2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

As Purple is to Lavender: Exploring Womanism as a Theoretical Framework in Engineering Education

Presented at Research on Diversification, Inclusion, and Empathy I

Addressing the diversity challenge in STEM education and the workforce is a central charge for a significant number of educational programs and research endeavors. Black women and girls are one group that has been historically underrepresented in STEM and as a result, a population of interest for many diversity efforts, yet many programs do not adopt a theoretical framework, womanism, created for and by Black women.

The aim is to motivate other researchers and diversity program leaders to understand and inform their efforts with womanism. In order to achieve this, we will explore the experiences of eight Black women in STEM and analyze their experiences through the lens of womanism. Our aim is to address the gap between STEM education practice and the lived experiences of Black women in STEM through the use of critical, yet often absent theory.

In order to achieve this, we used two methods that are frequently adopted in womanist scholarship: narrative and a “sister circle.” These methods when paired together offer the opportunity for participants to share out their individual story independently and then engage and discuss the same and related experiences in a group setting.

The findings suggests that womanism is a very present epistemology for Black women in STEM fields, despite the theory being grounded in sociology and psychology. The strategies that Black women in STEM educational pathways and careers use are very connected with tenants not specifically tied to STEM, nor theories currently used in the field, but rather womanist perspectives. These findings suggest that programs and efforts aimed at supporting Black women in STEM should understand and leverage a womanist perspective to increase the representation of Black women in STEM.

  1. Dr. Lauren D. Thomas University of Washington
  2. Dr. Danielle L. Watt Center for Chemistry at the Space Time Limit (CaSTL Center) [biography]
  3. Dr. Kelly J. Cross University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [biography]
  4. Dr. Makita R. Phillips University of California, Los Angeles
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