Afro-Caribbean Immigrants in STEM Careers: One Woman's Experience Teaching in a STEM Field

Afro-Caribbean Immigrants in STEM Careers: One Woman's Experience Teaching in a STEM Field

Beverley-Ann Scott (Independent Researcher, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8870-2.ch006

Abstract

Afro-Caribbean immigrants have made a significant contribution to the STEM careers in the United States over the last 70 years. Their contributions have been mostly unrecognized, and they have had extraordinary challenges to overcome, as perceptions of people of color in these professions and their ability to competently excel has been constantly under scrutiny. This chapter examines the experiences of an Afro-Caribbean woman who came to the United States as a Mathematics teacher in 2002. Her story describes the racial prejudice she encountered while teaching Mathematics in two North Carolina high schools. It highlights some of the deep-rooted racial biases that exist toward people of color in the STEM professions, not only by non-Africans but also by African Americans themselves. It also reflects on the challenges that changing those perceptions will entail and the link those biases have to slavery and segregation in the United States.
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Introduction

From as early as the mid 1940’s Caribbean migrants have come to the United States, many as agricultural workers under the British West Indies guest worker program. Very little is documented of the migration of skilled labor from the Caribbean in STEM professions. However, people of color continue to face numerous obstacles to advancement in STEM professions. This chapter recounts the story of one Afro-Caribbean woman (Diane), who had to negotiate her way through a racially insensitive and misogynistic work environment in the United States. It analyzes her experience as an Afro-Caribbean immigrant and Mathematics teacher and finds parallels with the common misconceptions about black women in the STEM fields. Her experience was a profound and life altering one. The struggles she endured and the discrimination she faced, can be viewed in the context of history. Her coping mechanisms and strategies helped her to overcome the challenges she faced and are a direct consequence of the socio-cultural values associated with a Caribbean upbringing. This chapter will focus on the following:

  • 1.

    The contributing factors leading to the paucity of African Americans in STEM professions.

  • 2.

    The perception that People of African descent are unable to make contributions to the STEM careers

  • 3.

    The need for research to understand the impact of different cultural and socio-economic influences on the responses to discrimination within the group classified as African Americans

  • 4.

    An appreciation of the fact that despite the efforts made over the last decade to improve access and to make funding available, there has not been a marked increase in the enrollment of African-American women and the STEM fields and this can be explained by psycho-social factors that will not be rectified by increased access or finance.

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Diane’S Story

Up until migration to the US, I never considered my African DNA as a hindrance to my academic performance. I was passionate about Math and Chemistry from the moment of introduction to those subjects. I enjoyed the depth of thought and analysis they required. I marveled at the rules and theories that applied. Those subjects gave me a thrill and I saw them as being an integral part of my life, although at the time of pursuing those subjects at the university level, I was not quite sure what career or job I would be employed in. After graduation from university in Trinidad and Tobago, I narrowed my career choices to two options: a police officer working in the crime scene investigation unit, or secondary school Math teacher. I got the call for the teaching position from my alma mater before the Police Service call. In addition, I felt called by God to become a teacher. That would be my way to give back to young people the best of what my education gave to me.

I enjoyed my initial years of teaching in Trinidad and went on to pursue a Diploma in Math Education. As a math teacher I shared my passion for the subject with all my students. I told them “anyone can do math. Math is all around you”, and “Math is so much fun”. Many of my students grew to share my passion. Those who started off apprehensive about the subject, gained understanding and confidence. All of them understood that there was no barrier that could not be overcome where their success in math was concerned. The student population was as diverse as the teaching population, where most of staff were of African or East Indian descent or mixed. My students were respectful and my relationships with my colleagues and principal were professional and supportive.

In 2002, after 3 years of teaching in the Bahamas, I had the opportunity to migrate to rural North Carolina; an opportunity that I jumped at. I found work as a high school Math Teacher in a high school on the outskirts of the suburbs. At that school, I was the only black teacher in the Math Department which comprised a total of about 8 teachers both male and female. On my first day in the classroom, one of my students asked me “How come you are a Math teacher? I was told black people can’t do Math.” I laughed. “Where did you ever hear a thing like that?” I retorted. I explained that in my home country there were many other black men and women who not only taught Math but who exceled at it. The handful of black students in the class listened intently to my explanation. I suspect that same narrative, about black students not being able to excel in Math, had been fed to them. I soon discovered that the black students were among the bottom performers in the class.

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