WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Engaging Black Girls in STEM With a Culturally Responsive Maker Program

A meeting of Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive STEM program created by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D. (center)
The following is an excerpt from an article in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters about Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive maker program designed by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D.

Black Girls Create addresses issues of equity, inclusion, and relevance for Black girls by providing a curriculum and a learning environment that incorporates girls’ cultural and intellectual histories and expands the meaning and purposes of STEM learning. A unique aspect of Black Girls Create is that it focuses on making and maker culture. Maker afterschool programs in which girls learn about digital fabrication and engage in STEM in meaningful ways are associated with improvements in their STEM interest and self-efficacy.

Making can involve traditional craft and hobby techniques, such as sewing or woodworking. It often incorporates digital technologies in either manufacture or design. For example, manufacturing processes might use laser cutters or 3D printers; designs might use microcontrollers or LED lights for specific effects. Digital fabrication involves the design and manufacturing of products using advanced technology. Common forms of digital fabrication are computer numerical control (CNC) machinery, 3D printing, and laser engraving and cutting.

Makerspaces and related activities give young people who have disengaged from formal STEM instruction opportunities to design, tinker, and build in nontraditional ways, thus enhancing their confidence and interest in STEM. Making gives Black girls access to sophisticated digital tools they can use to build, create, and think. Maker learning can engage Black girls in STEM and broaden participation in STEM by centering on digital fabrication activities that align with Black culture and strengthen their connection to their heritage.


[Culturally responsive maker programs] can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners.

Culturally responsive making is an emerging field in both research and practice in informal STEM learning environments. For this project, culturally responsive making is operationally defined as tapping cultural knowledge and maker technologies to engage Black girls in creating, designing, and producing artifacts related to a particular concept, theme, or person. It connects with Black female learners’ interests and activities along a spectrum of cultural practices, from traditional to vernacular. It also engages Black youth in cultural affirmation and sociocultural critique.

Making situated in an appropriate cultural context can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners and future STEM professionals.

During the pilot implementation of Black Girls Create, we engaged Black girls in digital fabrication to increase their interest in STEM and their confidence in their ability to learn STEM. Its culturally responsive pedagogy focused on Black women’s contributions in STEM. The combination of making, social history, cultural responsiveness, and mentoring addressed the participation gap and identity gap experienced by Black girls in ways designed to lead to more positive racial and gender identities.


Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups.

Incorporating Black culture into program design and implementation was a critical feature of Black Girls Create. Culture is the mechanism through which people learn how to be in the world, how to behave, what to value, and what gives meaning to their lives. Culture is the context for learning, whether in formal or informal settings. Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups who may believe that certain subjects are unrelated to their current or future lives. Many Black girls and young women believe that science and math are not interesting and that the content is too difficult for them to master. As a result, many of them disengage from learning and fall behind in these core subjects.

Decades of research show that situating learning within Black students’ cultural context and connecting academic subjects to their cultural knowledge produce better academic outcomes. When these connections are made, especially in science and math, Black learners are more likely to show interest in the subject, engage in all aspects of the learning process, and master the content.


LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women who integrates culturally responsive teaching and learning, digital fabrication, and cultural knowledge into STEM programs to increase Black girls’ interest and value in STEM education and careers. Read more about her program, Black Girls Create in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters.

  1172 Hits
  2 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Rajveer singh rawat
In my oppion this is the best article for equality This article gives awareness to our culture about not respecting black girls.... Read More
Friday, 20 August 2021 22:40
Guest — Keith Catherine
This article gives us equality and awareness. It gives us the idea of helping the black girls in any aspect. And also this will wa... Read More
Monday, 06 September 2021 13:20
1172 Hits
2 Comments

What Could Be More American Than Critical Race Theory?

Paper cutouts of faces in profile with a range of skin tonesCritical race theory has become the latest front in the culture wars. Depending on what you’ve read or what you’ve heard from politicians, you may be under the impression that critical race theory means talking about racism in any context, or that it means white people are inherently racist.

But critical race theory, or CRT, is actually an academic movement that critically examines the law as it intersects with issues of race. CRT is rooted in the broader concept of critical theory, which critiques society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. The history of critical theory is one of people who had previously been sidelined rising up with their own understandings of the world. Critical theory says, we can make our society more equal for everyone, and here’s how.

For example, if you’re a woman who works outside the home, you have critical theory—more specifically, feminism and the feminist movement—to thank for that ability. If you’re an LGBTQ+ person who enjoys the same rights as heterosexual people, you have critical theory—more specifically, queer theory and the LGBTQ+ movement—to thank. If your children don’t work backbreaking hours in a factory, you have critical theory—more specifically, the labor movement—to thank.

In all of these cases, critical theory comes from those on the periphery. Those who have been marginalized in the past gain the power to stand up and demand equal rights for themselves and their families.

In the case of critical race theory, Black, Latinx, and Asian American thinkers like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, and Robert S. Chang have stood up and asked why people of color should not receive equal treatment under the law as white people. Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—a speech delivered on July 5, 1852—was also an early work of critical race theory that raised questions about the nuances of freedom in the United States.

On this 4th of July, we wonder, what could be more American than that?


In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory.

