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Intersectional Perspectives: Interpersonal Contributors to Moments of Doubt for Graduate Women of Color in STEM

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2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 14, 2019

Start Date

April 14, 2019

End Date

April 22, 2019

Conference Session

Track: Graduate - Technical Session 12

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Graduate Education

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Paper Authors


Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel Indiana University

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Dr. Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University. She examines the psychological science of environmental agents that influence persistence intentions among women, particularly women of color, in STEM.

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Bianca L. Bernstein Arizona State University

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Bianca L. Bernstein, Ph.D. is Professor of Counseling and Counseling Psychology in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University. Dr. Bernstein is Principal Investigator of the CareerWISE research program, supported by the National Science Foundation since 2006. Her over 250 publications and presentations and over $4 M in external support have focused on the application of psychological science to the career advancement of women and underrepresented minorities and the development of effective learning environments for graduate education.She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science and has won a number of awards for her work on equity, inclusiveness and mentoring of students and faculty. Dr. Bernstein holds a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and graduate degrees in Counseling Psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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Jennifer M. Bekki Arizona State University

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Jennifer M. Bekki is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Chair for the Engineering Education Systems and Design program within The Polytechnic School within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Her research interests include topics related to engineering student persistence, STEM graduate students (particularly women), online learning, educational data mining, and the modeling and analysis of manufacturing systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering and graduate degrees in Industrial Engineering, all from Arizona State University.

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Amanda James Reed

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Keywords: Graduate, Race/Ethnicity, & Gender

Intersectional perspectives: Interpersonal contributors to moments of doubt for graduate women of color in STEM

To date, empirical efforts designed to broaden STEM participation focus largely on single identity markers (e.g., gender). However, scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins have urged researchers to examine new categories of analysis that are inclusive of interlocking structures of oppression.

Consequently, the present study takes an intersectional approach to obtain the necessary, more nuanced understanding of the factors that stymie persistence intentions among those who hold multiple marginalized identities. Specifically, we examine the daily interpersonal encounters that influence women of color’s (i.e., African American, Latinx, and Native American) decision to complete a STEM doctorate.

We present the results of three focus groups, comprised of a total of 11 graduate women of color (WoC) pursuing their doctorates in the Physical Sciences and Engineering (e.g., chemistry, biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, industrial engineering, etc). Each focus group was one-hour and was conducted using an online-video conferencing platform. Participants self-identified as Hispanic (N=8) and Black (N=3).

Preliminary results suggest that the participants’ credibility and legitimacy were repeatedly questioned because of their gender, gender expression, and racial identities. For example, WoC experienced differential treatment in lab settings, were accused of getting national fellowships because ‘they could check more than one box,’ experienced frequent encounters of sexual harassment, and were frequently asked to take on formal roles as diversity representatives in their programs. Participants also described the cultural ramifications of choosing a lifestyle that counters the traditional expectations of women in their cultures.

The complete paper (and associated presentation) will include the full results of this study, implications for practice and theory, along with practitioner-focused recommendations for retention and recruitment efforts.

Wilkins-Yel, K. G., & Bernstein, B. L., & Bekki, J. M., & Reed, A. J. (2019, April), Intersectional Perspectives: Interpersonal Contributors to Moments of Doubt for Graduate Women of Color in STEM Paper presented at 2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity , Crystal City, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--31774

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