Calling out discriminatory behavior is an effective way for white students to help combat racism against Black and Latino science, technology, engineering, and math students, researchers report.

The new research, led by Eden King and Mikki Hebl from Rice University, examines whether Black and Latino college students face discrimination when studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and how allies can help combat racist behavior in these situations.

“There is already a serious lack of representation of minorities in STEM, and we know from prior research on this topic that supportive environments are critical to people excelling in and pursuing careers within this field,” says King, a professor of psychological sciences. “In this research, we really wanted to pinpoint how subtle discrimination is affecting minorities in STEM and how other students can provide allyship.”

The research was conducted in four parts across multiple higher education institutions. In the first study, 125 Black, Hispanic, and multiracial students were surveyed about discriminatory behavior in STEM classrooms over a three-week period. Any time they felt “off” about an encounter, they were encouraged to fill out a survey.

“We wanted to understand as much about the students’ experiences as possible,” King says. “We encouraged the survey respondents to indicate when their experiences were even a little awkward, weird, or negative in any way. Maybe some of these experiences were related to their race or ethnicity and maybe not. Maybe a classmate made an insensitive comment in class. Maybe a professor ignored their raised hand or they couldn’t find a study partner. And so on.”

According to surveys immediately following these negative events, students said that they experienced such situations in about 20% of their STEM classes. They also noted that bystanders were unlikely to intervene on their behalf.

In the second study, researchers surveyed 70 white students who overwhelmingly acknowledged that the events reported by Black and Latino students in STEM educational settings were problematic. However, the majority of these individuals did not feel compelled to intervene.

“When interviewing these students, they noted that they felt like it was not appropriate or ‘not their place’ to say something,” says Hebl, chair of psychological sciences. “These results provide insight into the lack of bystander intervention in the first study, suggesting this was not motivated by any negative intent, but rather people just didn’t perceive that it was their responsibility.”

Read the full article about Black and Latino STEM students by Amy Mccaig at Futurity.