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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Ties that Bind: The Experiences of Women of Color Faculty in STEM

  • Author(s): Wilkins, Ashlee Nichole
  • Advisor(s): Hurtado, Sylvia
  • et al.

As women of color (WOC) enter the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline with aspirations to join the faculty ranks, it is important that the academy is prepared to address their unique needs to ensure they are supported as they engage in scientific and technological research, support students, and advance in their career. Thus, the purpose of this study was to test the theoretical constructs included the Science identity model, and determine how the relationship among the concepts are moderated by race and gender (Carlone & Johnson, 2007). Moreover, the study examines how identity shaped WOC’s navigation of the STEM academic workplace. This study employs a convergent mixed methods design, using Higher Education Research Institute surveys of 272 underrepresented WOC, compared with 544 White men and women, and interviews with 10 WOC participants.

The findings indicate the ways that stress from discrimination impacts the dimensions of performance and recognition in the science identity model. WOC encounter racism and sexism as they navigate the academy, requiring them to maneuver through hostile work environments. Specifically, participants shared that they had to legitimize their role as a STEM academic because colleagues, leadership, and even students challenged their competence and tried to invalidate their contributions and ideas. Although the WOC who participated in this study experienced challenges, their passion and the intrinsic rewards they received through their roles as professors and mentors added to their strength, resiliency and commitment to STEM.

This study illuminates the voices of an understudied demographic and expands theory about scientific identity development, thereby significantly contributing to both higher education and gender studies. This research has implications for institutional practice because it helps academic leaders understand how WOC STEM faculty navigate the academy and recommends changes that increase the support available for WOC faculty. This research also suggests that department chairs and colleagues have the capacity to challenge the existing culture in STEM so that it becomes equally supportive for all faculty.

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