Mystery City is 42% non-Caucasian, with the largest minority being African-American. Mystery University is 25% non-Caucasian.* My introductory courses bear out that statistic; I have a substantial percentage of Hispanic, Asian, and African-American students. So I was somewhat started the other day when I looked around my upper-level class and realized that we were all pretty much non-Hispanic Caucasian.**
That first glance around the classroom was folled by a surreptious examination of the other upper-level courses in my department, our graduate student population, and our faculty. So far, my informal detective work has turned up only one African-American, no Hispanics, and a few Asians among the student population. As far as faculty in the department, we have two Chinese professors, one African-American part-time lecturer, and no Hispanic faculty.
As far as I’m concerned, the whiteness of our students and faculty is pretty apalling. And it’s not just my department. A quick internet search reveals, that <5% of BS degrees in -ology (broadly defined) go to minorities, contrasting with ~15% in science and engineering as a whole.*** As we move into graduate school the problem remains: 3.3% at the M.S. level and 5% at the PhD level. For the sciences and engineering combined, it’s 10.6% for the MS and 8.2% for the PhD (ref.).
So as a field, we’re doing a remarkably poor job of attracting minority students and as a result we’re missing representation broad segments of the American population. By the way, we’re pretty bad at attracting and retaining women too, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here. And, we -ologists can’t even say that it’s a problem for all the sciences, because we are doing significantly worse than the group. So there must be something about -ology — something that we are doing that deters prospective minority students or something that we are not doing to recruit them.
Hopefully there’s some good research going on to figure this out and devise strategies to increase diversity in -ology. I know there have been conference sessions devoted to this topic. Next time, I’m at a conference I’m going to make a point of attending one of those sessions, learning what I can, and then applying those lessons in my own department.
I could add my own speculation as to why -ology is so white, but for the moment I’ll just say that my eyes are now open and the issue is now persisently in my conciousness. And you can bet that since I’m thinking about, I’ll be blogging about it. And, more importantly, I’ll be doing what I can to entice those minority students in my intro courses to think about continuing on in -ology.
(This post is for the 6th edition of the Accretionary Wedge carnival, with the theme "things that make you go "hmmm." The carnival will be hosted at Lounge of the Lab Lemming, who despite his blog’s name, now works in the field.)
*The first question we might ask ourselves is why the demographics of Mystery City and Mystery U (a public university) diverge from each other so significantly, but I’ll focus more tightly for now.
**Let me apologize up front if this realization or the language I use to talk about these matters is inadvertently offensive. It’s just another example of how white privilege has manifested itself in my life, that my best efforts to be culturally sensitive may fail miserably.
***These statistics are for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans/Native-Alaskans and persons with disabilities and were available in 2000. Hopefully they are a bit better now. Also note, that the definition of minorities in the statistics is not the same as which I used when I visually surveyed my department.