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Afterword: Six Steps Forward for Studying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM

We worked to compile a volume that offers examples of how scholars study resilience. Now, to conclude the volume, I will reflect on some of the lessons from contributors and recommend six steps forward for scholars who seek to study diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. Although I hope to broaden directions for future research to include multiple groups of students, I see these steps as essential for continuing to advance the literature on Latinas in STEM.

Now more than ever, the nations economic and scientific competitiveness depends on expanding opportunities for Latinas to succeed in science. Improving equity in STEM fields is imperative if institutions of higher education in the United States wish to live up to their rhetoric about equal opportunity. Over the last century, womens access to higher education expanded so rapidly that women outnumbered men among associate’s- degree earners by 1977, bachelor’s-degree earners by 1981, master’s-degree earners by 1986, and doctorate-degree earners by 2005 (Snyder & Dillow, 2012, Table 310). Yet, women’s degree attainment continues to vary across fields and remains persistently low in STEM. I aim to identify research directions so that scholars and practitioners can close the opportunity gap and achieve equitable levels of degree attainment for women and minorities in STEM.

First, I consider that several chapters in the volume refer to the inter- sectionality of gender and race and argue that scholars should continue to explore those connections. Then, I suggest that scholars also acknowledge that individuals’ gender and racial identities may change over time. After that, I posit that scholars may be able to get additional traction for understanding STEM education and advocating for promising practices by studying broad groups of students. My fourth point speaks to the need to do international and comparative research on STEM education. Fifth, I claim that scholars should expand their methodological approaches to studying STEM by including critical quantitative techniques. Finally, I return to the volume’s central theme—resilience—and consider how scholars may apply the term in future discourse. I see these six directions as promising avenues for understanding broader equity' challenges in higher education.

Untangle the Double Bind: Analyze the Intersectionality of Gender and Race

Drawing on previous work (Malcom, Hall, & Brown, 1976; Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011) and the concept of intersectionality (e.g., Crenshaw, 1989), several contributors to this volume mention that Latinas in STEM experience a “double bind” and are minoritized based on both their gender and race (e.g., Kim, Beverly, & Ro, 2020; Mein, Guerra, & Herrera-Rocha, 2020; Garcia, Rincon, & Hinojosa, 2020). Grimes and Morris (1997) recount a Latina sociologist stating that her gender is far more influential in her experiences in academia than her racial identity; she also states that her working-class background is more important than her racial identity but less salient than her gender identity. Moving forward, scholars should continue to analyze the ways in which both gender and race influence how students navigate STEM. In other words, studies should examine where, when, and how the two identities matter.

Consider two undergraduate Latinas: one studies biology and the other studies physics. To what extent is the experience in biology—where women outnumber men (National Science Foundation, 2017)—influenced by being a member of a racial minority group as opposed to a member of a gender majority group? How is that different from the experience of a Latina in physics, where both identities are minoritized? Literature suggests that the gender bond of the double bind may be more salient for a Latina in physics than in biology. For example, Gonsalves (2011) conclude that although “the culture of physics was espoused as gender neutral . . . gender is woven into the cultural narratives of disciplines like physics in ways that students do not detect, yet position themselves around nonetheless” (p. 130). We must better understand double-bind situations so that we may work to unravel them.

Consider How Gender and Racial Identities Change Over Time

The STEM pathway begins in elementary school, where girls receive early preparation for math and science. Later, young women in high school make decisions about where to apply to college and choose initial academic majors. Women apply to graduate school toward the end of, or after completing, undergraduate work. By the time women pursue faculty or postdoctoral careers in STEM, at least two decades have passed since they were introduced to math and science.

In her study of graduate school choice, Kallio (1995) argues that we need to consider factors (e.g., marriage, having children) that lead to life- stage differences. For example, motherhood typically changes how women understand their gender identity' based on their roles as mothers (McMahon, 1995). According to Grimes and Morris (1997), women may be more likely to favor family commitments and make educational or career sacrifices. If we are to improve women’s experiences in STEM as undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, or other professionals, then we need to further examine life-stage differences.

Just as women may reconsider their gender roles over time and across life stages, college students’ racial identities may evolve based on individuals’ situations (Renn, 2000). Fuller-Rowell, Burrow, and Ong (2011) explain that there are three dimensions to racial identity. Centrality refers to how an individual identifies with a racial group. Private regard describes whether an individual feels positively or negatively about a racial group—and being part of that group. Compared to private regard, public regard has to do with an individual’s perceptions about whether others feel positively or negatively about a racial minority group (Fuller-Rowell et al., 2011). Renn (2000) finds that demographic factors and peer culture in college contexts can influence how multiracial students make sense of their racial identities.

Additionally, students may have “encounter” experiences that lead them to explore their racial identities. An encounter experience is a “significant personal or social race-related event that is inconsistent with an individual’s existing frame of reference,” which challenges a person “to think through their existing attitudes and beliefs and to consider various other possible perspectives relating to their race” (Fuller-Rowell et ah, 2011, p. 1609; see also Cross, 1991). Although Renn (2000) focuses on situational factors on a college campus, Fuller-Rowell and colleagues (2011) shows that factors outside the immediate college context—for example, a national presidential election—can be meaningful encounters that spur students to explore their racial identities. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, Black undergraduates experienced increases in multiple dimensions of racial identity (Fuller-Rowell et ah, 2011). One avenue for future research and practice is to classify different types of encounters that trigger positive and negative racial identity exploration among racially minoritized individuals throughout STEM education and careers.

 
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