For this semester’s final project, I will be looking at creating an action plan for the lack of representation concerning Latinas in STEM. My target audience will be middle school girls, between the ages 11-13 because this is the time frame where many young girls are more vulnerable to feeling like they can’t succeed in the sciences and math. Along with African American women, Latinas are the least represented women working in science and engineering occupations. While even white women are at an 18% representation, Latinas and African American women are at a 2% (see graph below). This points also the recognition that women may get degrees in the STEM fields, but they gravitate towards the healthcare and education sectors. Since this project is going to be simply treating a small portion of those that are underrepresented in the STEM fields, why look at Latinas specifically?
Latinas make up 33% of the 22% of females under 18, which is a good amount of young girls that are not being invested in to pursue STEM careers (see Nielson graph below). According to the consumer research projections, by 2060 the Latina population will increase to 30% of the US female population. As a society, we’d be doing a disservice to not only the young Latina girls of today, but also to the possibilities of the direction where young Latinas and other girls could take research in the sciences, engineering, computer science and math.
Much of the rhetoric around the subject of Latinas in STEM has been about the absence of role models. This has led more to the focus on improving the visibility of careers in science and engineering for young Latinas in order to improve the numbers that the NSF reported in 2013. While I understand that addressing issues of visibility are a necessary first step, this step must be combined with active attempts to bring interest of the STEM fields as well through more hands-on approaches. In attempting to find media examples to illustrate my point exactly about the under representation of Latinas in STEM, I found that I had to look at women under representation in general first and then look towards social change media examples that specifically focus on Latina representation. The following are 3 media examples that speak of the barriers that young women face when thinking about pursuing STEM and 3 current and ongoing usage of media to address these issues.
The following are 3 current media examples of this topic:
1. The turn off of the “geek culture” stigma-Public Image problem
The stigma that is attached to what a scientist looks like is so deeply ingrained in popular culture and discussions about what the image entails for viewers. These images can be off-putting because one thinks you can’t be the person you are and like science because the image of who you are does not fit with what a scientist is “supposed to look like.” An example of an image that can be embraced by some, but may be a barrier for others is the following clip from The Big Bang Theory:
While I do not watch The Big Bang Theory, this clip portrays Amy as a scientist, but her geekiness and awkwardness is the butt of the joke. These portrayals are how women in science are reduced to these tropes and having this be one of the main characterizations may contribute to the feeling that women enjoy science and be themselves.
This article from the NY Times, “I am woman, watch me hack” talks about the reality that many girls (and boys) get ideas of the careers they can have from television and popular culture. Since girls don’t have a more diverse pool of images to pull from for STEM careers, they rely on the few images that are out there and these may not necessarily speak to them.
2. “Presenting Culture”
Continuing with popular culture representation, one can think about the television shows that seek to bring science into the homes and this male dominated “presenting culture” emerges. In “Women in TV science: time to shift out of Top Gear” for Telegraph UK, Sue Nelson argues that in UK television, presenting on science has been dominated by men and has not allowed for women to be a part of bring science into homes. This presents the image that the people who hold the knowledge of science are men. While the examples Nelson gives are from British television, I can think of such examples as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Carl Sagan for US viewers. While I am not brushing aside all the work they have done for bringing science into people’s homes, there is still the problem of this image of the man as presenter of the knowledge that further emphasizes the inability to view women as capable of being the bearers of knowledge. The extent to which women are excluded from feeling that they can excel and be pioneers in STEM fields is reflected in the continuing lack of female leadership in science television programs.
3.General invisibility of Latinas
Since the first two pointed out to two general examples of the under representation and misrepresentation of women in STEM, this third media example is actually one that does not exist in the current mediasphere. When I looked for representation of women of color in STEM fields, I can’t say that I succeeded in finding representation in the media other than narratives that sought to bring visibility (these will be a part of the social change initiatives). Even when I asked two other current STEM college students if they could think of any representation, they could not think of any blogs, tumblrs, etc. that had the focus of Latinas and STEM combined. This general lack of representation points to the under representation that could be a good ground on which to build representation that will get Latinas and other girls of color excited about the possibilities that exist for them in the field.
