I was watching a documentary about obituary writers recently, and in it, one of the writers addressed the question as to why the New York Times had a large number of white men in their obituaries as resulting from the historical nature of obituaries. People who made an impact in the 50s and 60s were predominantly white men. In the future generations, obituaries will be more diverse.
Here’s the thing– people who made an impact have always been diverse, but the stories that have been told have not been very diverse. Just in science, we don’t tend to tell the stories of people who are diverse. James Parsons Jr., a Black scientist, ran a large research lab in the 1940s and developed critical formulations for stainless steel, and yet one has to look around to find his story. Norbert Rillieux, a free Balck man, is the father of modern chemical engineering developing the multiple effect evaporator in the 1840s, and yet it takes hunting to find his story. Evelyn Roberts was pivotal to testing and characterizing pyrex glass in the 1910s and 1920s. I would guess that most chemical engineers and materials scientists don’t know the stories these people who transformed their disciplines. I didn’t know until I went looking for them.
We need to to make sure our students know that scientists have always been diverse, but their stories have not always been told. We need to tell their stories.