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March for Black Women in STEM draws advocates for diversity

 Black Women in STEM

Photos by Wade Payne


Mathematics professors, engineers, science teachers, students and families gathered on Vanderbilt’s campus Oct. 13 for the second annual March for Black Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“Women of color are woefully underrepresented in STEM, and with corporate culture often unwelcoming to women in general as well as people of color, support is needed to remain resilient,” said march founder and Vanderbilt assistant professor Nicole M. Joseph. “As more awareness is brought to the inequities in STEM, we hope that corporate culture will begin to shift and make room at the table for more girls and women of color in STEM.”

March for Black Women in STEM

The annual march was prompted by some discouraging statistics. Despite African Americans comprising nearly 11 percent of the U.S. labor force, only 5 percent of science and engineering occupations are held by African Americans, according to the NSF. Only 2.4 percent are held by African American women. There also are disparities in degree attainment. Last year, less than 2 percent of masters degrees and less than 1 percent of Ph.D.’s in the STEM fields were earned by black women.

“Participating in a gathering of multiracial people of various ages, communities, disciplinary traditions, and lived experiences, but who are nonetheless united in their desire to abolish gendered racism in STEM, cannot be fully described,” said Tesha Sengupta-Irving, assistant professor of teaching and learning at Peabody. “It was, as they say, something to experience in the moment and in all the moments to follow as we internalize the message of the march in our everyday actions with one another.”

March for Black Women in STEM

Chiaki Santiago, a Vanderbilt undergraduate studying neuroscience, says she found the march to be “eye-opening.”

“I was inspired by the stories of students and faculty members, as well as the different studies and statistics that they brought to light about black women in STEM,” Santiago said. “I began to think about different ways that the Vanderbilt community could be more diverse. I have begun reaching out to STEM faculty members to gain their support so that we can make that happen.”

 Joseph leads a trans-institutional research project, VCL Intersectional Study of Black Women and Girls in Society, which is supported by a Vanderbilt Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs)grant. Joseph is an assistant professor of mathematics educationin the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt’s Peabody Collegeof education and human development. She taught mathematics in Seattle for 12 years prior to joining Peabody’s faculty in 2016.She is first editor of Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power: White Faculty’s Commitment to Racial Consciousness in STEM Classrooms.