Dispelling Myths About Organizations for Students of Color

Value Diversity:

Dispelling Myths about Organizations for Students of Color

South Dakota Mines is seeing a growing number of diversity-related student organizations, including student organizations of color. Historically, all of these groups have been created at the national level to help reduce the massive disparities between minority and non-minority populations in graduation rates and representation in STEM.

Organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) exist to:

1. Increase the population of minorities in the STEM fields through increased representation and advancement.
2. Encourage, support, and promote students of color to align with their respective national groups as a voice and a presence on campuses in the STEM fields
3. Bolster academic and professional careers beyond college

Myths surround the existence of groups like this. Here are a few and some answers:

Myth #1: Student organizations of color separate students.

They do not any more than CAMP teams, fraternities, sororities, AISChE, or ASME (for example).

The purposes of any group are to benefit the members and accomplish a goal. The goal of our student orgs of color is to increase the representation of minorities in the STEM fields. This is a worthy goal because many minorities are still vastly underrepresented in STEM. Student orgs of color create a greater feeling of belonging in STEM because they celebrate the unique heritage & culture of members, instead of demanding that all be exactly the same as the dominant culture.

Myth #2: Student organizations of color exclude on the basis of race.

While these student orgs are focused on increasing minority representation in STEM, they are not closed to other ethnicities! Each of our student orgs of color has a diversity of members, associate members, and allies who have linked arms toward the common goal of increasing representation. Not all in NSBE are black, and not all in AISES are American Indian. There is definitely a blending of races within these groups that better reflects the world at large.

Myth #3: Student organizations of color allow them special privileges.

This isn’t really correct on any basis because it completely ignores the fact that certain racial minorities are still immensely disadvantaged in the STEM fields and professional arenas. This is evidenced by the continuing disparity in representation. Any effort that boosts the success potential of minorities doesn’t create a special privilege, but rather only begins to help level the playing field.

Myth #4: Student organizations of color attempt to “play the race card” to supersede ability.

No one can be an engineer without knowing how to do calculus – no matter what your ethnic background. The playing field is already level on that front. Leveling the playing field for minorities in STEM therefore involves things like increasing social capital, bringing opportunities within reach, creating a learning environment that minimizes the negative effects of not being from the dominant culture, opening the door wide in such a way that invites and encourages those with historically minimal context in present-day STEM to enter and succeed. Calculus must be embraced by the minority student as belonging to him or her, not just borrowed from the dominant culture.

Student orgs of color are founded on developing excellence and potential in the STEM fields both academically and in the professional arena. They are not based on obtaining opportunity through race divorced from ability. Simply, these orgs were formed to support underrepresented groups both nationally and regionally, giving them a voice and presence to educate others in their respective cultures/heritage, while bolstering themselves academically, developing pride and leadership potential, and serving as role models on campuses and in communities.