The Academic Experience for Women of Color

While the references in the “Overview of the Pipeline” section provide a quantitative assessment of the state of women of color in STEM disciplines, there are many qualitative studies that examine additional, and more personal, details about the academic experience of women of color.  Studies show that there are often differences between the issues and struggles of women of color faculty members when compared to both all women and men of color counterparts.  Common themes that emerge from these qualitative assessments revolve around feelings of sexism/racism, campus climate before and after the affirmative action cases, feelings of isolation and lack of self-confidence in their coursework and/or profession.

Annotated Bibliography (arranged in order of relevance)
Settles, I.H. (2006). The Climate for Women in Academic Science: The good, the bad and the changeable.  Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 47-58.

This study examined the attitudes of female faculty at various stages in their careers in natural science, social science and engineering at a large Midwestern University.  In this sample set, white women scientists had a greater likelihood of being higher in rank and felt more influential in their departments than women of color faculty.  For women faculty, the greater the feeling of sexism exists within the department, the less the women perceived their influence and job satisfaction.  Factors that could improve outcomes include strong leadership among the department chair, encouragement of collegiality, ensuring gender equity, discouragement of sexist behavior, and facilitating mentorship relationships.

Malcom, L.E., & Malcom, S.M. The Double Bind: The Next Generation. Harvard Education Review, 81(2), 162-171.
This paper reflects how the experiences of women of color in STEM have changed and remained the same over the last thirty-five years.  The understanding of the route to STEM for students has evolved due to increased enrollment in community college. While much progress has been made, there is variability by discipline, with social science and medical degrees increasing while others (such as computer science) remaining constant. Many of the current challenges deal with support structures and increasing the institutional responsibility for facilitating change.

Turner, C.S.V., et al. (2011). Faculty Women of Color: The Critical Nexus of Race and Gender.  Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 4(4), 199-211.
This study provides results of a qualitative analysis from focus groups of women of color in various academic positions in major public research universities.  The study underscores the need for institutional renewing and expanding of a commitment to diversity and for disseminating knowledge about campus-wide opportunities. The faculty who were surveyed suggested that the climate on campuses after affirmative action cases (Gratz and Grutter) is more negative than before the cases.  As a result of the focus group formation, women of color from across campus were able to form an informal network which allowed for the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

Brainard, S.G., & Carlin, L. (1998). A Six-Year Longitudinal Study of Undergraduate Women in Engineering and Science. Journal of Engineering Education, 87, 369-376. 
This report describes the results of the first five years of the study of retention of undergraduate women in science or engineering (S&E) disciplines by the Women in Engineering (WIE) Initiative at the University of Washington.  Factors that positively affect retention of women S&E students include a continued interest in math and science courses, importance of career opportunities, gaining acceptance into the department, positive influence of advisor and/or mentor, ability to work independently and involvement in the WIE Big Sister Program.  Perceived barriers to retention of women in S&E fields include lack of self-confidence, not being accepted into the department, discouragement about grades, poor advising, financial problems, and feelings of intimidation.  There is a significant drop of self-confidence among women in science and engineering during their first and second years that increases by their senior year, yet never returns to the level of entering first year students.

Carlone, H.B., & Johnson, A. (2007). Understanding the Science Experiences of Successful Women of Color: Science Identity as an Analytic Lens. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(8), 1187-1218.
This study describes a model of science identity based on the experiences of 15 successful women of color from their undergraduate degrees to their science-related careers. The results identify three science identity trajectories: research scientist; altruistic scientist; and disrupted scientist. Research scientists were passionate about science and were recognized by themselves and science faculty as scientists. Altruistic scientists regarded science as a vehicle for altruism and created innovative meanings of “science”, “recognition by others”, and “woman of color in science”. Disrupted scientists sought, but did not often receive, recognition by meaningful scientific others and had more difficult trajectories because their bids for recognition were disrupted by the interaction with gendered, ethnic, and racial factors. These different identities and ways that women of color experience and negotiate science suggest a rethinking of recruitment and retention efforts.

MacLachlan, A.J. (2000). The lives and careers of minority women scientists. Presented at the National Association of Women in Education (NAWE) Conference, New Orleans, LA.
This paper describes a study of ten minority women from the University of California System who received Ph.D.s between 1980 and 1990 that describes the graduate school experience of these women and presents the multiplicity of answers which individual women find for themselves. In general, the women in this study reported positive experiences such as support from teachers and families, support from their advisor, ability to secure funding, participation in various forms of formal and informal minority support mechanisms.  However, they also noted negative experiences such as discriminatory behavior directing them away from pursing higher education, inadequate preparation of their post-graduate careers, and subtle racism within their departments.  Even with these external environmental factors, these women completed their PhD degrees due to their character, persistence, deep commitment to science, and tremendous personal discipline.

Espinosa, L.L. (2011). Pipelines and Pathways: Women of Color in Undergraduate STEM Majors and the College Experiences That Contribute to Persistence. Harvard Education Review, 81(2), 209-240.
The study explores how factors in women’s precollege and college experiences contribute to their persistence as STEM majors and explores these trends across racial and ethnic groups. The study suggests that women’s experiences in their universities are more influential than their prior experiences in high school, suggesting the crucial role of undergraduate institutional climate. It sheds light on the role of faculty and peer interactions, pedagogy, and college selectivity, among other factors, in STEM persistence.

Fox, M.J.T., et al. (2008). American Indian Women in Academia: The Joys and Challenges.  NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 1(1), 202-221.

Marbley, A.F., et al (2011). Women Faculty of Color: Voices, Gender, and the Expression of Our Multiple Identities within Academia. Advancing Women in Leadership, 31, 166-174.

Millett, C.M., & Nettles, M. (2006). Expanding and Cultivating the Hispanic STEM Doctoral Workforce: Research on Doctoral Student Experiences. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 5(3), 258-287.

Souto-Manning, M. & Ray, N., (2007). Beyond Survival in the Ivory Tower: Black and Brown Women’s Living Narratives. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(4), 280-290.

Vakalashi, H.F. & Starks, S.H. (2011). Health, Well-being and Women of Color Academics.  International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1(2), 185-190.