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How can I be a good ally?

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

In 2013, NSF reported that out of the 4.4k PhDs awarded in engineering, only 65 of those were granted to black women. With numbers this bleak, we have to address the issue of poor matriculation rates for black women in STEM. A major cause is the lack of inclusivity in these spaces, not lack of interest or lack of training.

Don’t get it twisted, the talent amongst diverse populations was always there. The fact of the matter is, diversity means nothing without equity and inclusion; in fact, it’s like being invited to the party but not asked to dance.

It looks like being excluded from the social aspect in your office or lab of peers. It looks like being talked over. It looks like having your ideas stolen from you and credited to someone else. It looks like being passed up for a promotion or dream project, simply because you’re with child. It looks like companies not having good parental leave policies and no guarantee to start back where you left off. And that’s just from being a woman alone. The more intersectional your identity is, the more implicit biases and microaggressions you are likely to face, while being expected to outperform, constantly.

Unfortunately, the voices of marginalized grad students cannot move the needle alone. As an ally, you must use your privilege to do good. But what does that look like?

Well, one way to address the pay gap for women is to keep salaries transparent. Discuss this in the work space and bring it to HR and higher ups if there’s a pay discrepancy. Ethical companies practice transparency, so if you’re not a woman or POC, encourage that. Also, encourage the fostering of ideas. LISTEN to one another and treat every idea equally. If you, as a man, notice someone speaking over a woman, stop and correct it. A third, easy way to be an ally, is to encourage HR to push for maternity and paternity leave. A fourth way is to invite the WOC in your program and lab to your social outings! Be a person. Ask them about their day, and just be you! Ask yourself, based on interactions, if what you’re doing or saying is a microaggression. Put yourself in their shoes and see how you would feel. If it doesn’t feel good on the receiving end, don’t. Most importantly, encourage departments to seek and hire diverse faculty. Institutions with diverse faculty is reflected within their student population and also tend to lead in cutting edge research. This is not a coincidence.

Ti’Air Riggins is a current Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate at Michigan State University. She received her bachelors in Biomedical Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2011 as the first black undergraduate BME student, and proceeded to earn a master’s from the University of Cincinnati in 2013. Her research focus is integrating tissue engineering with implantable electrodes to tune immune response in the brain, in the REIL lab under the direction of Dr. Erin Purcell. She is heavily involved in the BMES, NSBE and is in the speaker’s bureau for the Rape And Incest National Network. She has also served in the community under her platforms of sexual assault awareness and exposing underrepresented students to STEM as Miss Indiana United States 2015 and has received awards for her Social Justice in 2016 and Humanitarianism in 2018. She was named a fellow in the Society for Neuroscience from 2016 – 2018. Her future goals include managing her own lab and being a successful entrepreneur and mentor for students who are underrepresented students in neuroscience and engineering. You can follow her on Twitter and connect on Linkedin.


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