Being a cell and molecular biology major can be a lot. I’ve experienced long nights of studying formulas, molecules and various cycles all in the same night. I have computed what feels like hundreds of equations hundreds of times and some of them, I still do not understand their function. Lastly, I’ve sat through labs where I had to start experiments all over because results were incorrect.
Overall, I love biology. I love the content, the many career options and the discipline the work has given me. Though my focus is my love and passion for biology, its social aspect is disappointing. Being in any science major can already create a very pretentious and competitive atmosphere, but when there are few students of color in your classes, it can be even more intimidating.
Reasonably, this issue could be expected since West Chester University is a predominantly white institution, despite the school’s constant parades about its love for diversity and inclusion; though the school cannot choose its students’ majors, it can definitely encourage it. For example, the institution was just featured in the media as part of a state initiative to increase teachers of color. The same devotion should be given to increase scientists of color. Even though encouragement can be effective, students, especially those who are marginalized want to see a reflection themselves especially because we tend to suffer from imposter syndrome, and race in science is already ambiguous. This reflection can come from anywhere, but it mainly should be from the classroom, which is an issue in the West Chester University biology department.
I have taken six science classes and have yet to have a professor of color.
In the entire department, there is only one black professor, who is actually retiring this semester. It is a troubling predicament because representation matters, and it affects students more than it seems. Sarah Stepetin, who is a senior studying cell and molecular biology began to address this problem last semester. She had various conversations with faculty members of the College of Science and Mathematics. Sarah expressed her concern for the lack of diversity in the department and how it ultimately affects students who aren’t white. Some of her conversations were unpleasant because she knew that this was not the first time these professionals heard about this. Though they gave her that space to talk, she did not feel heard. Rather than giving her a response that focused on action for change, she was told that she could come back to further the conversation but how many times does this conversation have to happen? It is a noticeable issue that has not been obvious merely this school semester. I have taken six science classes and have yet to have a professor of color. Also, putting the responsibility of calling out injustices in the students’ hands is unfair.
Sarah explained that younger minoritized students won’t always feel comfortable to express how they feel and it’s quite understandable. In an environment where we already feel left out, the last thing one wants to do is cause attention to themselves. It’s everyone’s responsibility and Sarah has found the support system to continue bringing awareness for change around this upsetting problem. She has had the help of faculty members in and outside of the College of Science and Mathematics. There is even a group that is in the works for students and alumni to support students of color in the science field. Conversations are just the beginning to solve the problem. Action has to be done. If the university is very prideful on its diversity and inclusion, it needs to be reflected in every aspect of the institution.
Tylar Stanley is a sophomore majoring in cell and molecular biology and minoring in journalism. TS906634@wcupa.edu