By Ashanti Hannon
Students at NY Tech experience some form of discrimination on a regular basis, particularly in the STEM departments. Students should walk onto campus feeling welcome and ready to learn. Instead, for some, they’re only tolerated. Their presence is not only frowned upon but also disregarded at every turn. Students and professors alike target specific people in classes just because they feel they can; the majority outweighs the minority and this behavior is seen as the norm.
There's no doubt that this isn’t acceptable. No one should feel insecure about themselves nor should they be made to feel less than others because of who they are, especially their gender. I spoke with a few students on campus and sent some questions to professors as well. Each student surveyed was vocal about the issues they face on a regular basis in the STEM departments. “I just started at NYIT in computer science this semester, but I'm a junior transfer student- my previous major was mechatronics engineering, which is an interdisciplinary field encompassing mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering as well as computer science, robotics, and AI, automation, and product management.” one student said.
For young women and girls interested in STEM, sexism is not new. For black women and girls, it’s a combination of sexism and racism. Mimi, a STEM student at NY Tech says her experience was “more race-based than gender-based”. In her classes, she’s seen professors single out specific students simply because of their ethnicity. Her chemistry professor called out an Indian girl who transferred from another school for not doing the assigned homework. What did he say? “I know in your culture you speak fast, but in my culture, we speak slow”. According to Mimi, this professor is “usually really mean to girls in the class, has outbursts, but doesn't yell at the male students”.
How exactly can he get away with this? Could it be that he’s tenured and therefore more confident that what students say won’t matter? Does NYTech make it difficult for students' voices to be heard? Though it's mostly female students that feel this way, discrimination is evident in some classes.
In her math class, Mimi mentions that her professor constantly refers to a student by another name, even when the student corrects him. “His name is David, but the professor says ‘Dayshaun’. Students of color being affiliated with names “more suitable” for them because of their background is nothing new. But we all know that David is a male name and one doesn’t have to be black to have this name.
In these situations, sometimes students don’t know what to do or who to turn to. On campus, there are non-discrimination and discriminatory harassment and gender-based policies (Title IX and Gender-Based Misconduct | About | New York Tech (nyit.edu)). There is also a Code of Conduct | Admissions | New York Tech (nyit.edu) on the school website accessible to all students and staff on campus.
Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer, Melissa Pond and Dean of Students, Felipe Henao, offered their help with situations like this. From sexist comments to derogatory behavior, students should know that they have help as long as they ask for it. “As the Title IX Coordinator, I can guarantee that students will receive a fair and thorough investigation, transparency throughout the entire process, and an opportunity to be heard”, Melissa responded. Sometimes, students don’t report the issues they’re facing for multiple reasons.
Most commonly, it’s because they feel that the complaint will go nowhere. The process of filing complaints can feel tedious, and most give up without trying. “New York Tech’s Title IX Procedure involves a formal assessment, investigation, and a resolution process that seeks to engage all involved parties”, Melissa explained. “If an employee is found responsible for violating this policy sanctions can range from a verbal/written warning to termination”. Melissa adds that students should also know that “all reports are treated as confidential to the maximum extent consistent with a fair and thorough review. New York Tech also strictly prohibits any form of retaliation against anyone making a complaint and/or assisting in an investigation”.
In a department dominated by men, women in the STEM departments often don’t feel that what they say will matter. “I would probably speak up more if there were more females in the class”, Emma said. “Unfortunately, we are also aware that in the STEM field women are the minority, and women still only make up only 20% of the workforce nationwide”, Melissa stated. According to a study provided by Melissa, “because fewer women study and work in STEM, these fields tend to perpetuate inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated cultures that are not supportive of or attractive to women and minorities (https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/)”.
Anyone would find concentrating in class difficult when they’re the laughingstock. In Emma’s class, when a woman in class asks a question, “Sometimes there’s a lot of laughter… all guys [laughing]...thinking it’s a dumb question…often a male student tries to answer instead”. Another student shared her experience in her class. In her classes with a male majority, “I was specifically singled out and questioned by the professor about whether or not I knew my computer specs because I was a girl who raised my hand in response to the question ‘who here plays video games?’
So, only students experience this? According to students, not at all. Emma and Mimi say there are students that will go as far as “trying to correct the professor while she’s lecturing and when he’s wrong, he won’t admit his mistake and continues to argue with her”. In a classroom setting with a female professor present, this occurs often, especially if there are more men in the classroom. When there are more women in the classroom, the dynamic is starkly different. Lectures move along and women aren’t ridiculed for asking questions. So far into the semester, Emma has had a “pretty good experience..I get along with professors [but] students are difficult to bond with”.
To encourage diversity at NY Tech, “the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) was established [in October 2022] to ensure that all members of the New York Tech community feel recognized, welcomed, and valued”, Melissa said.
Despite their intelligence, many women studying and working in STEM still report feeling undervalued because of their gender. In these situations, it’s advisable to reach out to the Title IX Coordinator, Melissa Pond, or the Dean of Students, Felipe Henao.” As the Title IX Coordinator, I can guarantee that students will receive a fair and thorough investigation, transparency throughout the entire process, and an opportunity to be heard”.
Despite these issues, students like Emma continue to persevere. “[I knew] Computer Science was gonna be tough”. Emma did want to be in a class with more like-minded young women and attributes her current classes to “ differences between majors...I may have been unlucky with the amount of male students in the class”. Professors in the STEM department were contacted for comment, but have not responded.
Any student or professor experiencing any form of discrimination can always reach out to the Title IX staff. On both the Long Island and NYC campuses, you can reach out to the following Title IX staff: