oSTEM at William Jewell College is a student-led organization intent on supporting and providing resources for STEM-orientated LGBTQIA+ students.
oSTEM, an abbreviated term for Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is an internationally recognized nonprofit association with over 100 affiliated college and university chapters. The association –founded in 2009 as the first society to specifically support LGBTQIA+ STEM students — hosts national and regional conferences to bring awareness to diversity in science while also funding scholarships and mentorship programs for members.
oSTEM at Jewell was previously inactive due to changes in campus community and culture; however, the organization was reactivated mid-semester as interest regenerated.
Liz Payton, acting president for oSTEM and biochemistry major, said that she saw oSTEM at Jewell as an opportunity where she could navigate her own identity and also support others with similar insecurities about pursuing fields that are historically known to lack diversity.
After student leaders from several other inclusion-focused groups encouraged her to restart the organization in late January, Payton and her friend created an oSTEM Instagram account. By mid-February, Student Life took notice of the new Instagram page and reached out to begin the process of officially reinstating oSTEM at Jewell.
Specific to oSTEM and its mission, Payton explained the ways in which false biological sciences have been used to shut down conversations pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“There is no disputing that science and related fields have been used as a tool to harm minority communities and push a narrative of superiority and power in the past,” Payton said. “Despite the progress we have made away from this power dynamic, we are still seeing a lack of diversity in STEM.”
Taking advice from Dr. Rodney Smith, vice president of access and engagement, oSTEM at Jewell said a large part of their purpose is in inspiring future generations by laying the groundwork for inclusion in the present.
With LGBTQIA+ identities still underrepresented in occupational fields, oSTEM at Jewell hopes to look into reducing barriers for students who plan to attend graduate school or otherwise work in STEM-related careers.
“We are wanting to look at ways to reduce barriers for students as they move towards STEM careers or graduate school, and that would include skill-building workshops such as how to make a good STEM resume or ways to work on social confidence and presentation skill,” Payton said. “In this initiative, we will also help students look for potential research opportunities and other ways to increase their technical skills.”
oSTEM at Jewell further plans to eventually tackle issues like workplace stigma or hostility. Payton notes, however, that outside experts will need to lead the conversation on such serious topics.
“The overarching theme here is really just education and support,” Payton said. “We want students to know that they are valid in their own identities and [that] they belong in the STEM community and we want to provide some pathways [to help students] reach acceptance of themselves.”
While oSTEM at Jewell is primarily an organization focused on the LGBTQIA+ STEM community, the club welcomes non-STEM majors as well. According to the organization’s current guidelines, non-STEM majors cannot be considered official members, but they are nonetheless welcomed at meetings to support friends or contribute to the conversation.
Rose Reynolds, associate professor and chair of biology, is the faculty sponsor for oSTEM at Jewell. Reynolds also sponsored the previous chapter of oSTEM several years ago.
A temporary cabinet will serve for the remainder of this semester and will be responsible for structuring the club and facilitating the upcoming elections of the permanent cabinet. The organization plans to elect an official cabinet for the 2021-22 academic year after becoming more established and stable.
“We want the process to be as transparent and democratic as possible so we felt that immediately asking oSTEM members to vote for a permanent cabinet would be unfair, especially as we are still trying to recruit members,” Payton said.
As the organization is still trying to cultivate interest among the Jewell community, the temporary cabinet is not operating under harshly defined roles yet. Instead, each member is working together to meet the immediate needs of the organization. Once the permanent cabinet is elected, the stipulated cabinet roles as set aside in oSTEM’s constitution will become the guiding practice for the cabinet members.
These roles include President, Director of Finances and Director of Membership. Though not decided upon yet, the cabinet is discussing adding the specific role of a Director of Marketing or Public Relations.
However, Payton said that part of denoting the responsibilities of the cabinet positions will depend on the actual implementation of leadership and the personalities behind them.
“It is a fluid process with a lot of learning involved, so I think it would be wrong to rigidly fixate upon the roles indefinitely,” Payton said. “We trust that the previous oSTEM group worked out an efficient way to handle the logistics of the organization, and we decided to keep their leadership structure and just build upon it as needed.”
The emphasis on fluidity and reflection is especially important given the difficult conditions of restarting a club during a pandemic wherein oSTEM at Jewell is rendered unable to effectively host recruiting events under Operation Safe Campus. Payton said that the club will take a risk-benefit assessment approach in hosting meetings next fall.
“With such serious topics like gender and sexual identity, it can be difficult for people to express themselves in front of others,” Payton said. “On top of that, expressing themselves in a Zoom call may be even harder. Face-to-face meetings seem to be the more comfortable option to engage in such dialogue, but we also want to ensure that students are physically safe during the pandemic.”