Equity in Science
Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education
Published by: Stanford University Press
240 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503612716
- Published: September 2020
STEM disciplines are believed to be founded on the idea of meritocracy; recognition earned by the value of the data, which is objective. Such disciplinary cultures resist concerns about implicit or structural biases, and yet, year after year, scientists observe persistent gender and racial inequalities in their labs, departments, and programs. In Equity in Science, Julie Posselt makes the case that understanding how field-specific cultures develop is a crucial step for bringing about real change. She does this by examining existing equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts across astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, and psychology. These ethnographic case studies reveal the subtle ways that exclusion and power operate in scientific organizations and, sometimes, within change efforts themselves. Posselt argues that accelerating the movement for inclusion in science requires more effective collaboration across boundaries that typically separate people and scholars—across the social and natural sciences, across the faculty-student-administrator roles, and across race, gender, and other social identities. Ultimately this book is a call for academia to place equal value on expertise, and on those who do the work of cultural translation. Posselt closes with targeted recommendations for individuals, departments, and disciplinary societies for creating systemic, sustainable change.
This chapter introduces the social problems and perspectives for understanding them that the rest of the book will employ. It defines culture and cultural change within the academy, with a focus on the tension between entrenched beliefs in meritocracy and objectivity and evidence that compromises to those values preserve the underrepresentation of some groups. It outlines quantitative evidence for the importance of graduate education and explanations for inequities within graduate education. It concludes with a call to use systems thinking in pursuing institutional change toward equity and inclusion.
This chapter lays out three theoretical perspectives relevant to managing the inherent complexity of institutional change for equity in graduate education. It begins with Karl Weick's small-wins approach, which calls for a reframing of daunting social problems, bringing them to a scale at which cognitive arousal and frustration do not undermine efforts to solve them. Recognizing this perspective does not enable the coordination required to prioritize or link the many small wins that cultural change requires. The author then draws directly from complexity theory, particularly Karen Barad's philosophical implications of quantum dynamics to consider their relevance for change efforts; this begs a reconceptualization of core ideas for social science, such as reality, agency, continuity, and change. Finally, I link the relational of change emerging from quantum dynamics with the relational sociology theory of symbolic and social boundaries, and explore implications for educational inequality.
In this first chapter of findings, I present ethnographic evidence from a graduate-level, interdisciplinary geoscience field course that shows how geoscience's disciplinary culture may be used either for or against inclusion. Erosion of typical boundaries and the collective experience of science outdoors can attract students to this type of work and to the discipline. However, field culture has been and continues to align with traditional visions of masculinity by privileging norms like toughness, and then uses the expectation of toughness to justify alcohol consumption that reduces inhibitions, following which women are frequently targeted. Women play a supporting role in this culture while men dominate leadership and the "sonic space." Power and voice—in leadership and everyday communication—are disproportionately in the hands of men. Patterns of routine communication diminish women's voices and basic concerns in ways that institutionalize silence about other compromises to their inclusion.
This chapter compares chemistry and psychology PhD programs' efforts to increase diversity among students by changing the image of the program and their admissions and recruitment practices. Chemistry successfully learned its way into a virtuous cycle, through which change itself became normative. The psychology program failed and instead created a vicious cycle in which failure to improve departmental climate meant that students of color who did enroll struggled to offer a positive report to prospective students. Differences between the two programs' trajectories that account for their different outcomes include the time they dedicated to creating change, momentum on the type of diversity they sought, faculty engagement versus ambivalence, and most fundamentally, leaders' embedding learning and change toward equity into the fabric of department life. The chapter presents insights into the organization and trajectories of graduate programs as well as the change strategies departments deploy to change who enrolls.
This chapter presents a case study of a PhD program in applied physics that over decades has tried to distinguish itself from typical physics programs by rethinking policies, practices, and relations to be more inclusive. Indeed, willingness and effort to alter traditional intellectual, organizational, social, and professional boundaries was at the core of their success facilitating access and inclusion in a field known for inequality. The program institutionalized a flexible, interdisciplinary intellectual paradigm; it reformed admissions and recruitment to align with its vision of the ideal student; it empowered administrative staff to serve as cultural translators across racial and faculty-student boundaries; and it worked to create close relationships that would set the program apart from the more hierarchical, impersonal dynamics in other physics programs. The chapter closes with principles from Universal Design that may be applied to PhD programs looking for ways to become more inclusive.
This chapter examines resources and barriers to equity work inherent in the cultures of physics and astronomy, two fields that, though adjacent, have distinctive qualities that manifest in how they are seeking equity and inclusion. The comparison, focused on field-level activities undertaken by disciplinary societies to reduce inequalities and improve inclusion in graduate education, highlights the potential and limits of change that comes about from the top down and the bottom up. The managerial culture of diversity and equity work by the American Physical Society comes with resources and constraints very different from those of the advocacy culture in the American Astronomical Society. Disciplinary societies have untapped potential for encouraging discipline-wide change toward more equitable graduate training, and the reasons for this potential are suggested by considering varieties of institutional isomorphism.
This chapter pulls together lessons learned from the case studies, to highlight the need for a relational, multiple-level approach to institutional change. Two key mechanisms, cultural retooling and cultural translation, are relevant both for groups seeking change within academic departments and for cross-sector collaborative change efforts. These cultural processes distinguish reform from institutional change, and require different skills and knowledge from what we typically provide scholars in their training and professional development. Two examples of cultural retooling—for holistic review in evaluation and holistic support in interactions—bring together new mind-sets for serving students with new practices for enabling access and success. I close with concrete recommendations for teams that are working on equity issues, including ways to manage resistance to change, as well as theory implications about entanglements and boundaries across disciplinary and other cultural differences.
"Using a conceptual framework built on the idea of small wins coupled with relational and systems thinking, this book builds a powerful case that a single-minded focus on admissions is not enough to move the needle on diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. Through a series of powerful case studies, the author demonstrates that real cultural change in graduate education is possible when there is intentionality to recruitment and admissions practices, the development of curricula and inclusive pedagogues, and attention to mentoring and the language we use." ~Suzanne T. Ortega, President, Council of Graduate Schools
"Equity in Science is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in making graduate education more diverse, inclusive, and fair. Dr. Posselt charts a path for departments and disciplines interested in moving beyond superficial commitments to diversity by highlighting the deep cultural changes needed to transform exclusionary disciplinary histories. Of course, cultural change is never easy, but she convincingly shows how successful attempts at creating truly inclusive learning environments can harness the strengths of disciplinary cultures to create lasting structural change." ~Victor E. Ray, Professor of Sociology, The University of Iowa
"An informative blend of theory and case study, Posselt's book focuses on how to change the culture in graduate STEM education. She offers valuable food for thought as well as a pressing challenge for the community. A must-read for faculty and administrators alike." ~Meg Urry, Professor of Physics, Yale University
"Equity in Science does a good job of highlighting some of the barriers and challenges to equity in graduate programmes, and provides examples of what some do right and wrong." ~Sibrina N. Collins, Nature
"Given the considerable emphasis universities have placed on implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies, Julie Posselt's brilliant book could not have been published at a more propitious time. This is a theoretically rich analysis of what equity means in graduate science education." ~Barbara Schneider, Social Forces
Book Discussion on Equity in Science
Julie R. Posselt discussed her new book Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education with Gibor Basri (UC Berkeley) and Natasha Warikoo (Tufts University).