Letter to the Editor: Equality in STEM a Work in Progress, Prof Says

I thank Charlotte Selton (20C) for writing about the issues related to the lack of diversity in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields. She identified several important issues: stereotype threat, unconscious bias and challenging peer interactions. These are real, serious and pervasive issues in STEM all across the country and, clearly, here at Emory too. The Department of Physics takes these concerns seriously and has been working to address them.

First, we do our best to mentor female and minority students, and we are excited about the positive outcomes. This year our department has seven students pursuing honors theses — all seven are women. Moreover, in recent years our female physics majors have gone to physics Ph.D. programs at top schools, including Harvard University (Mass.), New York University, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University (N.J.).

Second, we try to address stereotypes and biases. For example, we recently added a statement to syllabi of most physics courses that it is “unacceptable to judge your fellow students by gender, race or anything else.”

Third, we diligently work on further improving ourselves: Many Emory physics (and other STEM) faculty are members of the Science Education Research Journal Club, which focuses, in part, on making classrooms more inclusive. The Journal Club includes not just faculty but also postdoctoral students and graduate students; we hope that these future faculty will be even better prepared to positively impact their students.

We have done a lot, but we understand that a vast amount of work remains to be done. Our faculty are not complacent about these successes; we continually evaluate how we teach and our role in creating classrooms — and a campus — where all students thrive. I invite all interested members of Emory’s community to join us as we work to find concrete solutions to the problems currently faced by women and minorities in physics and STEM as a whole.

Eric Weeks is a Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Emory Physics Department Chair.