network of college campuses taking up similar initiatives.
Students who took the fall Being Human in STEM class expressed their gratitude for finding a space that supports genuine collaboration between students and faculty.
“A lot of times it feels like students are doing all the labor, but in this class, the professors, the CTL and the Physics Department have all given us a lot of resources,” Joyce Guo ’17 said. “It’s very encouraging to get so much institutional support for our projects.”
Being Human in STEM will be offered again in spring 2018. It will be taught by molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Andrew Miranker, who co-taught the class last fall. However, the instructors expressed some concerns about continuity of the class’s objectives, since many of the students are seniors who will no longer be at Yale next year.
“The biggest challenge for the long term is sustainability,” De Grandi said. “We’ve all invested so much in something new, and we need to make sure a new cohort of students continues these projects. The most important thing is to keep a special place where students and faculty can come together and work together on a common goal without a hierarchy in place.”
The idea behind the class came from Amherst College.
Correction, April 28: An earlier version of this story said transgender students had low response rates to the survey when in fact transgender students had low response numbers. Indeed, transgender students had disproportionally high response rates.