African American Workshop and Lecture Series opens Oct. 11

Professor Ebony McGee

The University of Oregon African American Workshop and Lecture Series kicks off Oct. 11 with a presentation by Vanderbilt University professor Ebony O. McGee.

Her lecture “Black, Brown, Bruised: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation” will highlight both overt and systemic racism in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and the various ripple effects that result.

The talk will take place in the Redwood Auditorium in the Erb Memorial Union and begin with a reception at 5 p.m., followed by the lecture from 5:30-7 p.m. Registration for the reception and lecture is requested.

“It’s straight up, no chaser yet grounded in the history and experiences of those who have been most marginalized in STEM,” McGee said.

She said attendees can expect to learn about the long history of racism in STEM from the refounding of this country to current times.

“A brief history reveals some of the mystery behind why STEM innovation has been somewhat stagnant and the continued production of biased science and technology,” McGee sid. “Next, I discuss the traditional ways in which institutions try to remedy the consequences of structural racism in STEM. Then a sober reality check (it won’t be easy) but it’s possible to dismantle white supremacy in STEM.”

McGee is an associate professor of diversity and STEM education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. She investigates what it means to be racially marginalized while minoritized in the context of learning and achieving in STEM higher education and in the STEM professions. In particular, she studies the racialized experiences and racial stereotypes that adversely affect the education and career trajectories of underrepresented groups of color.

The lecture is the first of three scheduled for the 2022-23 lecture series slate. Upcoming events will feature McGill University professor Patricia Faison Hewlin and UO professor Mat Johnson.

The lecture series originated from the activism of Black UO students and was part of a list of demands made by the UO’s Black Student Task Force in 2015. Among other things, the students saw a need for more events and discussions that truly centered Black students and addressed their needs with the depth they deserve.

“The series has created a remarkable platform for robust learning and rich conversations for our UO community and serves as yet another model of Black excellence in higher education,” said assistant professor Rhonda Nese. “These thought leaders and their transformative work are so crucial to the equitable and just society we all seek to live and exist in. As a predominately white institution it behooves us to stop, listen, learn and grow from their ideas, innovations and activism.”

Nese and other UO faculty members are particularly excited about the STEM focus of the upcoming lecture. Far too often, public discussions about racism in higher education only scratch the surface or focus on narrow solutions that are not responsive to the needs of those most negatively affected.

“Dr. McGee’s work centers Black and brown STEM student perspectives,” said counseling psychology professor Krista Chronister, the UO’s vice provost for graduate studies. “I hope this year’s attendees of Dr. McGee’s workshop and lecture understand how a focus on recruitment and support fail to validate what Black and brown students have to offer STEM faculty and programs; how they will improve the disciplines because of the richness, diversity of their experiences; how centering that value and allowing it to inform pedagogy, research, curricular structures, etc. will attract more Black and Brown students to STEM fields and allow them to thrive more than any traditional recruitment initiative or support activities.”

Chronister also said she hopes audience members see how emotionally and physically difficult it is for Black and brown STEM students to decode unspoken norms and expectations, begin with less relational capital in the program and institution, and see less of themselves in their learning spaces.

Professor Hal Sadofsky hopes attendees will not just apply what they learn from McGee to STEM but to academics and campus life in general. Given that the UO is a predominantly white institution in the only state to put anti-Black exclusion laws in its constitution, he sees discussions like these and the work that will hopefully result as necessary to making the UO the best campus it can be.

“I’m wanting people both to know the great contributions that diverse groups are making to the university and also to be thinking about ways we can make the university more welcoming and inclusive,” Sadofsky said. “Given the history of the university and the state with respect to Black students, faculty and staff, it is particularly important that we look at ways we can do better.”