Can We Talk? 3 Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color: Decolonizing STEM

Can We Talk? 3 Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color:

Decolonizing STEM

Production has begun on Decolonizing STEM, a feature-length documentary that will explore the creation and legacy of western science as it requires/d the critical erasure of other scientific methodologies, particularly of Indigenous, African/Black/Africanx (of the diaspora), and Latinx peoples. The film will have a multi-pronged examination, which begins with the origins of western science as a product of colonization; an exploration of the ways in which western science is systematically centered, and how non-western traditional science, such as Traditional (Indigenous) Ecological Knowledge (TEK), African Indigenous methodologies (i.e. Gullah Geechee methods), and Latinx ways of questioning, naming, knowing, and conveying knowledge, have been delegitimized in predominantly white scientific spaces (PWSP). It concludes with guidelines for ethical scientific practices in communities of color. This will be the third installment in the Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color film series. 

Vision and Need: 

Issue the project will address: 

Decolonizing STEM will explore the history of racial inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Following a detailed illustration of how western science was constructed and used as a mechanism for control over non-white populations during colonization, this feature-length film will investigate four specific areas: 


1. Erasure of Non-Western Scientific Methods. The ways in which western, “Enlightenment-era” science, has decentered and/or erased non-western traditional science, such as Traditional (Indigenous) Ecological Knowledge (TEK), African Indigenous methodologies (i.e. Gullah Geechee methods), and Latinx ways of locating, naming, establishing, interpreting, and conveying knowledge, in predominantly white scientific spaces (PWSP). 

2. Scientific Negligence. Not only are methods of color reduced or eliminated, so are communities of color (CoC). For example, a 2011 article (Ginther, et. al.) indicated that black and African-American grant applicants, who often focus their research in CoC, were 10 percentage points less likely to receive NIH research funding than white people--even though their research scored very high on the standard priority scale. This has severe consequences for both science and CoC due to a very one-sided landscape of scientific inquiry. Bias is introduced through the communities that receive scientific attention, those who participate in the question/solution making process, poor ethical practices, stereotyping, and underdeveloped tools for assessment.

3. Belonging. Data show that UR-POC will enter STEM educational fields at the same rate as white students.  However, the drop out rate is higher. Indigenous students point to the lack of programs at predominantly white schools (PWIs) that engage Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Black and African-American students discuss the lack of representation of UR-POC in the academy; and, that the majority of the labs (at PWIs) are uninterested in CoC. One important issue Latinx science students and scientists have discussed is the cultural differences in PWI STEM science spaces. They are "transactional” (numerical, unemotional, and devoid of culture) vs. “relational” (invites emotion, culture, differences, inclusion, and subjectivity). To reinstate emotionality in the science space will be one of the most critical issues to explore. The long slow violence throughout colonization was made possible in part by the rhetoric on the black and brown body and mind that led to a mass convincing that black and brown bodies do not suffer emotionally in the same way as their white counterparts. In short, UR-POC often attributes their drop out rate to a "lack of social belonging."  

4. Ethics. The film will offer a set of guidelines from the perspectives of Indigenous, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Black/African-American/Africanx (diasporic of African descent) on the cultural expectations, principles, ethical practices, and requirements for scientists interested in engaging with CoC. The ethical way forward is to integrate UR-POC’s traditional scientific practices, methods, ways of naming, knowing, asking, understanding, and communicating about science. 

The Team