The Following are 3 social change media campaigns that seek to address the barriers that exist for getting more young Latinas interested and involved in STEM. These campaigns towards visibility have consisted of highlighting Latinas in their fields in order to show what kind of work they are doing and how they got to where they are. Some of these examples have been the following:
1. NPR Latino USA recently had a segment in which they spoke to three recent graduates from science fields, calling them the Stem Sisters. These girls stressed the importance of forming communities, especially with other Latinas in the sciences. This is the first conversation of what is supposedly be many more. The use of radio as a medium is important because many times this is a more accessible way to gain information. Also, I thought the focus on newly graduated Latina science students was an interesting approach to go through because these girls have just graduated and younger girls going into college may find it easier to relate to them. On pages 24-28 of the Girls Scout’s research institute’s report “Generation Stem”, the section focuses on Latinas and African-American girls and concludes that “African American and Hispanic girls have high interest in STEM, high confidence, and a strong work ethic, but have fewer supports, less exposure, and lower academic achievement than Caucasian girls.” Some of these barriers are addressed by the following organizations-
“Landing your stepping stone STEM job starts in your college years”
The articles in the Latina Style magazine highlight different careers that involve engineering and which are not really talked about when discussing the possibilities that exist with a degree in different types of engineering. The way of presenting the information, however, was lacking in grabbing my attention and since I know this is a magazine for older women, perhaps they still could have tailored that section for younger viewers so that their parents or siblings could have directed them towards the articles. Latinas in STEM is indicative of the various organizations that seek to connect young Latinas with resources and awareness of the possibilities that exist out there. These organizations have online counterparts, but the physical component is most stressed through these organizations by way of symposiums and networking events. The two girls I interviewed stressed how meeting other Latinas in their field has been the most helpful thing that has assisted them in keep on going in their fields.
I chose to include this organization because of what their mission to build an online community that seeks to hold up young girls and help with the self-doubt that plagues girls as they grow. This takes the form of focusing the on media young girls consume and advocating for creation of media that provides more positivity for the future of young girls. They have a pledge girls sign before joining the community: I, insert name, am that girl. I am perfectly flawed and sublimely beautyFULL. I am a constant work in progress…(link to the rest). What I like most about the community is that they stress self-love versus the pervasive term “self-esteem,”and they are mostly active through their facebook, youtube channel, and by utilizing images to prove their points. There are problematic aspects with the types of images and language they choose to have represent what “girl” means. This organization should be more involved in the imagery they use to counter the image problem that science/math has with young girls. Also, they appear to be more advertising this way of thinking towards teenagers, not younger girls.
From the Girl Scouts research institute 2012 report “Generation STEM”-considering the “cool factor” that organizations have to keep in mind as a real barrier:
“There is plenty of opportunity for girls to be exposed to ways in which STEM careers can mesh with their motivations. By “marketing” STEM careers to girls the same way more common careers for women are promoted, we can ensure that more girls are intrigued by and choose STEM fields as their number one career choices. Unfortunately, STEM fields aren’t as appreciated in the United States as they are in those countries that excel in STEM education and expertise. Entertainment culture appears to often clash with educational achievement for young people, especially girls, often making it “uncool” to be smart in subjects like math or science and a barrier to being noticed by boys.”
The last organizations I have included under social change media campaigns is Latinitas. They offer young Latinas the opportunity to create media online by posting blog posts, contributing to the first online magazine for Latinas and by Latinas where the content is split up by age group. Their focus on having the girls themselves create the content is inserting a bit of a participatory aspect to the project, but does not extend towards the actual creation of the site. The group also has physical site based activities and projects that seek to further their desire for young Latinas to be more actively involved in the media they produce and consume. This was one of the only website projects I found that was geared specifically towards Latinas and although there is not much of a STEM aspect to the content, there is still the focus on getting Latinas to create their own journalistic content and become, in a sense, published writers. Perhaps that “cool factor” of creating your own content can be extended towards building an online community for STEM girls.