December 17, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Olivia Hahnemann-Gilbert | Photo by Daniel de Koning
In most academic environments, Colorado College included, it is often exceedingly apparent that science, technology, engineering, and math fields have historically been dominated by cisgender men. As many of us know, this type of atmosphere often presents a particular set of obstacles to STEM majors who are not male-identifying.
Many difficult questions may arise as a gender minority in a male-dominated STEM field. For example, how might one navigate the difficulties of gender-based discrimination? How should a student grapple with gender-based stereotypes about a person in their field? What about lack of representation?
Luckily, one on-campus resource was created to help students who find themselves in this position. Gender Minorities in STEM, more familiarly known as GEM in STEM, is a club whose mission is to “establish a supportive community for gender minorities in STEM fields, by connecting students to each other and opportunities, providing room for discussions on current issues and hosting hard skills workshops.” The club is headed by co-chairs Jessie Lyons ’22 and Anni Zettl ’23.
Zettl, a physics and math double major, spoke to the many difficulties faced by gender minorities in STEM.
“It can be as obvious as the pay gap, but it is also often subtle things that prevent gender minorities from flourishing in the sciences,” Zettl said. “Certain comments, imposter syndrome, generally not feeling welcome in the space.”
While recognizing the importance of this club being a space created for gender minorities, Lyons stresses the club’s openness to everyone who feels comfortable getting involved.
“As we always say, everyone is welcome — if you feel comfortable in this space, you are welcome,” Lyons said.
Club meetings often consist of interesting discussions, which vacillate between prompt-led and natural conversations. Lyons emphasized the relaxed and open energy of the group discussions.
“It is nice because we can propose a topic but oftentimes people can just talk through their frustrations or experiences,” she said.
The group often delves into topics which address some of the questions posed above – one example provided by Lyons was the lack of diversity in many STEM fields.
“Sometimes we start off by saying who our favorite GEM scientist is, and oftentimes a lot of people draw a blank,” she said.
This question ended up being a way to recognize the lack of well-known gender minorities in scientific fields, which Lyons expressed, reaffirms the need for the club.
Another important aspect of this club is the connections to a variety of internships which are passed through the co-chairs to participants. This may include scholarships, internships, or conferences – all of which are opportunities specifically for gender minorities in STEM fields.
Zettl and Lyons both began their involvement in GEM in STEM right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, unfortunately, led to some setbacks.
“A lot of stuff really fell through the cracks during COVID – not many people showed up to the online meetings,” Lyons said.
Specifically, most of us are probably all too familiar with the difficulties involved with having discussions over Zoom. Unfortunately, this posed a similar obstacle for GEM in STEM’s club meetings as it did for many class discussions.
“It was definitely hard to have a discussion online,” Lyons said. “On Zoom, if you accidentally talk over someone, it straight up mutes the other person talking. So, then you just don’t realize that someone’s trying to talk, and you’ve just been talking for the past like two hours.”
Lyons believes that this was one of the main factors which led GEM in STEM to take a hiatus during the pandemic. However, the co-chairs choose to view this setback in an optimistic light . They now look toward a new and improved future for GEM in STEM.
“Maybe we needed the break-down of this club to re-adapt it and make it so that it fits all the needs that we want it to fulfill,” Zettl said.
In their revamping of the club, the co-chairs have some new and exciting additions in store. The club plans to introduce ‘crafternoons,’ where meetings will be accompanied by collaging; this is designed for participants to simultaneously destress while engaging in productive and supportive conversations.
The co-chairs are also excited to be hosting several workshops next semester, which plan to cover useful skills which are generally selectively taught to cis-men. These workshops include topics such as basic car maintenance – like jumping your car or changing your tires – or investing.
Lyons explains the moment which sparked the idea for these workshops.
“I got the idea when I was jumping my car and three separate guys came by to ask if I needed help – they would not go away when I said that I was fine, that I knew what I was doing,” Lyons said. “It feels like if we don’t make a safe space to learn it, you just won’t.”
Especially after this experience, Lyons recognized the need for such skills to be introduced within GEM in STEM.
All in all, the co-chairs urge students to check out the club. Dropping by a meeting or two is a low stakes, easy way to start.
“We just want to be an open space where students can feel like they belong,” Zettl said.
The next GEM in STEM meeting is a crafternoon this Friday, Dec. 17 at 3:00 p.m. in Barnes 213. There will be collage supplies, frosted cookies, gluten-free Oreos, and engaging conversations.