Black women's experiences of working in science, technology, engineering, & mathematics in uk higher education institutes

β€œChallenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.” – Patricia Hill Collins (2013: 28)

My work is embedded in intersectional feminism and critical race theory -- as a result it is a form of intellectual activism. Intersectionality is the analytic approach of understanding the multiple identities individuals inhabit within social groups. It provides a space to examine the particular types of stigmatisation and oppression faced by people who are disadvantaged as a result of a profusion of injustices. Intersectionality thwarts any tendency to view a category in essentialist terms. It actively seeks to break down the problem of only recognising the most privileged of a persecuted group. It is distinctly different from white feminism, in that it rejects the notion that gender oppression is a stand alone category. The term intersectionality was coined by Black legal scholar KimberlΓ© Crenshaw. The concept has historically been used by Black women to describe simultaneous oppression -- the triad of race, class and gender. It is a tool that has, and continues to be, used by Black feminists and activists to confront the fact that the analysis of gender oppression has primarily focused on white women, and the analysis of racism has primarily focused on Black men. 

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My doctoral research is lead wholly by the life stories of Black women of African and Caribbean descent, at PhD level and above, engaged in UK higher education (HE) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as told to me by them. The project is one of solidarity and resolution. The study seeks to investigate two parts of the same story: 1) being a woman working in HE STEM, 2) being a women from African and Caribbean descent, within the BME category (to use white policy language), working in HE STEM. The research intends to bring to the forefront the issue of subtle prejudices, and the pervasive harms that occur as a result of these prejudices β€” and how Black women in STEM resist as a means to navigate through the mechanisms of racism, sexism and exclusion that operate in white spaces so as to aid social justice and inclusion in HE STEM.

The research project intends to disrupt as opposed to reproduce marginalisation and identity assault within HE STEM. Its aim is to create a space where resources can be developed, revised and shared so as to collectively build strategies for survival, resistance and transformation for Black women working in higher education. The project also endeavours to support Black women currently journeying though the undergraduate and masters framework of science, and Black girls who are considering a career in STEM. The study follows a strict women and non-white only citation policy. I draw upon Patricia Hill Collin’s account of β€˜outside within', Sara Ahmed's 'brick walls' and 'wilful subject', Nirmal Puwar's exploration of 'space invaders', Peggy McIntosh's 'white privilege and male privilege', Heidi Carlone and Angela Johnson's 'identity work', Kalwant Bhopal's interrogation of HE racism, Miranda Fricker's 'testimonial injustice', and bell hook's 'love ethic' (to name but a few!)

I implement the ethics of care and personal accountability when developing my methodological framework. This is crucial to my research, as the topic is motivated by a necessity to confront epistemic and social injustice. My goal in listening to the experiences of the women who choose to participate in the project, is to provide a faithful representation of their life stories. I am not striving for an objective account, rather an account that they recognize as true. Furthermore as a responsible researcher documenting the stories of these women, I must address my own personal accountability and how that plays a role in my research. This manifests through caring relationships between researcher and participants, which includes ongoing member checking, transparent and collaborative discussions regarding the development of the research, and how best we can implement the research together to tackle an increasingly more intelligent breed of racism and prejudice in higher education. It is imperative that I not only meet the standards of vigilant qualitative research, but also my own personal standards – it must be both a accurate account of the experiences of the participants, and a useful tool in the fight for epistemic and social justice.

For more information on the research methodology click here. 

For frequently asked questions click here. 

Download the project poster here.

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In the spirit of STS and its interdisciplinarity, I am being co-supervised by sociologist and theorist of social justice and science education Dr Emily Dawson (emily.dawson@ucl.ac.uk) and philosopher of science Dr Chiara Ambrosio (c.ambrosio@ucl.ac.uk)

If you would like to take part in the project or have any questions and/or suggestions regarding my research, please don’t hesitate to contact me on: katherine.cecil.15@ucl.ac.uk, or drop me a message below. 

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