Special Resource: Would you like to organize or join a march? Check out AFT’s guide for teachers.
By Elizabeth Sotiropoulos
Editor’s note: Read our entire collection of members’ science advocacy essays posted for the March for Science.
We need science, but more importantly, we need science for everyone.That’s why I took the lead to organize the March for Science: Champaign-Urbana. I started a local March for Science for many reasons, but my primary reason? To make science a better, more representative field for everyone.
The team of organizers for our local march has done a tremendous job of accomplishing just that, and we understand more every day just how pervasive inequity in STEM fields is. My goal from the outset has been to give people who have been silenced for so long an opportunity to use their voice to tell the rest of us what we need to do better.
After graduating with distinction in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Illinois in 2010, I was accepted to my dream school, Einstein College of Medicine, for a PhD program in biological sciences. During my year of deferral, I tutored students in math and science, and I realized just how many students struggled in those subjects.
There weren’t any great options in Champaign for students who needed help so I decided to put off grad school, stay in town and start a learning center called Illini Tutoring. We’ve employed about 15 educators so far, and we’ve worked with local schools and area psychologists to help nearly 200 students each year meet their academic goals. As a result, many students have gone on to major in STEM and STEM-related fields.
It is so disheartening for me to see remarkably intelligent students, especially girls, say they’re not smart enough to major in math and science. They have no idea just how qualified they are.
Through teaching and running a business, I have seen gender inequity in math and science. Most of the girls I’ve worked with believe — at least in the beginning of our time together — that careers in STEM are not for them. They laugh at the idea that they could major in math, science, or engineering. On the other end, the ratio of men to women who apply to work for our company is 8 to 1. It is so disheartening for me to see remarkably intelligent students, especially girls, say they’re not smart enough to major in math and science. They have no idea just how qualified they are.
I march for science because the United States needs better representation in math and science. We need to work together to end this stereotype of what science looks like, and we need to end the exclusionary behavior that makes girls and women — especially girls and women of color — feel like they don’t belong in math and science. This behavior happens in math and science classrooms in school, and it continues to pull women down at every level of education and career building.
When the current administration excludes women and people of color from its Cabinet, when it selects an exceptionally unqualified candidate to lead the Department of Education, when it defunds research and departments that protect people’s health and the environment, it sends the message, “If you’re not rich, if you’re not connected, if you’re not a powerful man or a beautiful woman, you do not matter.”
We need to end the exclusionary behavior that makes girls and women — especially girls and women of color — feel like they don’t belong in math and science.
So it is not enough for us to raise our fists and demand better funding for scientific research. It’s important, but still not enough, for us to demand that researchers aren’t silenced because of their findings. We must come together to empower our community members who have been silenced since long before the current administration came to office.
We must start from the ground up: start by empowering our girls, our children from impoverished homes, our neurodivergent children, our black and brown children, our undocumented children, and tell not only them but our entire country that all voices matter. Our message must be that math and science education is for everyone, and that science policies are better when they benefit everyone. Those of us who have had the privilege of staying silent for so long now bear the responsibility of speaking out to support more marginalized people and then stepping aside as they lead the way toward a better future in science for everyone.
Elizabeth Sotiropoulos is lead organizer for the March for Science: Champaign-Urbana and founder of Illini Tutoring.To read more posts from AFT-affiliated science advocates go to the March for Science section of Voices on Campus.
This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: https://aftvoices.org/school-house-voices/home. Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AFTunion.