Diversity Challenge Overview

October 19-20, 2018

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The Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture at Boston College invites you to join us for the Institute's 18th annual national conference in the suburbs of Boston, a city known for its struggles and efforts to address issues of racial and ethnic cultural diversity in U.S. society. The Institute was founded in 2000 at Boston College, under the direction of Dr. Janet E. Helms, to promote the assets and address the societal conflicts associated with race and culture in theory and research, mental health practice, education, business, and society at large. The Institute solicits, designs, and distributes effective interventions with a proactive, practical focus. Each year the Institute addresses a racial or cultural issue that could benefit from a pragmatic, scholarly, or grassroots focus through its Diversity Challenge conference. 

This year's Diversity Challenge theme is Making Race and Culture Work in the STEM Era: Bringing All People to the Forefront

We invite you to take a look at Diversity Challenge 2017.



Conference Focus  - Diversity Challenge 2018


Making Race and Culture Work in the STEM Era: Bringing All People to the Forefront

As the United States continues to promote the advancement of careers in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have been virtually ignored. Although STEM-related careers are perhaps the fastest growing high salary jobs in the world, virtually no attention has been given to the racial and cultural characteristics of the people employed in STEM fields or the issues of people who are affected by them. More generally, one must ask whether there is any place in society for people whose talents and abilities lie in other domains. Three areas of concern are education, health, and mental health services, although there may be many more. Each of these areas has been the focus of research and policy that focuses on the content of STEM fields without regard to service needs of people who have been ignored, devalued, or improperly served by an exclusively STEM content focus.

To address the absence of culture as a focus in STEM education, federal and state governments have provided funds to elementary and high schools to work toward increasing the cultural relevance of STEM curricula that address the underrepresentation of marginalized groups in STEM fields. Moreover, interventions such as culturally relevant STEM high schools and STEM-based out-of-school programming have been implemented with varying success. For their part, U.S. colleges and universities have attempted to increase the race-gender diversity within their STEM programs by increasing the enrollment of underrepresented peoples and have had varying long-term success. Asian American men and women have a much higher representation in the fields of study and occupations related to STEM, than Black women who are more likely than White women to select a STEM major. However, White males predominate in STEM education and subsequent occupations.

Missing from virtually all of the STEM educational interventions is a focus on the racial-cultural-gender experiences of the groups who are not White males.  Diversifying interests in STEM requires examining why some race-gender groups thrive in STEM contexts while others do not. In STEM-related work settings, more attention is needed to address questions of why people of Color and White women face interpersonal, professional, and financial discrimination in the workplace, as well as how they cope with their specific experiences of discrimination. Issues raised by people of Color in STEM occupations include limited access to informal and formal social networks, few promotions, and lack of advancement opportunities.  Culturally responsive research and interventions would assist employers, practitioners, and human resources professionals in recognizing and addressing workplace advantages and disadvantages.

Behavioral and social sciences and humanities professions can be helpful to STEM disciplines in recognizing and addressing people issues. The technologizing of the practice of medicine through IBM’s Watson and other forms of computing in hospitals threatens to make service delivery even less sensitive to the patient racial and cultural dynamics that contribute to positive health outcomes. Specialists in the psychology of race and ethnic culture have provided race-culture responsive training to service providers at all levels.  Artists have helped STEM fields become person centered by using their creativity to make products more visually and aurally stimulating. Although STEM advancements have far reaching implications for improving the lives of humans in a variety of aspects of society, ignoring or devaluing the contributions of non-STEM people and disciplines threatens to make us a society fit only for robots.  

We envision an interdisciplinary forum in which researchers, practitioners, educators, government officials, and social activists explore a variety of perspectives and issues and interact with each other while addressing mutual concerns related to race, ethnic culture, and STEM defined in various ways. We invite proposals from any discipline that addresses some aspect of making race and ethnic culture work in the STEM era. “Work” is broadly defined to include preparation for and involvement in STEM disciplines as well as making STEM function for all people.

Potential areas of interest related to education are out-of-school time programming, culturally responsive mentorship, and bias in the education system.  Policy focuses might include the influence of technology in communities of color, and work-force bias in STEM fields with respect to the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity and its effects on global markets, immigration, and STEM demands. Especially welcome are mental health and education interventions intended to reduce the effects of injustice or promote social justice among individuals, communities, or systems.

Presentations should focus on developments in research, professional practice, education, community activities, or activism pertaining to race or ethnic culture and STEM. Creative conceptual papers and models are encouraged. Our goal is to stimulate dialogue and action with respect to racial or ethnic cultural factors as they pertain to STEM. Strongest consideration will be given to proposals that focus directly on the 2018 Diversity Challenge theme, “Making Race and Culture Work in the STEM Era: Bringing All People to the Forefront.”

Areas of Emphasis:

Mental Health, Education, STEM, Arts and Humanities, Prevention, Intervention; Racism; Ethnic Bias; Discrimination; Migration/Immigration; Public Policy; Mentorship; Out of School Time; Medicine; Academics; Work and Organizational Psychology


As a result of attending the conference, my thinking about the ways gender, race and ethnic identity develop among women and girls and its psychological outcomes has deepened in complexity and understanding.
Diversity Challenge participant