UT researchers talk equity and social justice in STEM education

Brooke Sjoberg

STEM education is not truly fair for young black children, said Fikile Nxumalo, an assistant professor in the department of curriculum and instruction, during a Friday presentation about findings of institutional bias against black children in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Nxumalo said there are prejudices against black children which affect how they are educated.

“Environmental education for young children in North America remains rooted in discourses of childhood innocence and pure nature that can be traced back to the modernist romantic era,” Nuxmalo said. “So from the early 20th century on, North American … nature education for young children has been overwhelmingly accompanied by images of individual innocence of the child that learns from direct experiences with nature. There’s now extensive scholarship that critiques the racialized assumptions of childhood innocence.”

Nxumalo is one of four faculty researchers who discussed their findings from separate research papers concerning equity and social justice in STEM education. The panel was part of the UT College of Education Center for STEM Education’s Fall 2017 Colloquium Series.

The stages of education analyzed included teachers seeking employment, the early childhood of black students and their journey through the education system.

“Generally, you find trust is an important thing in any mentoring relationship,” said Richard Reddick, an assistant professor in the department of education on his research into cross-racial mentoring. “But when it comes to something like race, which has such a pivotal sort of weight on our experience of being black in this country, it becomes really important to have trust in place.”

Physics freshman Sophia Macias said she was glad to hear the findings of the panelists because she is Hispanic and the issue of underrepresentation is important to her and her student organization.

“I’m in Undergraduate Women in Physics, and we talk about misrepresentation and underrepresentation in physics and other hardcore sciences,” Macias said. “You don’t really see yourself represented anywhere in physics or in the math department or astronomy department, and it’s kind of upsetting.”

Mathematics freshman Maria Diaz said she was interested in how to apply what she learned from the panel to her pursuit of a certificate through UTeach.

“I’ve always been interested in how I can provide, as a teacher, better education for minority students,” Diaz said. “Especially because we’re from low-income (households), so it was really geared towards me to learn from them and how to develop all these qualities.”