A bright-eyed brown girl walked into Carnage Middle School at age 10.
The first week she took a series of placement tests to determine the level of rigor her coursework would require of her for the next three years. She scored in the highest percent for every exam; consequently, she was enrolled in the highest level English, social studies, science, and math courses.
When she began her non-STEM coursework she was met with no resistance at all; however, by the second day of math and science classes, teachers started “expressing concerns” and suggesting she scale back her pursuits.
She was me.
I was the only black girl in my science and math classes. I was one of five girls in either of the courses. Every time I struggled or had an off day during discussions, whether or not I deserved to be there was questioned. My teachers’ bias against me was obvious. I was reminded everyday that I didn't belong there, even though I earned my place.
I remember when I showed up to our first Math Counts meeting. The teacher invited all the sixth graders in the advanced class to join the club and try out for the team. The welcome wasn't particularly warm. Even though I had a good tryout, my teacher chose a guy who didn't look like me who got the same score. She didn't think I had a strong enough interest in math to be consistent on the team.
Even when I had the skills, my curiosity and commitment was questioned. I didn't know how to communicate my motives for extracurricular involvement in the math and science. I honestly don't know what drew me to STEM at a young age. When met with resistance, I couldn't explain it. I accepted other people's invalidation of my interests as true.
I believe the #MagicCoolBus will give children a reason to maintain or become interested in STEM. It will serve as a launching point for the next generation of minority leaders in STEM fields.
In hindsight, I wish I could’ve gone somewhere that validated my interest and pursuit of STEM because it's only become more difficult. Even now, I find myself apologizing for taking up space on a lab bench or asking questions in a lab meeting because even with credentials, people focused on my color. This is precisely why we need the #MagicCoolBus.
- Ashleigh Simone