Jaleesa Trapp, a University of Washington graduate, hosted “Uncovering Hidden Pathways” at UW Tacoma on Jan. 28 from 4–5 p.m., which discussed anti-racist approaches for engaging in marginalized groups within STEM — standing for science, technology, engineering and math.
Trapp is an educator, activist, and researcher at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology Media Lab, and also works with Girls Who Code, Tacoma Action Collective and the Tacoma Clubhouse. Trapp discussion focused on how vital it is for non-dominant youth to have access to STEM, and how the word “non-dominant” directly addressed power structures.
“When we talk about racism, we’re talking about a power structure,” Trapp said. When we’re talking underserved, we’re talking about power structure. Marginalized, a power structure. When I use non-dominant, that’s what I’m talking about.”
Trapp began by discussing intersectionality, defining it as, “A theory that systems of discrimination or disadvantage are interdependent.” Trapp went on to clarify the theory of intersectionality with attendees.
“What that means is that they overlap, they do not exist as separate systems,” Trapp said. “When we’re talking about intersectionality we’re talking about interdependent systems working at the same time.”
She explained how important this theory was, especially for equity in STEM and anti-racist pedagogy.
“[When] we talk about equity in STEM, we don’t talk about poverty, we don’t talk about affordable housing, we don’t talk about economics,” Trapp said. “There’s a lot of different systems. We don’t talk about violence. All those systems are working at the same time and those all need to be acknowledged.”
Trapp also discussed the “4 P’s of Creative Learning” by Mitchel Resnick, her advisor at the MIT Media Lab. The purpose of the four p’s — which are projects, passion, peers and play — is to define that one will work harder and spend longer on a project that is significant to them. Especially when one works with their peers, then it will be work they enjoy, which defines the “play”.
Trapp also highlighted the importance of students having connections in the STEM field, as she herself struggled at the beginning of her college career.
“If you don’t know anybody in your social network who has a career in STEM, how are you supposed to learn these things?” Trapp asked. “My parents didn’t have a career in STEM and it’s not enough just to do these activities in school and work on these projects and then say ‘go into the world, now you can be an engineer’ because when I got to college I struggled.”
Trapp credited the ClubHouse Network and the Technology Access Foundation — programs that aid students in receiving internships — for her success in the STEM field, encouraging students to seek the same or similar programs. She also cited the Computer Clubhouse, which values underserved students interested in this field, as a program that played a key role in her life, and for the STEM student community.
“They actually give the tools to the youth and allow them to explore them,” Trapp said. “When I talk about constructionism and that type of project based learning, what I’m talking about is a power shift in giving youth this power that they don’t normally have … If it wasn’t for the clubhouse there is no way I would be here right now.”
As a teacher, Trapp created a curriculum where students could work on projects that are significant to them, and that they will actually enjoy. An example she shared was how she let one of her students work on a project about shoes.
“The next day he came back and showed me his website that had so many features that we hadn’t even covered in class,” Trapp said. “He was so excited to work on something that was so relevant to him.”
Trapp’s curriculum made the student feel dedicated to his work, and gave him the motivation to work on his project at home, despite Trapp not giving her students homework — something she practices because she understands not all students have access to computers in their homes.
Trapp concluded her discussion by emphasizing the power of activism, such as being able to coordinate events with the help of others. Trapp shared an example of her own — when she and her friends organized trips to movie theatres for high school and college girls to see films, providing young women of color a place of inclusivity in the community. Once the event had been posted on Facebook, many contributed by donating, allowing over 50 girls to attend the movies..
“That took the whole community,” Trapp said. “I just said ‘we’re doing this’ and the community showed up.”
As Trapp’s discussion came to an end, a picture of the girls at the movie theatre appeared on the screen behind, holding a big sign that read, “Black Girls Matter.”