FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: September 09, 2020

Cultivating Black chemists

“Nurturing Black chemists”
Chemical & Engineering News

The current reckoning surrounding systemic racism has the chemistry community reflecting on its role in perpetuating the inequalities Black chemists face. Largely underrepresented in academia, Black chemistry students and professors have found success at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) but still face challenges. A new cover story in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, highlights how Black scientists are transforming higher education for the better. 

HBCUs are a bright spot for educating and training Black scientists, writes Senior Editor Andrea Widener. While HBCUs make up only a small fraction of public and private colleges and universities in the U.S., they graduate more successful Black chemists than other schools. Their graduates cite the supportive faculty, rigorous curriculum and diverse environment. Despite their proven record of excellence in science and beyond, HBCUs face limitations in terms of funding and burden placed on faculty members. Unlike some predominantly white research universities, HBCUs do not have large endowments, relying primarily on tuition revenue. In addition, faculty are expected to manage their own grants while also running labs and teaching full course loads, which can impact their ability to publish and collaborate. 

In the classroom, inequity is perpetuated by “gatekeeper” courses — intro-level science lectures, often graded on the curve, that result in many students receiving low grades or withdrawing entirely. Not only can this type of course dissuade talented science majors, but they also disproportionately impact Black and Latinx students, who often do not receive the same level of science education in high school as their white counterparts. To combat this, some universities are reframing how these courses are taught in order to help students succeed and encourage them to pursue degrees in science. In addition, C&EN invited six Black chemists to share their stories, and many spoke of the isolation they felt throughout their educational journey.  While Black chemists are working hard to improve and transform chemistry education, experts caution that things will only change if institutions recognize and acknowledge the racist and classist systems that permeate academia.

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