“Race is the elephant in the middle of the American living room.” This was Dr. Joseph Graves’ response when asked why he joined the faculty steering committee for the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education project (RDEISE). He went on to explain that, “without a thorough understanding of the way racism operates in every facet of American social life, you are graduating people from the education system who are completely unprepared for living in this society.” If we fail to adequately address racism, Dr. Graves fears that it will “smother us all” and could “literally lead to the end of even the thin veneer of democracy that exists in the United States.”
Dr. Graves made these comments in "The Power of Positive Influence," a virtual panel discussion hosted by the STEM Funders Network on February 1, 2022. Dr. Graves is a professor in the Department of Biology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He’s part of the faculty steering committee of RDEISE, along with six other experts, including Dr. Jamiella Brooks and Dr. Ivory Toldson, who were also part of the panel discussion.
Read more about the steering committee: The Making of the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education Project
The RDEISE project engages 20 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions to author learning resources. In addition, these graduate fellows help younger scholars to envision themselves in STEM through candid bio-narrative videos. Commenting on the topic of representation, panelist Dr. Brooks, associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “I hope that this whole project will be a source of inspiration, and help others see that they are not the only ones out there.” Dr. Brooks added that the project will offer students and educators a consistent and reliable message about race that takes structural racism into account.
When asked to comment on the importance of centering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in course and curriculum design, Dr. Brooks was resolute. “We absolutely have to make it a framework from which we begin, and not something… supplemental. Not just one more add-on to do, or one extra thing you have to think about… It is a lot of work, but it's less work if we start it as a framework for all the things that we do, from all the questions that we ask, from all of our planning about our classes, and from all our conceptualizing about what STEM education is and could be.”
The panel was chaired by LabXchange Head of Content Dr. Martin Samuels, who asked the panelists to share action items that administrators and policymakers could carry away from the discussion. Dr. Graves highlighted the urgent need for investment in public education, saying: “The conditions that exist in the American public school system are not accidental. It’s really the result of a determined policy to destroy a system, a system, by the way, that Black people fought to create in this country. Because there really wouldn't have been public education if newly freed African-Americans in the South hadn’t been fighting for that. And then it…took off across the nation.”
Meanwhile, panelist Dr. Ivory Toldson, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychoeducational Studies at Howard University, raised a note of caution: “..If we continue to have the same types of racial disparities, with the same types of demographic changes [in public education], then we will no longer survive. As a nation, we won't be as competitive as we once were. We have to find some kind of way of making sure that students who have not been getting the type of opportunities that they deserve get those opportunities if we want to remain the type of innovative nation…that has a STEM workforce that's really going to take us into the future.”
The STEM Funders Network (SFN), a collective of 20 education-focused foundations working together to increase the expertise of grantmakers investing in STEM, recently launched the Power of Positive Influence webinar series. The series will highlight inspirational examples of decision-making, strategy development, and creating impactful initiatives.
LabXchange was featured in another recent panel discussion that raised critical questions about STEM education. Read more about that online event here: Experts Discuss Access & Opportunity in Science Education.