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Stephanie Wang

Girls can’t what?!: sexism in STEM classrooms

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By Stephanie Wang

Sure, I see statistics on the clear disparity in the number of women going into STEM fields, hear horror stories of sexism in the workplaces of tech giants, and notice a difference in the amount of girls in math and science classes, but it’s another thing altogether to experience an overt form of gender-based bias at school.

Initially, I didn’t think anything much of the fact that AP Physics C was heavily dominated by boys, fully anticipating that we’d be seen as equals, with our accomplishments seen in equal light. Suffice to say, I was heavily mistaken.

For an end of the year celebration, we were challenged by our teacher to build a catapult and then use it to shoot a marble at a toy monkey more than 15 yards away. My group was the only group that was all-girl. When we asked our physics teacher for a screwdriver, one boy acted as if we couldn’t possibly know what a Phillips screwdriver was. This was despite the fact that unlike his group, we didn’t get a company to build the catapult for us, instead laboriously designing and conducting trials with our catapult. When we turned out to be the only group to hit the monkey, several of the boys – watching from 15 yards away – disputed it, saying it didn’t actually hit the monkey. This is despite the fact that our physics teacher, standing a foot away, vouched and said it did hit. Not to mention, we all heard the sound from the marble hitting the monkey.

Instead of accepting that they’d been bested by a group of girls, they demanded that we go again to “really prove it hit,” and obnoxiously crowded around the monkey and started to film the shot just to ensure that we couldn’t “cheat.” Perhaps the reason they felt like they couldn’t possibly trust the teacher’s judgment was that she was a female, and of course, a group of males with overly fragile egos know better than an incredibly knowledgeable physics teacher who used to be a college professor.

Throughout the entire experience, my group mates and I could only feel shock at the overt sexism we experienced. Here, we saw a clear example of the struggles facing women in STEM. Really, it was an incredibly apt metaphor for how women are expected to do twice as well to gain the same respect and credit. We were all fully aware that had this been an all-boy group that had won the challenge, the class would have congratulated the group, never expecting the group to go again and repeat the accomplishment amidst cameras and jeers. We were all fully aware that had we been boys, we never would have been subjected to comments from teachers and peers throughout high school that they “didn’t see us as engineers.” We were all fully aware that had we been boys, there never would never be comments that we only got an opportunity or got into a school because of our gender. These types of things, in the moment, just seemed to be a fact of life. Even worse, we knew that what we had experienced was practically nothing compared to the bias and prejudice other women in STEM have faced in their careers.

While it’s certainly disheartening, it’s not going to stop us, and to all the girls interested in STEM, it shouldn’t stop you either. If girls don’t continue to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, nothing will change, with the misguided belief that STEM subjects aren’t for women only prevailing and propagating. Pursue your passions, not the career stereotypes society pushes onto you.

My group mates and are using this experience to further fuel us, as a source of motivation to be successful in engineering. And that’s truly the reason why I’m sharing this story: because I hope this will inspire in you the determination that even against odds, that you will hold true to yourself, your passions, and your beliefs. My group mates and I; planning on double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Foreign Affairs, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Computer Science and Economics; know the opposition we’ll face and we’re determined to change both mindsets and the world.

Your college decision doesn’t define you

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By Stephanie Wang

Decisions are hard, I know. Soup or salad? Cake or ice cream? Cookie or brownie?

Really, even making decisions on something as easy as what to eat can be difficult, much less where you’re going to spend the next four years. For the other high school seniors, uncommitted, terrified about the choice you’ve just had to make, I know it’s scary taking the plunge.

Perhaps you were rejected from your dream school, or, debatably worse, accepted to your dream school but unable to afford it. Perhaps you think you know where you want to go, but you’re worried about this and that, and what if everyone there hates you there and you have no friends and you fail all y–

Relax. It’s all going to be okay.

As someone uncommitted just a few days ago, I can undoubtedly relate, especially when it seems every one of your options is good and holy crap, how does someone just step on a college campus and know that it’s a perfect fit? How can someone possibly stomach a binding Early Decision, knowing where they want to be as early as November? If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “What’s the secret? How do I know where I’m meant to go?”

First and foremost, please remember that college is not the end destination; college is not where you should be peaking. No matter what college you choose, more times than not, your happiness and success at a college is a result of self-determination. A result of you, standing up and resolving, “I will be happy and successful.”

Perhaps, most importantly, remember that college is a personal decision, a decision that can’t be decided by your parents, friends, or for that matter, absolute strangers that think they know your best interest. It’s you that’s going to college – not your Aunt Sally or your mom. It’s you, and you better be invested in your own education.

