Racism in the United States

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Racism in the United States

Post by gz839918 » June 19th, 2020, 9:30 am

All of us deeply cherish the value of education and science. However, racism continues to pervade schooling and STEM, as well as numerous aspects of American life. These issues don’t vanish quickly. On this thread, we want a place where everybody can respectfully speak their mind about racism in the United States. We’re proud to have students like you on Scioly.org who choose to trust reason over ignorance. Rationality has made our Scioly.org community strong, and together we can beat ignorance and keep informed.

The only formal guideline here is to act with respect towards each other, but we welcome any relevant post, whether it’s about racism in STEM, or police brutality, or something much broader. Here are a few places to start:
  • How has racism affected you or somebody you know?
  • What questions do you have about racism? What do you want to learn more about?
  • Have you seen any insightful books, articles, or films about race? This list of anti-racism resources offers plenty to browse from, but we'd also appreciate it if you’d like to share favorites from your own reading list too.
  • Most Scioly.org members are white or Asian American, and come from the strongest teams. How can we encourage greater diversity in our SciOly community?
  • Something else? Don’t hesitate to join our conversation!
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by sneepity » June 19th, 2020, 5:26 pm

Today, I've watched a movie called "The Help" with my dad. Both of us liked it very much, and it was emotional, and stuck close to our hearts. I recommend you watch it.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by CookiePie1 » June 19th, 2020, 5:55 pm

The Netflix documentary 13th is available for free on youtube right now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfcq5pF8u8. It deals with the history of systemic racism in America, especially with mass incarceration.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by jaspattack » June 19th, 2020, 6:07 pm

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and I would encourage others to do the same. This is another Google Doc with plenty of resources organized by where you personally are in your journey to not only be "not racist", but to be actively anti-racist.

Avoid complacency. Confront and extinguish racism whenever you see it, and continue to uplift the Black people in your communities both online and in real life.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by EastStroudsburg13 » June 19th, 2020, 7:47 pm

I wanted to share a bit of personal experience that relates directly to diversity in Science Olympiad.

I come from a pretty diverse school. About 40-45% of my high school's population is African-American or Latino. However, in the one season where my team found a (relatively) high level of success, the composition of the team didn't necessarily reflect that. At regionals and states, including myself, we had only 3 Latinos and no African Americans out of 15 competitors. At the time, I hadn't really considered that; I was solely focused on performance, i.e. finally getting the team to states. But looking back now, I really wish we had done more to go out and try to involve people from an African-American background. I had always prided myself on our team not coming from a typical demographic mix, but in retrospect, our team composition didn't really reflect it.

I think this can be a microcosm of what a lot of teams face. It's very easy to get stuck in doing just what's good for performance, that representation can go by the wayside. It doesn't matter if your school has a diverse population, unless you are working for your team to reflect that population. For those of you still competing, I urge you to make an effort to reach out to African-American and Latino classmates and try to get them involved with your teams. STEM representation starts at school, and you can make a difference here and now.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by gz839918 » June 20th, 2020, 2:58 pm

It's good to see people discussing already! If you're sharing films or other resources, it'd be great if you all could give a short review of what you learned about racism. Often, we have much to learn from each other, and talking about what you've learned helps everybody learn!

One book I read for a class about race was Despite the best intentions: How racial inequality thrives in good schools by Amanda Lewis & John Diamond. I've written a short review, and a loooooong summary, in the [answer] tag below, but of course your reviews may be much, much shorter.

Riverview High School embraces diversity. The principal embraces diversity; the teachers embrace diversity; the parents embrace diversity. But if everybody at Riverview loves diversity, why do its black students still perform consistently worse than its white students? UIC sociologist Amanda Lewis teams up with UW-Madison education professor John Diamond to uncover how an ordinary American high school came to have such a large achievement racial gap.

This book I pretty much always recommend to understand how systemic racism works (also known as institutional or structural racism). While not 100% jargon-free, the book's clear prose makes it easy to see how racism has endured into today. It also hits pretty close to home, because many of us went to high schools where AP classes had few black or Latino students. The authors interviewed over 150 students, parents, and staff, and collected survey data from students. This book surprised me because of how it defied my expectations. Popular belief holds that black students don't want to succeed, because if they try too hard at school, their peers will tease them for acting white. In reality, the researchers found that white students also tease their peers for succeeding in school, and there was no significant difference between the fraction of white students and that of black students who got teased by their peers for trying too hard. By some measures, black students are even more motivated than their white counterparts (although not statistically significantly more). So if it's not black culture, why aren't black students doing as well as white students?

The researchers found the problem was with the educational system itself. For example, teachers may work more proactively with white students than non-white students, because no teacher wants phone calls from angry parents. White parents are more likely to get involved in their children's education, so they're more likely to phone a teacher. This is because white families are on average more affluent, and so have more time to help their children. But wait, there's more: a teacher can't tell whose parents will angrily phone in, until the call has happened (obviously, they can't predict the future before it happens). So, to escape the very possibility of parent interference, teachers may assume they need to give extra care to a struggling white student, much more than they'd help a struggling black student.

