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of my STEM classes. In retrospect, seeing such a lack of diversity with teachers and departments has certainly shaped my decision to pursue an advanced degree. Although this is not my sole motivation, seeing diversity within a community brings a sense of comfort, curiosity, and openness to asking questions. It also informs a student that there could be allies within this shared space.
Undergraduate Experience
Attending Oberlin College and Conservatory forced me to understand the importance of fellowship within my community. During my first year, I lived in the Afrikan Heritage House, a residence hall steeped in Africana culture and a safe space for the Black community on campus. It served as a place for me to mature socially and culturally with like-minded scholars studying all cornerstones of the liberal arts. This counterspace served as one of a few places that provided me with a sense of belonging on campus.
As a STEM major, I was the only Black man in the physics department. Although the students and professors in the department were civil, I never truly felt a part of the community. Interactions were always accompanied by an unsettling awkwardness that I could not explain. Classmates in similar situations described this feeling as their impetus for changing to a non-STEM major. A friend even shared that during her initial advisory meeting, she was discouraged to pursue her career aspirations as an engineer. Racial stereotypes influenced the advisor to ignore her exceptional academic record and achievements. This type of alienation often prompts students to cautiously approach professors and peers, which may result in an impeded classroom and laboratory experience. I found it was imperative to protect myself and to interact with those who proved to be allies.
I found my interest in acoustics not through the physics department but through the jazz division of the Conservatory. My percussion teacher and I always discussed how I would eventually integrate my two degrees. As an Oberlin alumnus, he understood the significance and complexity of the double-degree program. Conversations led him to connect me with acoustician Paul Scarbrough. This evolved into an internship and, eventually, an acoustic consultant position. My passion for acoustics grew not from a place of research and science but from a place of rhythm and syncopation. After my advisor took notice of my interest,
he nurtured my endeavors by offering me a teaching assistant position in the acoustics course and guided me in acquiring a research experience with ASA Fellow James Cottingham.
In 2013, our campus was plagued by an inordinate number of racial incidents; the community was certainly fragmented because many believed that the microaggressions and blatant acts of racial animus were only jokes. I quickly came to realize that affected communities cannot just ignore racial injuries and hope for change; we must galvanize. Needless to say, we protested. We protested, trying to ignite action from the college. During the demonstrations, I saw only one of my white STEM professors at the events concerning many of the horrendous actions that took place on campus. It is important to note that witnessing my mathematics professor protesting the vandalism of the Afrikan Heritage House and the distressing aftermath of many other racial acts bolstered my sense of well- being in his course. Knowing my professor was willing to demonstrate and demand inclusivity on campus made a profound difference in the classroom.
Diversity in the Workplace
After graduating from Oberlin, I started working as an acoustic design consultant at Akustiks, a boutique acoustic firm located in Norwalk, CT, that specializes in the design of performance spaces. I was unsure of my path after college. However, Akustiks graciously opened their doors to allow me to work after I interned there the year before. Diving into this field, I already knew that minority representation would be minimal at best. This simple fact is the prime reason of many Black students' reluctance to pursue any field related to STEM; however, within a few months of starting my position, I traveled extensively, attended design meetings, performed dozens of acoustic measurements, and most importantly, discovered that Akustiks was a safe space.
My most memorable moment was during my first traveling assignment, the commissioning of the Gaillard Center in Charleston, SC. Weeks before, a white supremacist had attacked and killed nine parishioners of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church (see Because both my parents are AME ministers in the South, I was more attentive to the news and the impending outrage of the Black community.
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