Gender lawsuit stimulates discussion of ways to improve undergraduate science

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Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Email Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe A suit against the University of Cincinnati (UC) in Ohio for allegedly segregating students by sex in a physics lab course points to the widespread confusion among academics over how to increase women’s participation in science.The suit, filed 1 July in U.S. District Court by UC undergraduate Casey Helmicki, claims that physics professor Larry Bortner’s practice of grouping women together violates Title IX of a 1972 federal education law prohibiting gender discrimination in higher education. Helmicki says that Bortner’s teaching assistant told the class “women and men should not be working together in science” after a student asked why the class was being placed in single-sex groups on the first day of class.”Physicists are predominantly male,” Bortner wrote last September in an email to Jyl Shaffer, then the university’s Title IX coordinator, after Helmicki expressed her unhappiness with the lab rule. “To change this, we try to make the educational environment open to females. Studies have shown that females do better in small lab groups (three or four) that contain more females than males than more males than females. I train instructors who teach the labs and have told them to rearrange groups if there is one female with three males [and] if at all possible [to] have all-female groups.”center_img Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Bortner declined to discuss the case. But Kenneth Petren, dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, told ScienceInsider that the practice is not institutional policy.There is research showing that women may benefit academically from being in the majority. A 2014 study by Nilanjana Dasgupta, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that undergraduate women in engineering participate more and show less anxiety in solving problems in a group if they comprise a majority in their study group. She found that putting women together reduced their anxiety levels and that women spoke up less when in a male-dominant group. She said avoiding having women be alone can help create a more welcoming learning environment.Educators who have been successful in increasing women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics say there are much better ways to achieve that goal than by segregating them in the classroom. At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, where women made up 52% of last year’s physics graduates, President Maria Klawe says that faculty members employ a variety of strategies to reduce the intimidation factor for women in fields where they have traditionally been underrepresented. To avoid having classroom discussion dominated by students who feel more confident about the subject, for example, teachers use index cards to call on every student in the class. The college has also tried to provide more role models and mentoring for female students by using more women as teaching assistants, hiring more female faculty members, and promoting them into leadership positions.Allowing students to choose their own lab groups is not ideal, Klawe adds, as the students with the most self-confidence tend to clump together. Instead, students are encouraged to work with people who are different from them. “If you work as a scientist or an engineer, you’re always on a team,” she says. “That’s just the way it is. I think that it’s actually better for students to learn to function well in an environment where there are lots of different perspectives and different backgrounds.”“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any affinity groups,” Klawe notes. “I’m saying that in the classroom, we’re probably all better off figuring out a way to teach that makes everyone feel embraced, without having to segregate.”Helmicki said she filed the suit to end the practice and speak for classmates who have remained silent. “Being a woman in science, we’ve come a long way,” says Helmicki, who will begin her junior year next month. “We’ve won Nobel Prizes. We’ve discovered cures. And I don’t think any of that would have been possible if we had been told how to discover them or who we were allowed to discover them with.”last_img

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