“The Hell, NSM?” — New Data on Representation in STEM at Wesleyan


NSM: (Natural Science and Mathematics)

With light to the recent NYT article about the 1% 17% that exists on Wesleyan’s campus, we’ve been focused on statistics. While analyzing Wesleyan’s financial assets is incredibly important and necessary to discuss class and privilege, we must also remember that there are many factors that affect student performance; the NSM Coalition—a combination of Student Underrepresented in STEM (SUSS), Wesleyan Women in Science (WesWIS), Wesleyan Mathematics and Science Scholars Program (WesMaSS), and McNair undergraduate students partnering with graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators—collected data specifically for students in STEM, and let me tell you, they are freaking terrifying.

The percentages, collected by the Office of Institutional Research, show how class not only affects our ability to even go to Wesleyan, but also how it affects our performance: it cannot be stressed enough how important this conversation is for the Wes community.

We can start analyzing the data by looking at the breakdown of ethnicity and gender in STEM—both within the student body and the faculty of Wesleyan. When considering the entirety of NSM disciplines, only 31% of faculty members are women, and that number drops to 18% when we narrow the departments to the physical sciences and mathematics. To further this divide, only 16% of the female faculty in NSM are tenured, with 27% being on tenure-track. Although the numbers have been slowly improving over the years—more women are represented in significantly under-represented fields like physics and computer science—there is still a stark lack of gender balance within STEM faculty at Wesleyan.

When looking at demographics, we can compare the “diversity” with the other divisions: Humanities and Arts (HA) being Division I, Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) being Division II, and NSM being Division III. NSM comes in last with faculty of color—15.4% compared to the Humanities, at 26.6%—as well as in other Underrepresented Minorities (URM). Actually, the NSM department is the whitest of Wes: 77.8% of the current faculty in Division III are white. This is in comparison to Division I and II, at 58.0% and 70.9%, respectively.



Now, this isn’t an issue that is unique to Wesleyan. Even though over half of the U.S. population is female, only 46% those receiving Ph.Ds are women. With further analysis, women represent only 19% and 18% of doctorate recipients in physics and computer science, respectively. Keep in mind that this source is from 2014, but to be completely honest, this number is not drastically different two years ago.

With less representation in graduate programs, women do not have the opportunity to become professors; there are simply fewer women who hold enough degrees to teach in STEM on a college level. This is beyond problematic because URM’s and women in STEM do not have an abundance of individuals to look up to as mentors, and more often than not, become dissuaded from advancing their education if they cannot identify with the field itself.

To make things ~personal~ for a *hot second*, I had an internship over winter break, and one of the questions that was posed to me was, If you were to consider each field of medicine as a lunch table in a cafeteria, where would you sit? Would you be okay with sitting at a table where there are no other women or minorities? Would you be friends with these individuals? It’s something profound to consider: would you want to sit at a table where there is no one else representing you? Where there is no one who would understand your story? For many URM’s, this is already the case for the most part, but for younger people who still have the choice of entering STEM, would they choose to stay?

If we break down the demographics of ~who studies what~, women are not considered underrepresented in Biology, MB&B, and NS&B. Between 2009 and 2013, 60% of biology majors, 56% of MB&B, 56% for NS&B were women. For Comp Sci, however, only 9% of majors were women, while for physics it was 16%. One sign of slight progress is that a few years later, in an analysis from 2012-2016, the percentages rose to 29% and 17%, respectively.

As if this isn’t fucked up already, this lack of diversity shows itself within GPAs of Wes students. Let’s take, for instance, the difference between ~all students with an interest in NSM~ and URM students. Around 91.0% of the former receive a GPA above 3.0. Note: a student was considered to have a strong interest in the Natural Sciences if they indicated natural science as their first choice of major prior to coming to Wesleyan.

Want to guess what that number is for URM students?

Take a guess. Take another one.



Sixty-fucking-five point 1 percent.

The question asks itself: Why? Why such the huge (actually, 25.9%) difference?

Of course, this answer has a lot of nuance, however, we can definitely view this intersectionally by considering the experiences of URM and First-Generation students. The systems of oppression present in our University—and throughout the country—can overlap and, thus, have a stronger impact on those who face barriers due to their race and class. This affects each and every one of us differently, depending on the multiple identities each of us hold.

As a result, many students who declare interest in STEM (which, by the way, is determined by a ~little poll~ we all take before matriculating to Wes) end up leaving the department before graduation.

For example, 36% of STEM-interested students identify as African American, but only 52% of those interested students actually graduate with a STEM degree.

67% of those students graduate with a GPA over 3.0.

94% of White students in STEM graduate with a GPA over 3.0.

Out of the ~21% of Low-Income (defined by students who receive a Pell Grant) students who show interest, 39.2% of students remain in STEM.

88.9% of those students graduate with a GPA over 3.0.

Out of the ~18% of First-Gen students who show interest, 35.6% of these students remain in STEM.

80.0% of those students graduate with a GPA over 3.0.

Now, as I said, there are many reasons why the data is like this: there is no one answer that solves all of these gaps. It is a nuanced issue. As a University, we need to come together and discuss what we can do to support our fellow students in their studies. Whether that means providing more financial security to low-income students so they don’t need to work 17 10 hours per week to make ends meet—which unravels its own plethora of difficulties, including the inability to make office hours, and simply, not having the energy and time to study for class—or having resources available to match minority students with mentors who represent them, we need to work toward a more successful environment for all students.

Tl;dr: if you are interested in further discussing and joining the conversation about what Wesleyan can do to support these students and close the gap, come to the NSM Coalition meeting at noon at Woodhead lounge on Tuesday.