A number of workshops, lectures, and panels have been held this week to celebrate Diversity and Awareness in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
In celebration of the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity, the events aimed to explore the intersection between sex, gender, disability, sexuality and race in STEM.
Events included the Diversity in STEM Wikipedia Hackathon, an edit-a-thon led by Dr Jess Wade and the Department of Engineering.
Department of Statistics Professor Andrew Hodges gave a talk on the topic of Alan Turing. His deciphering of the Enigma code was never fully recognised due to his homosexuality, which was a crime in the UK at the time of the Second World War.
In May 2018, the university’s admissions statistics report showed a lack of diversity in many STEM subjects. Only 39.7% of Chemistry students identified as female, with only 15.9% of the cohort BME (Black and Minority Ethnicity). A similar trend was seen in Engineering Science (17.3% female and 21.5% BME), Mathematics (26.6% female, 18.5% BME), Material Science (28.8% female, 17.1% BME) and Biological Sciences (56.8% female, 7.9% BME).
The same month, director of undergraduate admissions Samina Khan acknowledged that black British students are half as likely to be admitted as white British students. She said: “We are not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply to us and that is why we are pushing very hard on our outreach activity to make sure we make them feel welcome and they realise Oxford is for them.”
The University has been running events such as ‘Inspire Her’, ‘Women in Computer Science’, ‘It All Adds Up’, and ‘Dragonfly Days in Engineering’ for girls in year nine and above. Their aim is to encourage them to develop an interest in coding, engineering, mathematics, science and computer science.
The University has also attempted to increase diversity in sexuality and disability, hosting the first ever LGBTSTEM day last July, including a celebratory lunch. Further, they hosted a variety of discussions and talks, including ‘Bipolar Disorder and Creative Process’, a discussion with Professor Lucy Newlyn and Dr Richard Lawes last May, and ‘Autism, Sexuality and Gender Dysphoria’, a talk by Dr Wenn Lawson last November co-hosted by the Queer Studies Network and the Disability Advisory Service, combining his “professional knowledge” with “insights from his lived experience.”
The Deparment of Physics also hosted a number of events based on giving talks about science to a visually impaired audience. Australian astrophysicist Dr Nic Bonne, who is visually impaired himself, gave a talk on how to make astronomy, described in the event as ‘one of the most visual sciences’, more accessible. Bonne is the project leader for ‘The Tactile Universe’, a public enagement project which aims to enable members of the visually impaired community to engage with new research into astronomy and cosmology. Its current focus is on creating ‘3D digitally modelled tactile versions of galaxy images.’
Oxford Brookes also hosted a symposium on ‘Diversity and Awareness in STEM’ across the University. The symposium included talks on a range of topics, from a lecture focusing on the history of LGBT+ people in STEM to a panel discussion about how best to make STEM subjects more diverse.
Oxford Area LGBT University Staff, who organised the event, told Cherwell: “Smashing barriers in Science: and evening in conversation with Dr Priyanka Dhopade, Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, and Prof Rachel Oliver’ was a discussion of real solutions to tackle institutional barriers and ways that we can pressure institutions to improve equity in academic STEM. There can be no doubt that people seen as ‘diverse’ face real barriers, whether direct (such as discrimination) or indirect (such as unconscious bias); all our speakers had personal stories to share.
“The first thing academia needs to do is acknowledge these barriers exist and that our current solutions do not go far enough. Yet, we also heard of success stories, real improvements being made and national initiative that that mobilising to tackle these barriers not only for one group, but intersectionality to make truly for all, such as the TIGERS and The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEM.”