At the moment one of my research projects has me reading nearly three dozen conference and journal papers on K-12 outreach programs in computing, as well as a few articles on broader STEM outreach programs. While it’s a lot of work, it’s overall been fascinating to see the kind of things that people are doing to reach students and interest them in computing. Not every paper or program is flawless, but most of them have been good. So it came as a huge shock to me last night when I encountered the following in one of the conference articles:
However, despite their best efforts, low income minority students can present a special set of challenges in STEM programs. They may have raw talent, but underrepresented students often suffer from inadequate academic preparation, particularly in math and science, which are two key requirements for engineering and technology students. Unfortunately, those who do make it to the university often are forced to drop out due to economic pressures and the need to begin earning a living early in life so as to help support their family. Based on the data relative to females in STEM programs, there is a compounded issue for young ladies caught in this situation.
I’ve highlighted the word that caused me to come to a full stop. In an academic paper on STEM outreach the authors felt that the best way to refer to the young women they are trying to target was the word ladies. And, yes, I checked: the word gentlemen does not appear even once in the article despite the fact that the authors also spend time discussing male students. The only thing I can think is that these people have to be kidding. This must be a joke from the authors that ended up slipping through the cracks into publication. Because I can’t imagine that people focused on STEM outreach would seriously use the word ladies to describe young females in an academic paper published in a respected computing and engineering conference.