Being Black in the STEM Field

Although the topic women of color in the STEM field is gaining popularity, I wanted to interview black men in the STEM field and see their perspective. I interviewed Malik Blackwell, a Wells College senior, and Dakarai Esgdaille a Wells College junior, about their experiences in the STEM field. Malik is a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major, while Dakarai is a Biology Major with a double minor in Computer Science and Chemistry. Malik participates in the Wells black student union club Umoja, Prodigy step team, and is a performer for dance collective. Dakarai is the treasurer for Geek Squad, describing it as, “A squad for anybody that’s a die-hard fan of comics, cartoons, or anything even remotely geeky.” He was also an offline player for the Wells College men's basketball team.

Malik says that “Being a black man in the STEM field is strange, there are not many black men who are in the STEM field as it is. Most black men that I see on this campus are not in the STEM field at all. Most of my classes over the years at Wells have consisted of mostly women, especially in the biology courses that I have taken.” While we see a power surge in women’s participation in the STEM field, we need to uplift more men of color to join this field! We can invite men of color in the field by exposing them to more sciences, technology, engineering and math courses and by not limiting their horizon, too. We should challenge the normalized viewpoint of what a person in STEM looks like. Malik and Dakarai are great students that break the social norms of a typical STEM person. Dakarai stated that “Being a black male in the STEM is a gratifying experience. My dad was always interested in science and science fiction and growing up I adopted that same love for learning about life and the universe. I think it’s great that I’ll have a chance to share that with plenty of other people from my community in the future.”

Both men can agree that being a man has certain privileges to their female counterparts, but they are grateful for all opportunities that they have received and continue to strive for equality for women in their field. Malik advocates for women in STEM, and is very disheartened by the way women are still not respected as much in this field because of the biased views against them based on their sex. Dakarai believes he is privileged to be raised in a time that allows him to “foster his curiosity.” He remembers watching science channel documentaries, reading about the newest discoveries online, and always asking his parents questions about why or how things occurred. Another privilege that Dakarai believes he has is, “Living in an era after the Civil Rights Movement, where I can go to school and learn anything that I want. I have great respect for Ruby Bridges, and I feel like it’s almost a responsibility for me to honor the sacrifice of people that came before me by overachieving to the best of my ability.”

As a senior Malik talks about the difficulties that he faced in the STEM field. “I cannot explore my other interests in coursework because STEM courses are time-consuming and can conflict with a lot of other courses. Sometimes the work is also very confining, which forces you to do a lot of the exploring on your own. The STEM field is a lot of hands-on work and acquiring that experience may be difficult without the assistance of a peer if available.” As a woman in the STEM field, I can concur with Malik’s assertion because a lot of STEM classes are not offered every year, which forces a person to take all of their required classes before adding leisure classes to their schedule.

I asked both men why they chose the STEM field. Malik chose the STEM field because he liked learning about how the body will react to different natural and synthetic substances. Malik says, “Although I am Americanized and use Western medicine as remedies sometimes, it is a last resort because I do not feel synthetic drugs are worthwhile in the long run for the health of the average human.”  Additionally, Malik wants to learn more about the body and computational pharmaceuticals to reveal organic remedies that will not cause addiction. Conversely, Dakarai initially thought he wanted to study Biological Anthropology because it would be a great way for him to study human evolution. However, he realized that that field wasn’t exactly for him since he wasn’t really into archaeology. He switched gears and decided that he wanted to study the human genome. Finally, he adds “I’m still a future scientist myself, considering I haven’t made any contributions to science yet”. I fully support these men and their journey!

If you are a man or woman considering the STEM field, I hope this article inspired you to take that leap into your passion. With hard work, dedication, and good ethics, you will get far!