Lee: The importance of Black Girls Do Science

BY ASHLEY LEE | APRIL 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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“Black Girls Do Science” is a local effort seeking to reduce the racial and gender disparities of black women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. It will be held on Saturday in the Seamans Center, and although the program specifically has “Black” in its title, it is not exclusive to black girls.

The title draws attention to not only the lack of black women in STEM fields — who make up 2 percent of engineers and scientists in the United States — but to also counter the ignorant notion that black people, black women in particular, are incapable, uninterested, or unqualified to perform exemplary work in STEM fields.

Not too many people associate black people with STEM, and unfortunately, this thinking has become internalized.

Bryne Berry, the UI National Society of Black Engineer’s Black Girls Do Science committee head, notes that the program is open to girls of any race from the fourth to eighth grade. However, this does not discount the program’s primary focus in encouraging black girls and other young girls of color to have an interest in and excel in STEM fields because of our underrepresentation.

It’s important for young women of color to see people who look like them in mathematic and scientific fields; otherwise, the misconception that not only white scholars but white men serving as the primary and well-respected contributors to STEM will prevail.

Black Girls Do Science is sponsored by the Carver College of Medicine and College of Engineering, showing the departments’ efforts in eliminating the underrepresentation of not only women, but women of color in STEM fields.

By offering pre-med, pre-pharmacy, engineering, technology, and math workshops, UI students and professors of color serving as the program’s facilitators hope to motivate young black and brown women to recognize that they do have the right and ability to contribute to scientific fields, which have made tremendous strides in advancing human conditions.

Girls of color should participate in Black Girls Do Science so they have a chance to develop their own interests and contribute to a rich legacy of technological and educational advancements. It also gives them greater career options.

Still, some have argued that the program’s focus on black girls is discriminatory.

I wouldn’t argue such an initiative is exclusive or discriminatory just because it simultaneously aims to support race and gender-based historically underrepresented groups. While there are programs for women in general to encourage them to engage in the math and sciences, black girls and other girls of color are often slighted.

It’s interesting that when it comes to broad programs mean to foster inclusion for women in traditionally male-driven spheres, there seems to be communal effort and support. Many people are on board with such programs, or the public outcry is not as severe as the resistance to initiatives seeking to counter racial inequalities.

Nevertheless, such programs that seek to strictly mitigate gender-inequality rarely directly address racial disparities. This is why programs that focus particularly on the intersectionality of social identities in education like Black Girls Do Science are important.

It’s understandable that the program may stir up tension in the Iowa City community because it addresses both the systemic gender and racial disparities in STEM. But I challenge members of our community who find this program problematic, and even perhaps racist, to recognize that in order to combat racial inequality, such programs are necessary.

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