Go to the school you think you’ll be the successful at; not the school with the highest ranking or the school that everyone wants you to go. For me, personally, that was Vanderbilt University, but I sure know that much of my family and friends, including my mom and dad, wanted me to go to MIT or UChicago instead. I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking the same.

But for me, it boiled down to a couple things: for one, flexibility. It’s at Vanderbilt where I would have the most flexibility and the opportunity to explore as many of my interests as I would like, particularly since there’s no limit to the amount of AP credit I can use. As someone excessively indecisive, Vanderbilt made the most sense for me to attend. Instead of being pigeon-holed in a humanities-centered or a STEM-centered school, I’ll be attending a good school with both humanities and STEM. And, like many other of my peers, it also boiled down to money. Perhaps my biggest concern was regarding where I would fit in socially, but it only makes sense that I can find my group anywhere – in a school with over 6,000 undergraduates, it only makes sense you’ll find your crowd.

To conclude, the answer to “What’s the secret?” is that there simply isn’t one. Forget US News rankings or arbitrary assignments of “prestige.” There isn’t a “wrong choice” or a school that will set you up for failure – it’s what you do at the school that makes the difference.

I argue that there isn’t a school that’s a perfect fit for any student; realistically speaking, there will always be something about the college that you don’t like. Think about your college decision in the scope of trade-offs and opportunity costs: about what school requires you to sacrifice the least and grants you the most opportunities, not just now, but further down the line. Write your thoughts down, considering the pros and cons based on you, not what someone else thinks. Don’t think about how you’re “letting someone down” if you choose this school over another school; keep in mind only your own happiness and future.

I wish all you seniors the best of luck, not just in college, but in life. College isn’t the end destination; it’s the beginning of a new adventure, and I hope it’s one filled with happiness and success. For you juniors beginning to embark on this college journey, I wish you only the best (and also, please remember that a college decision does not define you).

Let’s keep standing with Standing Rock

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By Stephanie Wang

Undoubtedly, a Trump presidency threatens the legacy of President Obama by reverting the policy moves he’s made the past eight years.  His decision to build the Dakota Access Pipeline is devastating, and as an environmentalist and an activist, I cannot reconcile the idea of building the pipeline when it will only set forth a precedent of placing money above lives, culture, and the environment.

Building the Dakota Access Pipeline will have terribly negative impacts on the Sioux population living in the region, posing both an environmental and cultural threat to the Sioux Indians. The Dakota Access Pipeline will destroy sacred sites that have existed for hundreds of years and destroy ancient burial grounds, which is a direct violation of federal law. In addition, the pipeline could potentially contaminate the water supply of the Sioux Indians – an oil spill at the Missouri River would befall an economic and cultural catastrophe upon the Sioux population, permanently contaminating the Missouri River, a major water source for those living in the area. Without question, the Dakota Access Pipeline poses both an environmental and cultural threat to the Sioux Indians and completing the pipeline will signify that oil and the energy is more important than human lives– what will be the cost of such “progress” that the Trump administration is determined to greenlight?

Naturally, the construction of the pipeline has been extremely contentious, with thousands protesting near the Standing Rock area. These protests have lead to hundreds of arrests and the use of force and other violent tactics to disperse the protesters. On largely peaceful protests, police have used attack dogs, water cannons in freezing temperatures, and explosive teargas grenades, injuring hundreds. Freedom of assembly is a basic right in the United States, and yet, it’s something that’s being infringed upon in Standing Rock.

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, calls the decision to build the pipeline, “a purely political action” but when there are humans lives at risk, it cannot be purely political. When we are reduced to simply making decisions for the bottom line, at what cost will it come at? How many lives will be sacrificed and how can we possibly justify it? Once the Dakota Access Pipeline is built, what will stop the Trump administration from building more, disrupting and endangering more communities? What will stop the Trump administration from entirely disregarding our civil rights in the name of economic “progress”? That’s why we can’t stop protesting against the pipeline being built.
Now, more than ever, we need to show our support and solidarity for the Sioux Indians and the protesters in Standing Rock. It can be as simple as reblogging, sharing, or retweeting an article on #NoDAPL, signing a petition, or attending a #NoDAPL protest in your city. You can also get involved by writing to government officials and oil companies urging them to reverse the decision or by donating money to the Standing Rock Sioux for legal, sanitary, and emergency purposes. Every action counts and every action will help ensure that the Obama administration’s actions and the protests of the Sioux people to stop the building of the pipeline were not in vain.

For more ways to get involved, check this link out.

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