Exploring the affordances and constraints of a “judgment free” informal STEM space in supporting African American girls’ sisterhood and STEM identities

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Faith Freeman (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Edna Tan

Abstract: This study explored the ways in which a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) enrichment program that is free (or as free as possible) of microaggressions and social structural constraints might influence African American (AA) girls to become innovators and to identify themselves as scientists or engineers. There are many beneficial impacts informal STEM experiences can bring to minority youth, such as increasing their interests and sense of competencies in science and engineering. Concurrently, the troubling trend of AA females deemed incapable of succeeding in school science and taking higher-level science courses persists. This study takes up the notion of such “judgment” AA females may face while engaging in STEM and explores how a “judgment-free” (free of oppressive judgment) STEM space in an informal community club can affect AA females’ identity work and agency. The following research questions were used as a guide to investigate how AA girls engage in an “judgment-free” informal STEM enrichment program: 1. What does it mean to the AA girls to have an informal youth STEM space that is free (as free as possible) of microaggressions and social structure constraints?; 1a. How are the youth in an informal STEM program positioned?; 1b. What are the youth in an informal STEM program able to do (process and products that they would not be able to do in more regimental STEM formal space)?; and 2. How might a setting free (or as free as possible) of microaggressions and social structure constraints influence 10- to 14-year-old African American girls’ STEM identity/agency and sense of sisterhood? Drawing upon Black feminist thought and identity work, I explore how a “judgment-free” theoretical framework can or cannot influence AA girls’ STEM identity and agency. The methodology used in this study was a longitudinal ethnographic critical case study over the course of 4 years. Creswell (2013) stated that “ethnographies focus on developing a complex, complete description of the culture of a group, a culture sharing group” (p. 91). Through this methodology, the culture of the youth at a community club was described using observations and interviews. I believed ethnography was appropriate because my study focused on a specific group of students—AA females who were engaged in STEM. Using defining features of ethnography, I explored how AA girls identified themselves as scientists or engineers. My participants were AA girls who attended the community club and the STEM enrichment program, GEC, for a minimum of 2-4 years. The length of time the girls had participated in GEC was an important criterion, given I used longitudinal ethnography. The girls ranged from fourth to ninth grade. I chose AA girls who were interested in science because of the personal connection I have with them; being an AA female who is engaged in STEM, there were times when my science identity was negatively influenced by microaggressions and social structure constraints. Through the use of this “judgment-free” theoretical framework, I found that STEM identities of the AA girls who attended GEC were influenced by the sisterhood they shared, their positioning as STEM experts, and how they used their STEM knowledge to help their community. The girls’ case studies revealed how a space as free as possible of negative judgment influenced the girls’ STEM identities and agency. The girls’ involvement in this STEM enrichment program showed that when students are given the space to investigate STEM without feeling negatively judged, they become more engaged in content and better understand how STEM relates to their lives. The AA girls’ experiences in this study are an indication that a judgment-free space, which supports sisterhood, embraces community, and promotes open discourse can foster AA girls’ STEM-gendered identity and agency so that they can see themselves as scientists and engineers.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Black Feminist Thought, Identity Work, Intersectionality, Sisterhood
African American girls $x Education $x Social aspects
Science $x Study and teaching $x Social aspects
Engineering $x Study and teaching $x Social aspects
Identity (Psychology) in children
Discrimination in education
Educational equalization

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