Student petitions for course on history of women in science


March 13, 2020

Women in science are often at the forefront of scientific discovery, but not many are recognizable to the general public and oftentimes not credited for their discovery, according to Mia Hayford ’20. So, she’s trying to change that. Hayford began a petition two weeks ago to get a “History of Women in Science” course taught at Brandeis, and it has since collected over 100 signatures. 

“Women have made incredible contributions to the knowledge, progress, and discoveries present within the scientific community,” according to the petition. “These contributions have expanded our understanding of the world that occurs around us and within our own bodies.” 

But, according to the petition, many of the women are nameless and unknown to the greater community, and they have not been credited for the work that they contribute. 

Her involvement in the project, “The History of Women in the Discovery of RNA Splicing,” with Scholar Pnina Abir-Am in Women’s Studies Research Center helped her learn strategies “that can be used to reduce, in the hopes to eventually dismantle, discrimination within the scientific field,” she told The Hoot in an email. “I wanted this information to be accessible to every student, so when I spoke to Dr. Abir-Am, she told me about the ‘History of Women Science’ courses taught at other universities.”

According to the petition, Abir-Am has taught this course previously at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley. 

“I believe that having a course like this is essential in order to promote professional success and social mobility for future scientists and STEM professionals,” Hayford told The Hoot in an email. “If you are aware of the history of discrimination, you are more likely to be able to identify it, know how to work around it if you can, and combat it in your own career. If we are not aware of the history of discrimination of women from all backgrounds, we are at risk of perpetuating the same white patriarchal systems, inevitably pushing progress back.”

Hayford believes that learning the history of women in science allows individuals to appreciate women and give opportunities to younger generations so that the entire field can continue to promote an equitable change for the future.

Hayford has been in contact with multiple faculty members on campus, including HSSP chair James Morris, who stated that he “would love to see a course like this taught at Brandeis.” Abir-Am is not actively assisting Hayford with the petition but has expressed her interest in having a course like this taught at Brandeis. Hayford is currently reaching out to professors who may be interested in teaching the course, with the possibility of the university hiring a new professor to teach this course. 

Hayford hopes that students would be able to share the knowledge they learned through the course with their peers “so that we can teach students to navigate fields that are not intrinsically set up for them,” she told The Hoot in an email. “Another hope of mine would be to encourage others to ensure that the scientific community is equitable for everyone, so individuals receive proper recognition for the work they have done and that social mobility within the scientific field is attainable for everyone.” 

“I am extremely humbled by the support I have received from friends, peers, and professors whom I have told about the petition,” said Hayford. “The positive support from the Brandeis community has been incredible.”

As of print time, there are currently 106 signatures on the petition.