“The women understand their identity to be both socially regulated and self-determined,” Morton adds. “This means that they recognize that society feels a certain way about black women and pictures them in certain roles. However, the women also saw themselves as successful and resilient because they are thriving in a field that society tells them they shouldn’t be in.”

Morton says many of the women felt their career goals were challenged outside of the classroom as well, often by members of their immediate community. For example, one of the women Morton spoke with said a person in her church pulled her aside and told her that she was being too ambitious by pursuing a doctoral degree in a STEM field. The woman encouraged the student to think seriously about a plan B, in case things “went south” for her. Morton says these micro-aggressive behaviors are reflective of the implicit biases that people develop and can hinder society’s progress over time. However, educators can use the tips above to create an inclusive and supportive environment for black women.

“People buy into these notions that only certain people can access certain spaces and do certain things,” Morton said. “When somebody tells a black woman that her STEM studies are too ambitious, they are inferring that STEM careers are reserved for people who don’t look like her. However, the women I spoke to were very strong-willed despite these challenges and asserted that they would write their own stories and not buy into other people’s narratives.”

#BlackGirlMagic: The identity conceptualization of Black women in undergraduate STEM education,” was published in Science Education. Eileen C. Parsons, professor of science education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the co-author of this study. This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant no. 143681). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

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This story originally appeared online via the MU News Bureau.

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