NWSA Journal 16.1 (2004) viii-xii
[Access article in PDF]
(Re)Gendering Science Fields:
Transforming Academic Science and Engineering
Jill M. Bystydzienski
In October 2002, the Women's Studies Program at Iowa State University hosted a national conference, "Retaining Women in Early Academic Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Careers." The event, funded largely by the National Science Foundation (NSF), brought together faculty, graduate students, and administrators in Women's Studies and STEM fields from 55 universities and colleges mainly in the United States. A major goal of the conference was to foster a dialogue and exchange of information between women's studies scholars and scientists, something that is still sorely lacking in academia (Rosser 2002). While a number of scholars since the 1980s have called for "building two-way streets" between women's studies and the sciences (e.g., Fausto-Sterling 1992; Keller 1982; Rosser 1986), few attempts have been made thus far among academics on both sides to cross borders in order to more fully understand the factors that impede women from equal participation in STEM and to transform these disciplines so that they are more welcoming to underrepresented groups. The conference provided the opportunity for teams of faculty, graduate students, and administrators in both women's studies and STEM fields to begin to collaborate on projects on their campuses that aim to change the culture and structure of academia to be more inclusive of women and other underrepresented groups.1
The articles in this volume consist of several keynote addresses (revised for publication) as well as selected papers and reports presented at the conference. Taken together, these articles examine the status of women in STEM fields, both past and present; the variety of factors that keep women from full participation in science and engineering; and the particular barriers that exist in these fields for women of color, especially African American (and African) women. Perhaps the most important aspect of this collection is that, in addition to a complex and revealing examination of the obstacles to women's equal participation in STEM, it offers pragmatic, concrete suggestions and remedies for transforming these fields, ranging from institution-wide hiring and family policies to changing the practices of science and engineering. In order for these fields to be equally open to women and men from all racial/ethnic groups, a fundamental (re)gendering has to take place—not only do women need to be represented in equal numbers, but also institutional structures and disciplinary cultures and practices need to change so that they do not provide an advantage for any particular gender (as well as race, class, or sexual orientation) over other(s). [End Page viii]
This volume also represents a decisive shift in thinking about policies on recruiting and retaining more women in the STEM fields. Until recently, most of the intervention programs developed on college and university campuses and supported by government and private foundations, including NSF, focused on how to fit women into existing science and engineering departments, programs, and laboratories. It was assumed that women were "deficient" in math and science achievement and lacked motivation to participate. Hence, they had to be individually encouraged, mentored, supported, and appropriately socialized to enter and remain in the sciences, engineering, or technology fields. However, while the gaps between the sexes in achievement and course taking in math and the sciences have become statistically insignificant (Clewell and Campbell 2002), and performance levels, for example, of engineering women faculty and faculty of color are no different from those of white men (see Jackson in this volume), percentages of women and other underrepresented groups in most science and engineering fields remain alarmingly small. Activists and policymakers have thus increasingly recognized what many women's studies scholars have been advocating for some time now: That the (remaining) barriers to women's progress in academia are systemic and rather than trying to change women to fit the sciences and engineering, these fields need to be changed in order to accommodate women.
As Sue Rosser points out in her article in this volume, in 2001 high-level administrators...