STEMM Diversity @ McGill launches at Redpath Museum

Nearly a year after its inception, the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine (STEMM) Diversity @ McGill initiative, which aims to promote diversity in STEMM fields, launched an exhibition under the same name at the Redpath Museum on Oct. 11. The exhibit, which is still growing, features interviews with women and minorities in STEMM at McGill.

McGill student clubs and societies that focus on creating a more equitable environment for marginalized communities in STEMM introduced their goals and projects at the event. Panellists also shared their experiences with discrimination, and MSc Biology candidate Jessica Ford released her colouring book, which features women participating in science in order to combat sexism in related fields.

STEMM Diversity founder and PhD candidate in Biology Charles Cong Xu began the event by presenting a video on the background of the STEMM @ Diversity initiative and its exhibit.  

“The idea for this project came from a Biology department day workshop we had last fall on diversity and inclusivity,” Xu said. “I rallied together other students from the [Redpath] Museum, and we, along with the outreach coordinator, [Ingrid Birker, created] a little corner exhibit.”

In a room adjacent to the presentation, attendees were invited to draw in Ford’s colouring books. Ford’s own experiences with sexism inspired her to create a colouring book with images of girls participating in science, to encourage all people to participate in science.

“Growing up, I faced a lot of sexism working in sciences, and I want to make sure future generations can do [what they want],” Ford said. “[The books] are going to be for sale at the Museum for five dollars a piece.”

Attendees also watched presentations from various equity-focused STEMM clubs, societies, and projects on campus—including Women in Physics, the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office’s Café Collab, and the Superwomen in Science podcast. The podcast was co-founded by  Nicole George, MSc Neuroscience candidate, with the goal of eradicating institutional biases within the field.

“Our aim is to increase exposure of women in science across a wide variety of different endeavors,” George said. “We’re trying to break down the stereotypical idea that a scientist is an old, white man in a lab coat.”

Following the introduction of the colouring book and student groups, a panel of professors, faculty, and students from McGill University discussed their experiences as minorities in the sciences. Alex Gray, president of McGill’s chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, explained the systematic neglect of Indigenous students in his school system.

“I went to school in New Brunswick, [which] is one of the most poorly performing provinces in Canada in regards to academics,” Gray said. “So essentially, […] you throw indigenous students into a school that has limited resources for them. In general, people throw stigmas [about indigenous people] as well. You’re disregarded before you can even perform.”

Natural Resource Sciences PhD candidate Shaun Turney also sat on the panel and shared his experiences as a transgender course lecturer. Turney admitted to anticipating discrimination from his students before taking the podium.

“I was a course lecturer for the first time last winter semester, and I was really nervous about it.” Turney said. “I am transgender and was worried how that would affect [my students’] respect for me, and it wasn’t an issue at all. I felt that the students were very respectful, and I don’t know if that would have been the case 10 years ago.”

The STEMM Diversity @ McGill initiative is a step in the right direction toward a more equitable society. This progress is something Turney is hopeful for, especially if guided by today’s students.

“The young people, that’s where the change comes from always, and that is where the change is happening right now at McGill,” Turney said. “It gives me a lot of hope.”

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