For Immediate Release
But some strategies for improvement exist at both the individual and
institutional levels, and therein lies the hope that Georgia Institute
of Technology Associate Professor of Public
Leggon delivered to her audience at the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle. Leggon spoke
as part of a panel discussion titled "Nearly Invisible: Experiences
of Minority Science Faculty in Mainstream Institutions" on February
"The numbers are grim across the board for males and females of color," Leggon said.
The situation has not improved much in the past decade. There have been
only miniscule increases in faculty - especially women - of color in the
science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, Leggon
She cites several implications of these statistics. First is the effect of this deficit on students.
"The United States is becoming more diverse, and that is somewhat
reflected in the student population in colleges and universities, but
nowhere in the faculty population," explained Leggon, a sociologist.
"That is problematic. What kind of message does it send to students?
The implicit message is, 'You can't do this.' The absence of these groups
does send a message."
Leggon cites two other important reasons to increase diversity among STEM faculty. "It significantly enhances the quality of scientific research insofar as it expands the pool from which the United States draws its science talent," she said. "And it improves the quality of the educational experience for all students."
To improve conditions for women and men of color in the STEM fields in
academia, strategies could be employed at both the individual and institutional
levels, Leggon says.
At undergraduate level, students should be informed about the range of
opportunities they might have with a degree in a particular field. "For
example, if you have biology majors from an underrepresented group, they
are probably only thinking of a career in medicine," Leggon said.
"They don't usually think of a research career in academe."
If undergraduate students do indicate an interest in a career in academe,
it's important they know how to select a graduate school. "They shouldn't
apply to an institution just because of its overall reputation,"
Leggon explained. "They should take into account the reputation of
the specific department, program and faculty with whom they would like
For junior faculty members, particularly in underrepresented groups,
administrators must make clear the criteria for getting tenure, Leggon
"Committee work is time-consuming and does not substitute for publications,"
she added. "Also, because there are so few women faculty of color,
students of color gravitate toward you. Again as a junior faculty member,
you have to be careful it's not all-consuming. Sometimes, it's difficult
to make that judgment. It's a dilemma because junior women of color are
so passionate about mentoring. But to make the greatest impact in the
long run, you have to get tenure first so you'll be here later."
Strategies to improve conditions for women of color and other underrepresented
groups must also exist at an institutional level, Leggon says.
"You can't depend on the good will of a few people," she added.
"I can't emphasize enough the importance of institutionalizing policies.
If something is standard operating procedure, then it's one of the criteria
on which performance is evaluated."
Programs such as the National
Science Foundation's ADVANCE program for women faculty development
are designed to transform institutional culture, Leggon says. At Georgia
Tech, the ADVANCE program has sponsored sessions on how to get tenure,
establish a research agenda and get published.
"We need programs like this within a given institution and, secondly, across institutions -- like in consortia," Leggon said. "Increasing faculty diversity benefits not only one college or university, but the entire society."
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WRITER: Jane Sanders