Is It Really a Man's World? Black Men in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

By Lundy-Wagner, Valerie C. | The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Is It Really a Man's World? Black Men in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Lundy-Wagner, Valerie C., The Journal of Negro Education


Efforts to improve the Black science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pipeline have focused on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs); however, this work generally fails to acknowledge men. This article characterized Black male receipts of bachelor's degrees from HBCUs in STEM fields between 1981 and 2009 using a gendered approach to challenge two paradigms: a White patriarchy that omits African American men in STEM research, and the gendered nature of racial disadvantage in STEM that focuses on women. The study recommended expanding research on the STEM pipeline by acknowledging the importance of ethnicity/race, gender, and academic field simultaneously.

Keywords: STEM, African American men, historically Black colleges and universities, gender

Even though they cling to patriarchy they are beginning to intuit that it is part of the problem. Lack of jobs, the unrewarding nature of paid labor, and the increased class power of women, has made it difficult for men who are not rich and powerful to know where they stand, (hooks, 2000, p. 71)

Introduction

Rhetoric and research related to expanding the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline implicitly references an antiquated White, male-female dichotomy. In this paradigm, STEM fields are associated with White men, academic rigor, and the manual labor associated with related work (Slaton, 2010). While this orientation undoubtedly marginalizes White women and women of color, it can also trivialize the experiences and outcomes of men of color in the context of the STEM pipeline. As hooks (2000) explained in the opening quote, men of lower socioeconomic strata can be challenged in a patriarchal context, like STEM, that devalues their racial group. This may be especially problematic in majority minority colleges, like historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Expansion of the Black (or African American) STEM pipeline has disproportionately relied on HBCUs to improve Black participation in and completion of STEM degree programs (Chubin & May, 2003; Harvey & Williams, 1989). For example, in 2006 HBCUs conferred 22% of African American science and engineering bachelor's degrees on average (National Science Foundation, NSF, 2010). More than one quarter of Black STEM bachelor's degrees were awarded by HBCUs in seven fields that year: Agricultural Sciences (44.9%), Biological Sciences (32.3%), Computer Sciences (25.3%), Mathematics (32.8%), Chemistry (34.0%), Chemical Engineering (25.1%), and Physics (48.5%; NSF, 2010). Although the contribution of HBCUs to African American STEM bachelor's degree production has declined somewhat since the mid1970s, given that HBCUs represent about 3% of four-year postsecondary institutions and enroll near 20% of Black undergraduates, their contribution to Black STEM completion is laudable.

Despite the success by HBCUs, African Americans remain underrepresented among STEM bachelor's degree recipients when compared to their enrollment in bachelor's degree programs overall (NSF, 2010). For example, African Americans represented approximately 15% of all undergraduates enrolled in four-year institutions, 10% of all bachelor's degree recipients in 2008, and accounted for 11% of all STEM bachelor's degrees conferred in that same year (NCES, 2011). Given this underrepresentation among STEM bachelor's degree recipients, and the relative success of HBCUs in promoting African American STEM completion, continued consideration of these institutions is relevant and necessary to improve the Black STEM pipeline.

The extant literature on the Black STEM pipeline at HBCUs has by and large failed to consider the role of gender at these institutions. While there is research on African Americans in STEM at HBCUs, and African American female achievement in STEM at HBCUs (e.g., Perna et al., 2009), there is little known about Black men in STEM at HBCUs. In fact, characterizations of STEM success at HBCUs often focus on aggregate institution-level data at HBCUs in comparison to predominately White institutions (PWIs). …

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