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date: 11 June 2023

Seeding Rightful Presence and Reframing Equity in STEM Education With Historically Minoritized Communitieslocked

Seeding Rightful Presence and Reframing Equity in STEM Education With Historically Minoritized Communitieslocked

  • Edna TanEdna TanUniversity of North Carolina at Greensboro College of Arts and Sciences
  •  and Angela Calabrese BartonAngela Calabrese BartonUniversity of Michigan


Equity as inclusion maintains as settled the epistemological, ontological, and axiological bases of Western STEM. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) In exchange for participation in Western STEM, historically underrepresented and minoritized people in STEM need to deny salient aspects of their epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies in order to assimilate into Western STEM culture. The existing structures in STEM and STEM education, built for White middle class heteropatriarchal norms, have alienated and oppressed minoritized youth of color. In response, a framework has been proposed, called “rightful presence,” for justice-oriented teaching and learning to critique and perturb the guest–host relationality operating in most STEM classrooms. The rightful presence framework is undergirded by three tenets: (a) allied political struggle is necessary to disciplinary learning; (b) rightfulness is claimed through making justice and injustice visible; and (c) collective disruption of guest–host relationalities amplify sociopolitical engagements. A case study from a 6th grade engineering project called the “Happy Box,” illustrates how these three tenets worked together to support students’ desires to address a community-identified problem—low student morale related to LGBTQ2S+ bullying—with rigorous engineering practices. How students came to frame the community issue and their iterative engineering process in prototyping the “Happy Box” illustrated the expansive epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies made legitimate and important in 6th grade STEM teaching and learning. It is important to pay attention to both temporal and spatial dimensions when engaging in rightful presence sociopolitical work of surfacing injustices in STEM education. The process of disruption involves taking both a temporal (past-present-future) and spatial lens (spaces in which one may engage in STEM-related activities, in which contexts, and with whom). A temporal and spatial dual focus allows for making STEM-related justices visible across space and time that have a cumulative impact on how historically minoritized students might engage with STEM in the present. One way to keep our focus on both the temporal and spatial is to engage in community ethnography as pedagogy. Community ethnography as pedagogy involves: (a) an anchoring stance that community knowledge is valuable and essential to disciplinary learning; (b) a repertoire of pedagogical moves that support teacher–student, student–student, and student–community interactions in ways that identify, invite, integrate, and build on students’ community-based knowledge and embodied experiences; and (c) tools that position teachers and students as colearners of a community-identified, STEM-related phenomenon. Thus framed, community ethnography as pedagogy eschews the ideology of equity as inclusion with an eye toward new, justice-oriented social futures in youth-STEM relevant spaces and experiences. Allying with youth and community members in sociopolitical struggles is not an easy undertaking. Sustained efforts are required to make youth’s lives, communities, histories, presents, and hoped for futures visible and integral to reimagining what engaging with STEM education is and could be.


  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
  • Educational Theories and Philosophies
  • Education and Society

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