Whitman College

Black Underrepresentation in STEM fields: Moving Beyond Deficit-Based Explanations


In the U.S., Black students are underrepresented in STEM courses, putting them at a disadvantage in a labor market that rewards STEM skills and preventing STEM fields from benefiting from diverse perspectives. Popular explanations for this underrepresentation are often deficit-based – focused on what Black students lack that keep them from full participation in these courses. This talk will draw upon insights from a trio of papers that point to alternative explanations for Black underrepresentation in STEM courses. Specifically, I point to a history of racialized tracking in public high schools that dissuades Black students from taking advanced math courses, social isolation resulting from this history of racialized tracking, and contemporary evidence that school counselors exhibit racial and gender bias in recommending students for advanced math courses. These results imply that solutions for Black underrepresentation in STEM that focus solely on improving Black students’ skills, preparation, or motivation (deficit-based solutions), will fail to fully address underrepresentation because they fail to address underlying institutional and structural causes.



Dr. Dania V. Francis is Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Boston. Her current research involves using experimental and quasi-experimental methods to identify structural causes of racial and socioeconomic academic achievement gaps. More broadly, Dr. Francis’ research interests include examining racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, wealth accumulation, and labor markets. She is the co-author of an influential paper titled “The Economics of Reparations” in the American Economic Review. Her research has also been published in Science, Review of Development Economics, and Review of Black Political Economy among other peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Francis received her doctorate from Duke University and also holds a master’s degree from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from Smith College. She is a board member of the National Economics Association and a National Academies of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship award recipient (2018-2019). Dr. Francis has been featured on CNBC International and TRT World and her work has been written about in several major publication outlets.

Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Virtual Event
Event Type

Science, Engineering & Technology


Faculty, Staff, Students, General Public, Alumni


Academic, Academic Theme






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