Being Human(ities) in STEM

In my “Evolutionary Biology of Women’s Reproductive Lives” class, we start every session with a meditation. We plant our feet firmly into the floor, sit up tall, and listen to our professor instruct us to inhale, exhale, and visualize. Sometimes the meditations align with the discussion for the day; yesterday, for example, we did a meditation that brought awareness to our reproductive systems to align with our pregnancy unit. Sometimes our professor just lets us sleep for five minutes. No matter what we have to cover that day, being present for five minutes together at the beginning of class takes priority. 

As a student whose interest is firmly planted in the humanities, I always felt nervous about taking STEM classes. Because Yale is a liberal arts school, which means that students are encouraged to pursue a well-rounded education, all students are required to fullfill a science and quantitative reasoning (math) requirement regardless of their intended major. This does not mean that English majors have to take Multivariable Calculus! (Although they can, if they really want to). There is a wide array of classes throughout departments like Anthropology, Psychology, and the History of Science and Medicine that allow students to pursue knowledge in the STEM field that intersects with their interests. In “Evolutionary Biology of Women’s Reproductive Lives” for example, half the time is spent discussing social attitudes towards menstruation, pregnancy, and birth control. Our professor encourages students to bring their own throughts on the female body to class—it is an exploration of the female body not just through the textbook pursuit of knowledge but through the critical interrogation of our own beliefs. 

My class is an example of a growing movement to bring more humanity into Yale’s STEM classes. Since 2016, Yale has offered a seminar called “Being Human in STEM” which seeks to examine how race, religion, sexuality, and socioeconomic status shape how students experience STEM at Yale and nationwide. This class pushes back against the notion that students in STEM fields need to acquire objective knowledge through memorization and regurgitation, which leaves no room for critical questioning of how identity interplays with knowledge production in these fields. “Being Human in STEM” is a project-based seminar, which means that about 12 to 18 students take it every year and work together to brainstorm interventions to positively impact the STEM climate at Yale. These interventions include things like identity-based mentorship groups for students of color, women and gender minorities, and first-generation low-income students who are seeking to pursue a degree in STEM. This new mode of interacting with the sciences at Yale works to ensure that anyone and everyone is able to be enriched by STEM at Yale!