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Why STEMneutral

A Personal Story

When I was nine years old, my family immigrated from Iran to Canada and my sister was born shortly there after. My father phoned my grandmother overseas to share the happy news of my sister’s arrival. During that call, my grandmother lamented: “So sorry for you; so sad that you now have two daughters.” This was the first time I became truly aware of the imbalance the world had to offer me because of my two X chromosomes. To my surprise the bias was coming directly from another female!

At my Masters graduation ceremony, multiple professors approached my partner at the time, to congratulate him, assuming he was the one getting the degree.

These are just a tiny sampling of micro-inequities or micro-aggressions women experience daily. Micro-inequities are apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different’.

Cumulatively it's like death by a thousand paper cuts.

These ongoing slights, more than anything, make me disappointed in our culture.

I want all people, especially my students, to have as many choices, real choices, open to them as possible. I don’t want anyone to be limited in what they can and cannot do simply because they are perceived as 'different' in some way.

A Student Story

A student of mine was so shy that she physically hid behind her long hair. In class and with other teachers, she resorted to throaty sounds in lieu of vocalizing a response to questions. Based on her scholarly output, I knew she was bright; yet, she really struggled in social environments.

After much prying, she told me: “I thought I was smart, but now I know I’m not.

This broke my heart. How could I empower this bright young woman to have more confidence? How could I help her be more conscious of the challenges ahead; to give her tools for success? I wanted her to stop thinking she wasn’t smart enough. To stop hiding. To speak up. To fight.

I wanted her to exert her will!
And so began STEMneutral.

Azadeh Shirzadi

Founder