In response to Jessica's posting regarding Diversity and questions she posed to me directly, I will offer the following:
Question 1. STEM Curriculums:
The establishment of STEM programs at High Schools, Colleges and Universities is a novel idea with the objective of educating students of all races and all backgrounds in four specific disciplines; science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM employs an interdisciplinary approach that integrates these disciplines into an applied and cohesive learning paradigm based on real world applications. According to the U.S. Department of Education website only 16% of High School students have expressed interest in a STEM career, and currently 28% of high school freshmen who declare an interest in a STEM-related field, by the time they graduate from high school 57% of those students will have lost interest in a STEM career. A recent study (2018) published in the Journal of Education Research found that minority students in higher education who had a strong interest in STEM (undergraduate) programs were more likely to drop out at a higher rate than their counterparts (Black 26%, Latinos 20%, White 13%) although they entered the STEM programs in equal numbers (Black 18%, Latinos 20%, White 19%). Various campaigns have been initiated by the U.S. Department of Education to motivate and inspire students to excel in STEM subjects with an emphasis on K to 12 STEM education and engagement, improving undergraduate experience with STEM programs, designing better graduate education for the STEM workforce and reaching out to underrepresented demographics (e.g. minorities)..
While STEM programs are a wonderful opportunity for people of color to get a good foundation and education in science, math and technology and eventually integrate into STEM related professions, the implementation is not without its challenges. I for one would have loved to have had these programs available to me when I was going through high school and through my college years, and since I already had a strong affinity for the sciences since childhood and performed well in those subjects, perhaps a STEM program would have afforded me an opportunity for scholarships to attain a medical degree, which was my dream profession and would have been a life changing career for me.
What I have been able to ascertain regarding the challenges faced by minority students in some of these programs is as follows:
1) Being made to feel like they don't belong in the program;
2) Whispers and unsolicited comments about not being smart enough;
3) Feelings of exclusion or microaggression defined as indirect, subtle and unintentional forms of discrimination making it hard to concentrate;
4) Undo attention and pressure from faculty to perform making them feel like they have to be perfect and can't make any mistakes (constantly under the microscope);
5) Difficulty finding friends, mentors and support groups to help them perform well in the program;
6) Unable to access academic resources (workshops, symposiums or summer academies) due to financial hardships.
The above are some of the obstacles that minority students find detrimental to their ability to do well in STEM academic programs. While no solutions are offered, these issues should be part of the discussion to help break down barriers and transform our institutions of higher learning into inclusive and diverse places of education where people of all walks of life can excel.
Question 2. Sensitivity Training to Address Hostile Working Environments:
The typical Workplace Sensitivity Training covers the legal aspects of workplace protections that all employees need to be aware of regarding discrimination and harassment that can lead to liability, punitive damages, low morale and a
worker productivity issues. Sensitivity training is designed to make individuals become aware of their behaviors towards others, and raises awareness regarding human characteristics that are different (race, color, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, different experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and communication styles) and that are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and is what makes up today's diverse work environments. While the idea behind these awareness programs is to evoke respect and fairness in the workplace, stereotypical biases and assumptions are difficult to overcome and unconscious biases sometimes dictate how individuals react and behave when placed in diverse environments or in proximity to people who are of a different color, or of a different race, and from a different culture and background. These encounters can sometimes prejudice behaviors and taint judgements when making decisions about people. Left unchecked these negative assumptions and behaviors can create a hostile, negative and toxic work environment potentially leading to reduced productivity, discrimination, harassment, violence and costly litigation. Raising awareness among employees and management about respect, civility and inclusion are important steps in creating a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. It is important for all employees to recognize the contributions and perspectives of a diverse workforce rather than fall back on preconceived ideas and stereotypes. Essential conditions of employment in an inclusive workplace needs to address issues of bullying, abusive conduct, disability discrimination and any detrimental behaviors that affect individuals' ability to do their best work and negatively impacts productivity, harmony, recruiting and retention.
Have I personally witnessed sensitivity training that actually change the dynamics of a workplace? The answer to that question is a resounding YES! I had the privilege of working for the IBM Corporation where diversity is a vital component of the makeup of the company, and where the Company philosophy and values incorporate respect for the individual (and they mean it). In a corporate environment it is a lot easier to implement behavior-base incentives and opportunities for the integration of a diverse workforce. Another one of my former employers (Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation) had very strict policies and disciplinary procedures that were very effective in addressing negative employee behaviors, and incentivized good behaviors with performance ratings and evaluations, and immediate dismissal when appropriate. The message gets across the workforce effectively and efficiently when management has zero tolerance for any discriminatory practice or behavior. However the goal is to foster an inclusive workplace where respect for one another is the norm. Training is provided on an annual basis and when you first come on board, and the training is centered on creating the experience of respect for one another. The path towards a respectful workplace isn't easy, it's a journey. It's not a one time class or training session, but a process that acknowledges that we all have prejudices best left at the door, and fosters an understanding of what it means to be a human being at work and in society. Since most people understand how it feels to be respected and how to show respect, the training focuses on developing the behaviors necessary to create an inclusive and diverse working environment. Employees are more likely to consistently give their best efforts when incentives are tied into their overall performance and when their work experience includes the feeling of respect for one another irregardless of race, ethnicity or beliefs.
I hope the above is helpful in the development of your own programs and journey.
Best regards to all, and most importantly stay healthy and safe!
Dr. Carlos Rentas Jr., DrPH, MSPH, MA, BCIC, BCSP, BCHMM-Emeritus
Board Certified Epidemiologist, Consultant in Occupational & Environmental Health and Safety
Pipers Glen Estates =E2=80" Westchester Country Club
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Boynton Beach, FL 33437-4119