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STEM Is Failing People of Color. What Educators Can Do

Students, especially students of color, need fresh incentives to pursue STEM fields.

By Ebony O. McGee — January 25, 2024

Today’s K-12 students are facing an existential crisis, and they are painfully aware of it: Climate change is scarring the planet—a consequence of the industrial economies that have developed over centuries. Western science and technology have powered industrial development, exploiting fossil fuels, which are a major source of anthropogenic climate change. STEM industries must be held accountable. STEM fields need a transformation from the K-12 classroom to the boardroom.

Teachers, parents, and policymakers have a vested interest in ensuring a livable environment for our children. But if the adults cannot meet the challenge of reversing environmental degradation, then we’re preparing our students for a grim future.

The challenges for STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—for students of color are especially stark. For generations, communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of environmental hazards, a form of racism caused by industrial disregard for human life. There are too many cases that prove it. Here are just two examples: More than 500 abandoned uranium mines close to the Navajo Nation have led to the deadly contamination of the environment, increasing the risk of cancer, kidney disease, and other health problems. An 85-mile section of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, known as “Cancer Alley” where 40 percent of the residents are African American, is home to 200-plus petrochemical plants and refineries, emitting pollution 47 times the acceptable Environmental Protection Agency rate.

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