What is the purpose of this document?

While observing and participating in recent discussions about the racism that pervades institutions, departments, and scientific discourse, we (the coauthors) have noticed a set of standard arguments against anti-racism action within STEM. This document began as a repository for scholarly literature surrounding the experiences of BIPOC in STEM to reference as counterarguments, but has evolved into a more formalized, evidence-based reference and website. Our goal is for this document to facilitate more productive conversations (and in turn, tangible systemic changes) toward addressing racial discrimination in STEM.

Who are the authors and reviewers?

This document’s coauthors are current students or recent graduates in various subfields of biology. It is important to acknowledge that none of the coauthors identify as Black. While we will never understand the perspectives and experiences of the Black community, we believe that allies have a responsibility to take action and speak out against racism. By compiling published academic literature, we hope to amplify research and perspectives of BIPOC scholars, rather than speak on their behalf. 

We also strongly believe that Black voices should be represented in this document. Our team of reviewers includes members of the Black community, and they have provided critical feedback to ensure that our responses do not misrepresent or overshadow Black scientists. However, we are open to amending this document if any responses are still found to be offensive, inaccurate, or misleading. Comments and suggestions can be submitted here.

What does BIPOC mean?

BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. According to the BIPOC Project, this term was created in order to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.” The origins and usage of this term are described here.

Why do we capitalize Black but not white?

Capitalizing Black recognizes that Black is a cultural identity and ethnicity ‒ one that does not rely on ties to other ethnic or national identities, nor does it rely on a “hyphen-American” qualifier. It serves to unify a population of people whose heritage was erased by slavery [1].

While there is now broad agreement within professional journalism that “Black” should be capitalized, there is not the same level of agreement regarding capitalization of the term “white” [2]. Some style guides and journalism associations choose to capitalize all racial or ethnic identifiers, including the race “White”, showing these are proper nouns [3], [4]. After numerous conversations with peers who identify as BIPOC, reviews of editorial pieces and perspective literature, and extensive research of the etymology of white, we (the coauthors) have decided not to capitalize “white.” The qualifications for identifying as “white” have varied throughout history, as evidenced by the U.S census. Throughout the 20th century, biracial and multi-ethnic people whose heritage included any “white” lineage could not be considered white on the census [5]. This denotes that “white” is the absence of any other race, including Black. The label “white” has been used to define an exclusive group of people who were given preferential legal and societal rights, even as the term evolved [6], changing who qualifies to hold these societal privileges. Thus, we do not feel that the term “white” refers to a consistent entity in the way that proper nouns should, which informed our decision not to capitalize it.

[1] Why we capitalize Black (and not ‘white’) (Columbia Journalism Review, 2020)
[2] The decision to capitalize Black (AP blog, 2020)
[3] NABJ Statement on Capitalizing Black and Other Racial Identifiers (2020)
[4] Racial and Ethnic Identity (AP Style Guide)
[5] Chapter 1: Race and Multiracial Americans in the U.S. Census (Multiracial in America, Pew Research Center, 2015)
[6] Plessy v. Ferguson 1896

How do we refer to individuals who are Hispanic or Latinx?

Hispanic refers to individuals from Spanish-speaking countries, whereas Latinx (the gender-neutral form of Latino/Latina) refers to individuals from countries in Latin America. It is possible for someone to identify as both Hispanic and Latinx, or just one of them [1]. For many studies referenced in this document, Hispanic and Latinx were combined into a single category. Thus we use “Hispanic/Latinx” when referencing the results of these studies. In cases where the study only included a Hispanic category without any mention of Latinx (or vice versa), we refer to these groups using the same language as the original study.

The U.S. census classifies Hispanic or Latinx as an ethnicity, not a race. A Hispanic or Latinx person may identify as a member of any race. However, two-thirds of Hispanic/Latinx individuals in the U.S. consider Hispanic/Latinx to be a part of their racial identity [2]. Identification as Hispanic/Latinx can also influence one’s experiences with both systemic and individual racism [3]. To account for this, we generally refer to Hispanic/Latinx as its own racial and ethnic identity, while recognizing that this categorization is imperfect and has significant overlaps with other groups. Additionally, unless otherwise specified, references to “white” people in this document do not include individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latinx.

[1] Hispanic or Latino? A guide for the U.S. presidential campaign (NPR, 2015)
[2] The many dimensions of Hispanic racial identity (Pew Research Center, 2015)
[3] A history of anti-Hispanic bigotry in the United States (The Washington Post, 2019)

What about other racial identities such as American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander?

These racial identities are all severely under-represented in STEM and have faced extreme acts of racism throughout history and in the modern day [1], [2]. Unfortunately, there have been relatively few studies that focus on the experiences of these demographic groups in STEM. In many surveys, they are simply grouped under an umbrella “Other” racial category, or (in the case of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders) may be grouped with Asian Americans. We have cited relevant literature wherever possible, but recognize the considerable knowledge gap that exists in this area.

[1] American Indian/Alaska Native graduate students: Fostering indigenous perspective in STEM (Journal of American Indian Education, 2017)
[2] Recognizing and reducing barriers to science and math education and STEM careers for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (CBE Life Sciences Education, 2018)