Here, the teachers themselves aren't racist; they just don't want angry parents to bother them. I mean, as an event supervisor, I definitely wouldn't like angry parents either… and imagine avoiding angry parents for an entire school year. The researchers found some teachers did this subconsciously, and even black teachers favored white students. The problem is how American education is structured: parents are expected to get involved in education (even though many working class parents can't); schools are funded by local families' taxes so teachers must try to retain the students from the wealthiest families, who are usually (assumed to be) white; and so forth. The book could benefit from using less jargon, but I'd strongly recommend it for a very readable not-at-all-boring exploration of how racism works in schools.
Also, if you're among the group of people who enjoy privileges like good schools or respectful treatment from police, that doesn't mean you are personally responsible for the long history of racism that existed before you existed. However, it does mean you can use your privilege to fight racism! Everybody is welcome on this thread, regardless of your experiences.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by Fridaychimp » July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm

Hi! I realize I'm a little late to the party, but I want to share my own experiences with race on my SciOly team. I come from a very diverse district in the most diverse city in America (Houston). Our team in no way reflects that. Last year, for the first time in our decade-long history, we welcomed a Black team member, and our team is probably 90% Asian in a school that is largely Hispanic and White. There's no single reason why our composition became so skewed; I'd wager socioeconomic disparities and implicit bias are the top two.

I think we see that on the national stage too. As depressing as it sounds, I don't remember meeting or even seeing a single Black person at Nats 2018 or 2019 (although I'm sure there were some there), and I'm reasonably sure no Black-presenting people placed in the top 6 at either tournament. That same pattern applies to MIT 2018 and 2020, the only other national tournaments I've had the chance to observe.

I don't know how to change this disturbing trend, and I'm open to any suggestions. A couple questions for the community:
1. How do you recruit diverse members for your team?
2. For any underrepresented minorities, what challenges do you face on largely White and Asian teams?
3. For those running tournaments, what changes are you making to be more inclusive of diverse backgrounds?
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by Fridaychimp » July 6th, 2020, 7:49 pm

Oops sorry for double posting but I want to recommend Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, two National Book Award-winning novels by Colson Whitehead! Both of them are amazing as pieces of fiction, and even better as antiracist educational tools.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by knightmoves » July 14th, 2020, 8:27 am

Fridaychimp wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm
1. How do you recruit diverse members for your team?
We've had a pretty diverse team for the last few years, but I don't think we can take credit for having done much. We're certainly explicit about welcoming anyone, regardless of race, religion, or family circumstance, and that if you don't respect that, we will absolutely throw you off the team. And we also explicitly tell people to let us know what religious / cultural constrains they have (food restrictions, prayer times, basically anything that we might need to accommodate when arranging team events, meals etc.)
3. For those running tournaments, what changes are you making to be more inclusive of diverse backgrounds?
Well, I don't run tournaments, but I do get irritated by tests that assume that all the competitors share the same cultural background as the test writer. Not everyone grew up watching the same cartoons, for example - there's absolutely no need to include these kinds of cutesy cultural references that you think unite people but are in fact divisive.

For anyone who does A&P, there's also a real issue in medicine, with many illnesses involving a skin condition presenting very differently in black people vs white people. All the standard descriptions are about white people getting particular kinds of rash etc. The same conditions don't look the same on black skin, which means if doctors are only trained on white people, they're not going to treat black people effectively.
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Re: Racism in the United States

Post by gz839918 » July 15th, 2020, 9:39 am

Fridaychimp wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm
1. How do you recruit diverse members for your team?
These are great questions! I'm answering as best as I can, as not everything below is based on research, so please do point out any corrections to what I wrote. knightmoves has already made insightful points as well, and anybody else who has something to add is welcome.

Recruit from all classes, not just AP or honors. Sometimes, students with the most potential in science aren't taking AP courses. Maybe they didn't know about AP, or teachers discouraged them due to their race, or they were plain unlucky. (As my previous post writes, discrimination from teachers or school counselors contributes to the racial gap between AP and non-AP classes.) But for whatever reason or another, they've been excluded but could be an asset to your team. I've met students who weren't in the top math classes, but made excellent additions to Science Olympiad nevertheless. And of course, ID events are great for general interest, regardless of prior math or science classes.

Emphasize growth mindsets. Recruiting from non-AP classes has its obstacles. Unfortunately, talented students who aren't in AP sometimes internalize their position as "proof" that they can't succeed in science (Lewis & Diamond, 2005). As a result, non-AP students may fear that Science Olympiad is for a much tougher caliber of student, regardless of whether they truly can succeed. To prevent this, emphasize that everybody learns, and encourage students that it's okay if they don't have much science background already. It helps to make it personal: try to convince them that Science Olympiad will bring better grades, with special emphasis that it doesn't matter where they are now. Or, tell anecdotes: "this used to be my worse event, and now it's my best. Who knows, maybe you'll be where I am in a month from now!" By making science relatable, underrepresented students may feel more at home when they don’t feel a crushing obligation to be brilliant at the very beginning (Lin-Siegler et al., 2016).

