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(Photo by Cirse Mendoza)

(Photo by Cirse Mendoza)

By Cirse Mendoza, Chicago Math and Science Academy

In 1960, thirteen-year-old Hillary Clinton sent a letter to NASA asking how she could become an astronaut, and NASA responded “We’re not interested in women astronauts.” Fifty-six years later, a STEM focused charter school in Rogers Park seems to have a similar mindset.

Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) is a school that boasts STEM opportunities for everyone. It offers courses that promise a better understanding of the mechanics behind these fields. Although these opportunities are said to be open to everyone, girls seem to be discouraged from fully participating.

CMSA’s robotics team is the center of all STEM activities in the school. Robotics has continuously won competitions and earned CMSA “bragging” rights. It’s won more championships than the basketball team. But how is it possible for students to be proud of it if not everyone can contribute to the success?

“All I did was glance over because I was curious, and Mr. Guliyev [the robotics coach] said, ‘only boys allowed.”

This is a primary example of the way sexism is openly expressed in the school. Since that moment in her freshman year, Kahselpaw Nay has never thought of joining the robotics team for the simple fact that the coach said “no” without even letting her apply. Even if the statement was meant to be a joke (albeit, not a funny one), it still deeply affects the way people view the team, coach, and school.

When questioned about the lack of girls on the robotics team, the coach pointed to a lack of female chaperones. Ola, a former member of the team, corroborated this statement, but added that “The coaches never even tried searching for one.” It seems as though this explanation was used as an excuse to prevent any females from attempting to join the team.

Amaka is another student who has been discouraged from joining the team because girls never get to do hands on projects.

When girls have actually persevered and secured a spot on the team, their role was limited, disappointing at best. This year there is only one female student on the robotics team, Jasmine. Jasmine had to build a robot as part of her application process as opposed to her fellow team members. Through building a robot, she proved to be a better programmer than the other members, but was assigned the board decorator like her female predecessors.

This trend leads me to a disappointing conclusion: the team’s coach, Mr. Guliyev, seems to be preventing female students from working closely with the robot for no apparent reason. It is problematic that a school that claims to prepare all of its students for the career market of the future is perpetuating the stereotype that currently exists in those fields. CMSA needs to reevaluate their robotics team’s methods and encourage female participation because last time I checked STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math not sexism, testosterone, extremism, and meninism.

*Note: Since this article was written, CMSA has not a separate team for the girls called Lady Titans. This still does not fix the problem because girls and boys should be able to be on the same team working together.

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