the last few decades, academia has gone from being dominated by white men to being increasingly populated by people—mainly but not exclusively women—who maintain broader responsibilities—to children, extended family, and the wider community. Yet support systems in academia (both explicit and implicit) have been slow to broaden and embrace the growing diversity among its graduate students, post docs, and faculty. The consequences of support that is spotty at best are severe, particularly in the face of the U.S. shortage of STEM professionals. The academy, if it is to attract and retain the brightest and most innovative researchers and teachers, must accommodate scholars whose values and lives embrace a set of needs not only inside, but outside of the academy as well.
Participants in this conference brought recommendations and examples of successful practices that strategically minded institutions are employing to capture, nurture, and maximize American talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in academia. Some examples of strategies and some research discussed pertained to women in general, due to an absence of strategies or research on women of color specifically; however, the experiences of women of color were addressed directly whenever possible. Forward-thinking programs in some universities have found success and are moving university programs and “climates” toward ones that support talented faculty who are women of color. Many climate or cultural shifts are conceptually simple and inexpensive to implement. The questions raised and needs identified at this conference show the way toward more hospitable academic environments in which every talented, driven, and creative American in STEM disciplines thrives, finds community and collaborations, and makes his or her maximum contribution to this nation’s scientific and technological strength.
Recommendations and insights offered by conference participants clustered in two areas. The first had to do with the need to deliberately expand access for women of color to many modes of support that have tended to accrue virtually automatically to the more “traditional” students and scholars in the history of institutions of higher education—white men and, to a lesser degree, white women and men of color. The second area related to unconscious gender and racial bias. Women of color (and, to differing degrees, women overall) are often on the receiving end of “cognitively automatic” assumptions about their abilities and ambition. But studies have shown and specific institutions can attest to the fact that it is quite possible to diminish systematic bias through well-designed, simple awareness-raising activities and programs (see Chapter 3, Multiple Marginality: Gender, Race, and Equity in Science Education and Research). Pertinent to both areas is the need for better metrics (and mechanisms for obtaining data) for understanding the representation of women of color in STEM fields in academia, their routes through the educational and professional stages of their careers, and the climates and cultures of institutions of higher education in terms of diversity inclusion throughout the United States.
Participants suggested valuable resources and offered examples of programs and activities that are known to help reduce unconscious bias and lead to institutional climates that more evenly support faculty and students of all genders, races, and ethnicities, as well as other important divides. As one participant remarked, the need, broadly conceived, is for an end to differentism and a recognition of how an embrace of differences brings strength to academia.