Profs: 'white male privilege' to blame for STEM gender gap

Two Seattle Pacific University professors contend that “white male privilege” is the primary reason that few women choose to study physics in college.

Rachel Scherr and Amy Robertson, both physics professors at Seattle Pacific, argue in the October issue of Race and Physics Teaching that physics instruction is currently unfair to women because “white male privilege pervades the discipline of physics as well as the classrooms in which physics is taught and learned.”

“Physics strongly values male-socialized traits such as independence, competition, and individual victories,” they write, adding that “objectivity and rationality themselves, the foundations of scientific ideology, are also male-socialized traits.”

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The authors also assert that science has been used as a tool of racial oppression and colonization, which further hurts minorities in STEM and physics classrooms.

“Historically, the questions that science has addressed have disproportionately advantaged White people, motivated by colonial expansion (to improve land and sea travel, mine ores, manufacture and farm for the benefit of Europeans living in Europe and in colonies),” Scherr and Robertson claim.

Since the STEM fields were built on male privilege, it comes as no surprise that these fields perpetuate male advantage, they argue, saying that the field of physics is “laden with masculine [and, we would add, White] connotations on a symbolical level.”

“For example, conceptualizing Nature as governed by laws can suggest that it is ruled by a lawmaker, who is often implicitly conceptualized as a male authority,” the professors complain.

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To combat this state of affairs, they call upon fellow physics professors, especially those who are white males, to “disrupt privilege” in their classrooms by “recognizing their own privilege, coping with the discomfort of unfair advantage, and coming to see themselves as agents of change who can contribute to the disruption of systems of unfair advantage."

Ultimately, they say that physics professors must help to redefine the concept of "science" in the interest of social justice, proclaiming that “If our aim is, in part, to disrupt White and/or male privilege within physics, we need to be willing to open up the space of what counts as physics."

Campus Reform reached out to Scherr and Robertson for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen