Transformative Inclusion in Postsecondary STEM: Toward Justice



What would it mean for a university STEM department to embody the “serving” in its Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation? Although the HSI label is based on enrollment data, TIPS Towards Justice proposes a definition of Hispanic-serving in terms of culture and outcomes. With partners from other STEM disciplines, it will develop, pilot and test a two-year pathway (the TIPS Pathway) for academic departments to move toward a truly Hispanic-serving vision of a radically inclusive STEM culture, leading to demonstrably equitable outcomes (including graduation and persistence rates).

A recently recognized HSI, Sonoma State University enrolls a growing Latinx student population (31.2 percent in the 2018 U.S. Department of Education dataset). The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is committed to embracing its critical role in the realization of a truly equitable STEM community at Sonoma State and to contributing to a transformation of the culture of the mathematical sciences and STEM communities more broadly. Current data clearly show opportunity gaps for Hispanic students in mathematics and statistics at Sonoma State, such as GPA differentials in math major courses and math/stats majors where the enrollment of Hispanic students is 21 percent (compared with 31 percent at Sonoma State, 38 percent in California and 26 percent in Sonoma County).

The obstacles to full, equitable participation and success in STEM pursuits are legion, and mathematics is at the heart of many. Transformation requires math and other STEM departments to confront their:

  • Pedagogy that privileges some backgrounds over others.

  • Conceptions of mathematics and science that connect with some cultures more than others.

  • Prevalent cultural beliefs and messages about who belongs in mathematics and science.

  • Assumptions of student preparation that are in fact not widely or equitably available.

  • Widely held beliefs that mathematics and science are culture-neutral or even culture-free.

  • Lack of conversation and understanding about ways in which identity affects students’ engagement in STEM disciplines.

  • Reluctance to acknowledge the roles that STEM subjects can play in perpetuating unjust systems, and to address STEM possibilities for confronting and challenging such systems.

During the first two years of the proposed five-year project, the mathematics and statistics department, with partners in all STEM disciplines and local community colleges, will develop a guided pathway for STEM departments to follow in transforming their practice. During the third and fourth years, additional STEM departments at Sonoma State will engage with the pathway to transform their own outcomes and approaches to culture. TIPS leadership will revise the pathway based on feedback and results from both rounds of implementation and will publish results on the web during the fifth year.

TIPS Towards Justice will study effective STEM education reform that embraces “serving” at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, investigating the effects of department-level deep equity work through novel research in two areas: instructional and institutional practices that truly serve Latinx student identities. TIPS Towards Justice will fill a gap in research about students’ experiences of marginalization and belonging in university settings, especially about instructional and institutional practices that reduce marginalization and increase students’ sense of belonging. Many entrenched STEM teaching practices and institutional procedures, policies and conventions continue to disadvantage students who are historically marginalized in STEM. To finally build equitable opportunity for success in STEM, it is crucial to understand these effects on marginalization and belonging. A second area of focus is the impact of department-level implementation of Culturally Responsive Pedagogies (CRPs) through equity-focused lesson study on students’ sense of belonging and their persistence in STEM. TIPS Towards Justice will investigate and advance research on students’ sense of belonging when they consistently experience CRPs and identity-affirming episodes across a range of STEM courses and in their broader department experience.