I am at the Western Users of SAS Software conference this week and just like the Joint Statistical Meetings, SAS Global Forum and SPSS Directions, there is about as much diversity here as at the Republican National Convention.
I brought this up here and at two other meetings I attended. Each time at least some of the people I talked to dismissed me with,
“Well, isn’t it obvious why? Asian students work harder. It’s their culture.”
This, I believe is a perceived politically correct way of calling African-American and Latino students lazy. After all, they work “less hard”, correct?
It is NOT obvious to me. I drive by the strawberry fields pretty regularly and see lots of people picking in the fields. They don’t look like they have a lazy culture to me. Admittedly not a random sample, but I do know some pretty damn hard working African-Americans – my friend who works 80 hours a week for LAPD, my students who work an 8-hour day and then attend six hours of class in the evening.
Inspired by the hilarious Baratunde Thurston’s #negrospotting at the GOP convention, I decided to engage in my own exercise at WUSS. The total for the first day was five.
Hispanic spotting is a little trickier because Hispanics can be of any race and don’t necessarily have a Hispanic last name. Based on the last name, people I knew to be Hispanic and counting myself, I came up with a total of seven.
I am going to ignore the insulting, repeated suggestion that it is because members of these minority groups are lazy or “don’t have a natural aptitude for math”.
I don’t KNOW the reason why we see so many fewer people from these underrepresented groups. I don’t know why I “made it”. I have a hypothesis about both.
The first hypothesis is that Hispanic and African-American students are subjected to a constant barrage of “you can’t make it” and an almost complete drought of mentors. I see almost no efforts of outreach to urban schools. I spoke to over a dozen classes at three middle schools in Los Angeles last year about a career as a statistician, and to an urban school in another state via Skype. I was asked to speak a fifth time but I was out of town and unable to do it. Whether I meet with students in sixth grade or doctoral programs, I am usually the first person in their life who has said,
“You should really consider a career in statistics. It’s interesting, it pays well and you could do it. “
On the contrary, I think in both covert and overt ways students are discouraged from kindergarten on.
My second hypothesis, regarding why I have been successful is that I am a stone-cold bitch. When I have been discouraged from taking a course in Calculus, specializing in statistics, taking more advanced courses in statistics outside of my department, taking more courses in statistics, publishing in refereed journals, applying for tenured positions, my reaction has always been a silent (or sometimes not so silent)
“Fuck you! I can do it and I will!”
This attitude is what probably feminists in the 1950s and 1960s needed and perhaps why they were frequently characterized as angry. No wonder they were angry. Not everybody has that will, self-esteem, arrogance or whatever you want to call it to believe they can succeed when they are constantly being told they can’t.
I was also lucky. I had a few people in my life – my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my aunts, and later a few professors, who told me that I could succeed and did encourage me. Believe, me, though, those folks were by far the minority and except for one nun in the sixth grade, I did not meet any of those people outside of my family until my senior year of college.
So, what can you do about it, if you care to do anything? Five suggestions
- NOTICE. The next time you are at an event, notice if there are no Latinos in the building except for the waiters and housekeeping staff.
- SPEAK. Go to your local middle school or high school about a career as a statistician.
- MENTOR. Encourage ALL of your students to present, major in statistics, learn programming, do an internship, work on a project.
- SPEAK UP. I was hesitant at first to say anything because I really like the hard-working people who put on the WUSS conference, and the SAS Global Forum and JSM people seem pretty sincere also. If no one says anything, though, no one will see this as a problem, and I *DO* see a problem when I live in a state that is 45% Hispanic and African-American that there is almost no one from these two groups in the profession I have chosen.
- REACH OUT. Really reach out. If we are sincerely concerned, as Maura Stokes said in her keynote, that we will need 160,000 new statisticians then maybe we should look into fields like social science or nursing or social work where students DO have to take a course or two in statistics and research methods and learn some programming and recruit from there.
If we don’t do these things then it is a sign that we don’t really want more students in statistics unless they look , talk and think just like us. Well, none of them look and talk like me. That’s my point.