Offer financial aid. It helps to have materials and money in store so that students don't need to pay for their own gravity vehicle. Moreover, family finances can change, and parents who had a job in August may not have the same job anymore when regionals and states roll around. A rainy day fund helps students to stay involved when bad times hit. From most to least effective, you can raise money through membership fees (while waiving costs for students who need it), through sponsorships from local companies or nonprofits, through parents or community members, or through grants. (Grants are the least effective method, because of the absurd amount of paperwork for money you most likely won't get.) In team emails, remind prospective members often that aid exists, so that they know they can access it if needed.

Include all interested students. Not everybody can win, but everybody can have fun. Students who realize that SciOly means time with friends will return in the future. If 30 students express interest, 30 students should have the opportunity to compete. If 100 students express interest, 100 students should have the opportunity to compete. At the beginning of the season, science workshops and demonstration days grabs attention. When forming teams, you can rotate students out from invitational to invitational, so that most students get to participate at least once. In the late season when not everybody makes regionals (or states or nationals), team-bonding exercises, like volunteering as a team or having a Zoom party with everybody who participated, will make students come back wanting more for the next year.

Connect with your school's diversity committee. If your high school doesn't have a diversity committee, ask a teacher you trust to help start one. (Alternatively, you can team up with a club, like a People of Color Alliance, to start a committee, while being sure to get teachers involved too.) When school faculty are involved, you can leverage district resources unavailable to you as an individual. For example, a diversity committee can formally ask the school to email Science Olympiad flyers to every family on reduced price lunch (which is much harder to do if you're alone). Of course, it's possible that resentful administrators push back against the committee. But no matter how much you get pushed back, it's much harder to withstand as an individual than as a group. Even if your committee fails to diversify your SciOly team, the committee might wind up helping in some other way, such as reducing other forms of racism at your school. In high school, I served as a teacher assistant for a program that lets students serve high-need classrooms. Perhaps your diversity committee could start such a program as well, to strengthen interracial friendships between racially segregated classrooms.

You should beware of tokenism—the mere presence of a committee won't always reduce racism—but a healthy diversity committee should include both students and staff.

Be unpretentious. On the test exchange, I can see some teams write invitational-level tests for tryouts. I see tryout tests demanding students to recall jargon so obfuscated that real scientists would never utter such meaningless mumbo-jumbo. I know of a team where you had to pass a test simply to show up, and team captains would teach special lessons only to people who passed—which raises the question, if you have to pass to get the lessons, but the lessons teach you how to pass, then how do you pass without lessons? All these situations are avoidable. Even in schools that are 100% white, not everybody will join Science Olympiad, because some people believe only a select few can get good at science. Add in racism to the mix, and the perceptions of scientific elitism gets worse. Even microaggressions like "SciOly is the Asian gathering!" exacerbate the perception that science isn't right for everybody.

People in general don't like science when they don't understand it. It's plain elitist to throw half-relevant vocabulary on tests, then hope for the best (e.g. using hypokalemia, a term used for potassium in blood, to test knowledge of potassium in the context of lakes and rivers). Ultimately, jargon is inevitable, and so are difficult tests. But using jargon and difficulty solely to exclude? It doesn't have to be like that. Students can still make the team even if their tryout test scored poorly; once they know what to do, they'll do a lot better. I've known students who were near last in their school's tryouts, but after given a second chance, scored stunning 1st place finishes at enormous university invitationals.
Fridaychimp wrote:
July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm
As depressing as it sounds, I don't remember meeting or even seeing a single Black person at Nats 2018 or 2019 (although I'm sure there were some there), and I'm reasonably sure no Black-presenting people placed in the top 6 at either tournament. That same pattern applies to MIT 2018 and 2020, the only other national tournaments I've had the chance to observe.
A black student from Carmel took 2nd in Astronomy at SONT 2019, and another black student from Solon has had similar success in experimental design. Raymond Park Middle School has a racially diverse team of students, and also made the top 30 at nationals in their first year of attendance. But overall, I agree; the most competitive Science Olympiad teams don't reflect America's great diversity. However, things are changing. For your third question, Science Olympiad organizations across states are spearheading Urban Initiative programs, which give resources and scholarships to inner-city schools. Some tournaments offer fee waivers for teams that have never attended an invitational before. I try to make sure my invitational tests are useful for post-tournament learning by adding explanations (from surveys I've done, some teams won't go review Wikipedia after each tournament, because they don't realize they can). And of course, all of us can diversify tournaments, by helping to reduce racism at our own institutions, our schools, our universities, and wherever we go in life.
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