06 February 2009

Hispanics in science from an outsider on the inside

Science buildingThe Extrovert Scientist asks a question I've had to think about a lot since moving here:

What’s the deal with the disparity of Latins in the sciences? It has to be a cultural thing because I know for a fact there are numerous opportunities for scholarships. Some organizations are virtually begging for Latins to apply in the STEM disciplines.

I'm reposting, with a little revision, my comments from that thread, because I am a lazy blogger:

Caveats: I’m at an institution (seen from above here) with about 85% Hispanic students, but I'm not Hispanic. Some of these may be regional attitudes, rather than Hispanics across the board. Still, I think the following factors might play into the lack of Hispanics in science. I'm certainly not saying they're unique or unusual to Hispanics, but I think they may be exacerbated compared to anglos.

  • People who are good academically are pressured to pursue high paying professional careers (e.g., health professions). You may say, "Everyone wants their kid to be a doctor," but many Hispanics come from regions that are not well off, and this seems to make people gravitate to careers that have cash and clearly defined respectability.

  • Family ties make people unwilling to move from a region to pursue an academic career. Academic careers usually requires several moves from institution to institution, with no easy guarantee of ending up close to family home.

  • People are pressured to get jobs sooner rather than later. Even the value of years of “not working” for an undergraduate degree can be a hard sell. Heck, even convincing families to let kids finish high school required a cultural shift.

  • We’ve seen students — usually female — whose partners or family seem determined to sabotage the students’ prospects for continuing in education. In at least one case, there was no doubt: a family forbade one of our students to leave the area to pursue a degree after her bachelor’s. Sometimes this argument is over familial obligations, but other times seems to be motivated by a lot of macho bullshit.

More commentary over at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess.


Ignatius J. Reilly said...

Jeeszh... that sounds horrible. It's a Taliban-like social control. One is almost better off with no one than to live with such undermining "friends."

Omar Elizondo said...

If you ask my parents, when they were in school, they were educated by white people. What they are really saying is that they were educated by individuals who came from larger universities and had higher education. Then you get to the generations from the 70's to the 80's and we were all taught by local Hispanics in the region. Local Hispanics who never left the area to pursue higher education or even a new perspective. So, that's why it's a great thing to have the faculty in the bio department. Because you all have perspective and actually show us that we can pursue grander dreams. I really didn't know I could do what I've done until I got to UTPA. In other words, the selfish negative feedback system of the cultural norms in south Texas are what hinder Hispanics in the region.

Zen Faulkes said...

Steve-O, I cringe a bit reading your comments, because I was worried that what I wrote would sound harsh.

A couple of things to keep in mind is that you tend to remember the absolute worst cases. There may only be one or two over a decade in a department with over a thousand students.

I also worry about whether, when I see certain things, if I'm more likely to attribute it to involving "local culture" than if I saw the same thing happening somewhere else. Which is the nice way of asking whether I've guilty of thinking like a bigot.