I recently spoke at a Harvard Union rally to show support for increased institutional efforts to increase diversity at Harvard.
Here is my transcript from the speech.
My name is Jean. I’m a 3rd year PhD student in Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics here at Harvard. And I am also the founder of a not-for-profit initiative called cuSTEMized that encourages little kids to see themselves in STEM careers by providing personalized STEM-educational and motivational storybooks.
When I first arrived here at Harvard, I was the only girl in my program that year. I think all of us are here because we acknowledge the under-representation of women and minorities in STEM fields and recognize the importance of improving the representation for everything from workplace diversity, gender equality, and global innovation.
The underrepresentation of women in STEM fields result from both the lack of women pursuing these careers, and the higher likelihood they leave the pipeline after entering STEM careers (which is the leaky pipeline we’re talking about here today). But one of the root causes for both of these problems are the implicit biases formed during early childhood that perpetuates the notion of STEM being for dudes. I’ve seen from experience teaching and volunteering with young girls how, as early as grade-school, girls already form unconscious biases that STEM is not for them and are not encouraged to pursue STEM subjects or envision themselves with STEM careers.
cuSTEMized is a line of personalized STEM-educational storybooks targeting girls aged 4 to 8, when they are just starting to learn to read and before they’ve really engendered any of these unconscious biases. Our storybooks describe STEM careers and how they impact the world. What makes our storybooks special is that you are the hero: each book is personalized using a child’s name and appearance. We’ve seen how empowering it is for little girls to read this story about themselves grown up in all these cool STEM careers. We’re currently creating a new storybook and coloring app that is going focus on cutting-edge applied STEM careers. We know that not every parent can explain all these STEM concepts to their kids, so we can collaborating with female scientists to develop the content and their explanations so that kids can not only imagine but they can read about the real deal. And in this way, we also hope to raise visibility of current women in STEM fields.
I think here at Harvard, we are leaders in research and academia. But we also have an obligation to be leaders in terms of implementing progressive policies that support current women in STEM with parental leave and subsidized childcare, and leading outreach efforts that inspire the next generation of people in STEM.
I know that together, as a collective union, we can implement the policies and outreach efforts to achieve an equilibrium in this pipeline.
I think there are lots of things we can do, both as individuals and as institutions, to achieve an equilibrium in this pipeline. Acknowledging the issues and beginning a discussion is the first step. And I’m glad that students such as the leadership of the Harvard Grad Union have been willing to dedicate their time and efforts into organizing such rallies and have given me the opportunity to speak about my efforts, as an individual, in addressing an issue I am impacted by, and to encourage that the same institutional efforts to be put forth.
No matter what issue we tackle, what issue we try to address, there will always be opposition. At the rally, as David Nee, a cis-white-male student, talked about how his “privilege” has “cushioned” him against the issues that minority students face, a heckler passing by shouted “Stop complaining then!”…without even hearing the rest of Nee’s plea for members typically unaffected by issues of discrimination to also stand together in support. On the summary article from the event, one comment paints the plights of an trans-female black student as “pathetic.” Another suggests that increasing diversity would “devalue” his PhD.
But I know that for every heckler, for every jerk and troll, there will be 10X more people who do care, who do believe in the value of diversity, who are not afraid but embraces change…because only through change can we improve…and who will offer their support.
So let’s keep doing things. Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep creating the change that we would like to see. And the next time we encounter a heckler, I hope they will have the audacity to be a part of the discussion.