Carolyn Phenicie recently posted an article on Medium titled “New Report Makes a Case: Build Your STEM Program Around Diversity and Students Will Come”, claiming that in order to promote diversity in STEM classrooms, schools need to expend more of their effort on making classroom spaces inclusive for girls. How will this work? Phenicie proposes, for one, redesigning computer science classrooms and eliminating “‘stereotypical STEM objects’ like Star Trek posters, computer parts, and video game consoles…” She also quotes a study which claims that “even though these stereotypical items may seem harmless, they evoke a masculine stereotype that makes females (but not males) feel like they don’t belong in that environment…”
Hold on. Computer science classrooms shouldn’t have computer parts because they make girls feel unwelcome? To me, the issue here is not that we’re gendering spaces (although this does, of course, happen) but that we’re gendering objects. What about girls who like Star Trek and want to learn to build computers? Are they not welcome in a “girl-friendly” programming space?
To me, this isn’t even the biggest problem with Phenicie’s article. We certainly need to encourage diversity in our classrooms. But what about other kinds of diversity? Certainly altering the estrogen-to-testosterone level in a classroom is only going to get you so far. In education, and certainly in higher education (which, granted, is not what Phenicie is talking specifically about), we need to diversify not just based on gender, but based on ethnicity, class, and in other areas. And the “build and they will come” model just isn’t going to work in all situations. Sure, we can try to make our spaces inclusive, but what’s most important is that the people in those spaces are encouraging and supportive.
Alex Jester ’18