In a sense, our founding fathers were also proponents of critical theory. They were critical of the British monarchy and believed they could design a more just society, one in which power is vested in the people. They built a democracy which, though deeply flawed, remains full of promise. When people on the margins force us to examine those flaws, they are moving us toward the highest values of our Constitution: freedom, justice, and equality for all. Critical theory springs from those roots.

As research scientists who study womanism and the social determinants, racial injustices, and cultural biases that burden the progression and viability of Black girls and women, we believe that critical theory, including critical race theory, plays an important role in our work, and we believe that its evolution has improved our lives and the lives of all Americans.

So when we’re told that students should not be learning CRT in schools, or that it’s demonizing white people and dividing our society, we need to take a step back and view it in the larger context of critical theory as a whole. When we question whether we can do better, and when we give voice to people who have been sidelined, we are part of this grand tradition, and we are living up to our highest ideals as Americans.


Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and an expert on the womanist worldview and activist methodology. LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist who leads the Black Girls and STEM Education Research Initiative at WCW.

  2221 Hits
  2 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Liz Camarie
As a white woman born in 1949, I appreciate your description of CRT. It honors the reality of the lives many generations. And it s... Read More
Wednesday, 07 July 2021 18:18
Guest — Rinchen Angmo
It's a good thought
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 06:28
2221 Hits
2 Comments

Beyond #BlackGirlMagic: Representation in Mentoring Matters

Black Girls Create Activity Being Black and a girl--in a society that assigns negative stereotypes to individuals based on one’s race and gender--is often wrought with challenges. Negative stereotypes that have been assigned to Black girls and young women are based on historical controlling images such as the Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire that were created to justify white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal cultural norms of racism, sexism, dehumanization, domination, exploitation, and oppression (Hooks, 1981; Stephens, Phillips, & Few, 2009).  Over the last few years, social media hashtags have helped to bring the marginalized experiences of Black girls and young women to the center of society’s consciousness. Hashtags such as #sayhername, #blacklivesmatter, #ifidieinpolicecustody, #thisiswhatadoctorlookslike, #blackgirlsmatter, #bringbackourgirls, #growingupblack,  #staymadabby, and #blackexcellence have provided global spaces to discuss and bring awareness to the complexity of growing up Black and female in America. The #blackgirlmagic hashtag phrase is used to recognize, congratulate, and commend Black girls and women who have demonstrated extraordinary strength by debunking negative stereotypes and achieving success.  In 2013, CaShawn Thompson began using #blackgirlsaremagic to celebrate the beauty, power, and resilience of Black women and girls (Wilson, 2016).

While social media platforms provide viable opportunities for Black girls to disseminate diverse images of Black women and girls, it is equally important for them to have access to and connect with mentors who represent their race, gender, class, and lived experiences. Evidence suggests that Black girls who have access to relatable, adult Black women who are able to connect with them in unique ways have lower academic, social, and cultural risks than Black girls who do not have access to gender and race-matched mentors (Lindsay, Cummings, & McClendon, 2011; Watson, 2016).  Gender and race-matched mentors, particularly those are viewed as successful in their communities, provide unique opportunities for Black girls to connect with role models who have “lived through” similar experiences and achieved success despite their circumstances.

Mentor Advises ParticipantsIt's important for Black girls to have mentors who represent their race, gender, class, and lived experiences.Positive mentoring relationships are not only beneficial to mentees, Black women mentors show psychosocial gains from their interactions with Black girl mentees (Brown, 2009; Green & King, 2001;Gamble 2014; Lindsay, Cummings & McClendon 2011).  The positive outcomes that could be gained for the Black girl mentees and Black women mentor can be best described using two of the four principles of of Black Feminist Epistemology (Collins, 2000). Principle #1: criteria for meaning argues that those individuals who have lived through the experiences in which they claim to be experts are more credible than those who have not. Essentially, this translates into credibility and trust in mentoring relationship between Black girls and Black women. Principle #2: use of dialogue in accessing knowledge encourages connectedness and provides contexts for Black girls and women to connect on a deeper level.

Noted Black Girlhood Scholar, Ruth Nicole Brown (2009) inquires, “What kind of a space could be created where Black women and girls could come together and be recognized and valued for our diverse ways of being--where we could see ourselves and/or high, but above all, be recognizable and accountable to each other (if we so chose)?” My response to this question is that safe spaces within and outside of social media are needed for Black girls and women to debunk negative stereotypes, empower each other, and cultivate relationships that lead to positive outcomes.

LaShawnda LindsayLaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., (pictured in the top photo above) is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she leads The Black Girls Create Project, a culturally responsive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program seeks to increase underserved girls' interest and confidence in science and math through mentorship and practical experience.

  7298 Hits
  3 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Payal patel
Super thougt that was taken osm
Saturday, 23 February 2019 05:42
Guest — Dnyanda Kakare
The way you shouldn't change just to please or making friends. I have a friend who changes herself according to the situation and ... Read More
Monday, 09 August 2021 12:10
Guest — Dnyanda Kakare
Don't change yourself for someone else. I have a friend who changes herself according to the situation and place. It isn't a bad... Read More
Monday, 09 August 2021 12:12
7298 Hits
3 Comments
 
Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy