Young Black scientists thrive in the supportive environment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But predominantly white schools don’t have the same success, in part because of barriers erected by introductory chemistry courses. No matter their path, though, 6 Black chemists talk about their hopes for the future
In this three-part package, we look at these issues from various angles.
In the first part, we look at a bright spot in the training of Black chemists: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). While less than 10% of Black college students go to HBCUs, these institutions graduate almost 30% of Black chemistry bachelor’s degree recipients, as well as 32% of the Black students who go on to get PhDs. They do that through a combination of intense student supports, diverse faculty, and a push toward science careers, according to chemistry faculty and former students.
HBCUs face intense challenges, though, including inadequate resources and overworked faculty. The Black Lives Matter movement might be a chance for scientists and the larger community to better collaborate with faculty and students at these vital institutions.
In the second part, we look at how foundation-level chemistry courses at predominately white institutions contribute to the diversity challenges that chemistry faces. The design and teaching of these undergraduate courses—such as general chemistry—have turned them into gatekeepers that block students who have the potential to succeed. Some professors are trying to change the narrative from one of gatekeepers to one of gateways, but there’s still much work to be done.
Being Black in chemistry is a lonely experience for many, and it doesn’t get better after earning a PhD. In the final part of this package, six Black chemists share their experiences and their hopes for a more equitable future in the sciences.
They make a very good point here:
“When I think of a weed-out course, there are arbitrary barriers that are put in place to keep students out. One of the most common and egregious, in my opinion, is grading students on a bell curve,” says Thomas Freeman, an assistant teaching professor of chemistry and director of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “If you learn the things that I ask you to learn and you show that you’ve learned them, then you can get an A. And if everyone does that, then everyone gets an A.”