Thursday, June 2, 2011

on meeting housemates on campus

I've been telling this story to illustrate a point a lot recently.

I had a housemate who I haven't had much chance to see since she moved out several months ago. Earlier this term, I invited her to swing by my office to have lunch, and catch up a bit.

She parks her bike, and not being part of the campus community, asks around to figure out where I'm located. She realizes that people are staring at her. She tells me this when we meet.

My stomach sinks as I realize that she is probably the only undergrad aged African American female on campus.

I've had several conversations about diversity on this campus recently. When we (the general public) tend to think of diversity on college campuses, especially expensive colleges that undergrads and their parents work very hard to get into, we still tend to think about diversity in the same terms that we think about it in our neighborhoods and public schools. "What percentage are non-white?" And schools come up with numbers of "minority" students, the overwhelming majority of whom are some stripe of Asian, Depending on the school, they may throw foreign students into that batch, the majority of whom are European of some stripe.

This type of rigging the books hides the key point behind the point of diversity pushes on campus. It should be about the underrepresented populations.

This diversity problem seems to be worse in the sciences and engineering than in the arts and humanities, which is one reason for the very undiverse undergrad student body at my campus.
In the interest of keeping this post from going the way of a rant, I'll end with a question.

Dear readers,
How many african american or latino academics do you know? How many do you know of? How many are female? (If you are not based in the US, feel free to insert your favorite socially and economically disadvantaged minority into this question.)

My answers are, if I restrict to STEM fields, (2,1), 0, 1.


  1. Within STEM fields, I would estimate 5/2 African Americans and 3/1 Latino Americans. Latino/a overall (i.e., including international students) is closer to 15/5. However, I'm pretty sure these are both slight underestimates, given the sheer fraction of people I know who fall into STEM fields.

  2. I'm in Hispanic Studies, so most of the academics I know are Hispanic. I only know one African American academic (in Anthropology.) Which, given the demographics of our geographic area, is a crying shame. I do, however, know 5 African academics on campus.

    Most of the academics I know are women. I'd say about 60%.

  3. I take back some of my jadedness from my post given Miss MSE's comments. My experience is very different, or maybe it is the set of universities I've gone to. That's the problem with small N.

  4. It also has to do a lot with geography: I went to high school in a affluent area with a high concentration of Hispanic student, and know a number of them that are pursuing STEM degrees. On the other hand, SnowTech and GiantU are public schools near defunct manufacturing, where lots of African American parents push their kids towards STEM as a chance to get a better job.

  5. 3 latino and 3 african american that I know personally, off the top of my head - 2 of each are female. several more latinas i don't know personally.