The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance has always been and will continue to be an equity-centered organization. When stakeholders from across our region began imagining a new organization that would help align resources and hone strategies to make STEM accessible for all, it was believed this effort would combat a pre-existing system that denied entry based on part of one’s identity, such as race or gender. The actions that created and sustained that faulty system may have been unintentional, but we have arrived at a place in time where we can no longer be complacent. As members of this community and Alliance, we are responsible for ensuring all members of the ecosystem have the opportunity to thrive, especially those from vulnerable and disenfranchised communities.
We are here together as an Alliance to do something about it.
Educators and partners across our Alliance recognize the role of education as one of our society’s greatest levers for creating an equitable and resilient future for our region. The reality, though, is that our educational system still produces disparities. With the growing demands put upon education as a whole, it is a fallacy to think it can resolve the inequities in health, justice, wages, and the environment. It is only part of the solution and/or problem. To create sustainable change in the system, politicians, parents, educators, administrators, public and private partners, and community members cannot be neutral. All of us must make every effort to ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) are priorities in STEM education.
One of the great opportunities for prioritizing DEIA in STEM education is to address the underrepresentation of certain groups in STEM fields. According to data from the National Science Foundation, minority groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields compared to their representation in the general population. In addition, women are also underrepresented in certain STEM fields, such as computer science and engineering. This underrepresentation is a major concern, as it has the potential to limit the creativity and diversity of ideas within STEM fields and could result in missing out on the contributions of talented individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Underrepresentation is not an unexplained phenomenon. In a national study by Beyond 100k, we learned from the stories of nearly 600 young people across the country that “Black, Native American, & LGBTQ storytellers […] discussed experiencing teacher racism or sexism [twice] as often as other storytellers.” It’s a harsh reality that we must name and overcome. It’s for this reason that DEIA will always be the right priority for us and our partners. Every child deserves to learn in an environment where they are safe and understood. We cannot expect anyone, let alone a child, to thrive when they are faced with inherent or overt racism or sexism. And children who do not thrive in our classrooms will face a more difficult path to STEM careers where their voice is desperately needed.
The critical framing of DEIA efforts as divisive is a distraction. We believe that DEIA should unify us as we focus our work on dismantling broken systems and rebuilding them to reach and serve all children. It’s only with this unified focus that we can realize our most fundamental belief as an organization: STEM is Everywhere. STEM is Everyone. All are Welcome.
We invite every member of our community to redouble their engagement in the current discourse around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and stand as allies with our educators and administrators. Our Alliance shares common values that remind us that education is power, and we are obligated to do everything within our power to ensure every child has access to an education system that is made for and works for them. We must be resilient, focused, and clear in defense of our values. Our care and concern for our students comes from the knowledge, and far too many painful experiences, that anything less simply isn’t enough.