Despite recently improved numbers of women and other historically underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in U.S. higher education, women continue to lag significantly in comparison with men in many STEM disciplines. Female participation is especially low in computer science, engineering, and physics and at the advanced levels in academic STEM—at full professor and in administrative (department head or chair, dean) positions. While there have been various theoretical approaches to explain why this gender gap persists, a particularly productive strand of research indicates that deeply rooted gendered, racialized, and heteronormative institutional structures and practices act as barriers to a more significant movement of diverse women into academic STEM fields. More specifically, this research documents that a hostile academic climate, exclusionary practices, and subtle forms of discrimination in hiring and promotion, as well as lack of positive recognition of female scientists’ work, account for relatively low numbers of women in fields such as engineering, physics, and computer science. Nevertheless, since the early 2000s, numerous initiatives have been undertaken in U.S. higher education to remedy the situation, and some progress has been made through programs that attempt to transform STEM departments and colleges into more inclusive and equitable academic spaces.
Jill M. Bystydzienski
Julie Gorlewski and Isabel Nuñez
Curriculum, while often conceived as a static entity delivered as a neutral set of facts arranged in disciplinary categories, is, in reality, a pedagogical artifact—a product generated as a result of decisions made by a range of stakeholders who represent different cultural imperatives linked to contested perspectives about the purposes of school. Students’ and teachers’ experiences of school, then, are dialogic performances of a curriculum that promotes various levels of power and privilege, as well as understandings of equity and diversity. Therefore, whether or not it is recognized, the curriculum delivered in schools serves to either maintain or interrupt the status quo. Given the number of students who participate in public education, curriculum contributes a great deal to shaping the national narrative. Curriculum contributes to social movements, and the nature of the curriculum determines the direction of the movement. Since curriculum development and implementation involves myriad decisions, influence is wielded by those with decision-making power. Social status and cultural capital, both of which are historically linked with political power, largely determine who makes curricular decisions, as well as how decisions are made. These conditions pose challenges for those who have been historically marginalized within educational institutions. Despite obstacles related to systemic inequities, different forms of curriculum can and do contribute to the creation and perpetuation of social movements. Moreover, educators who understand how educational institutions function, how curricular changes occur, and how curriculum can be a source of and vehicle for change can create conditions for transformative activist curricular movements.