Torres: Let Go of Your STEM Superiority Complex


Associate Professor Peter Von Sivers (Dept. of History) lectures at a workshop entitled “The Arab Spring: Roots and Repurcussions in the Middle East. The workshop was co-hosted by the Middle East Center and the Tanner Humanities Center. (Photo via The Daily Utah Chronicle Archive)

By Gaby Torres, Opinion Writer


The ever-present STEM versus Humanities and Liberal Arts debate makes for a less-than-memorable college experience for many. Although both STEM and non-STEM disciplines will prove essential in the workforce, STEM receives an exorbitant amount of funding. 

The Biden-Harris administration recently dedicated a budget of $1.38 billion to STEM education in 2023. But considering that STEM made up only 23% of the United States labor force in 2019, disproportionate funding sends an inauspicious message about the perceived value of other occupations.

STEM has also historically excluded marginalized communities. The American Education Research Association observes that “STEM education and occupations were designed to attract White men who were heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian or atheist, and middle-class or above.”

A culture that values STEM above all other educational disciplines and occupations maintains institutional racism, perpetuates misogyny and devalues working-class labor.

Institutional Racism

Despite its reputation as objective, the roots of STEM lie in racism. Discriminatory standards and practices persist as we fight to dismantle the violent ideologies that remain printed in our textbooks. This isn’t to say that non-STEM fields aren’t racist — early philosophers like Aristotle famously supported slavery, saying the enslaved did “not have the intellectual capabilities to rule themselves.”

But these fields criticize and contradict the discriminatory beliefs of their figures. Fields like gender studies can recognize Betty Friedan for her impact on reproductive rights and “The Feminine Mystique,” while still criticizing her racism, homophobia and trans-exclusive radical feminism.

Art and writing serve as tools for racial equity as they praise those who challenge the status quo. Non-STEM fields aren’t given billions by the federal government or targeted for military use.

Holding STEM fields above others creates a culture of exclusion that keeps marginalized workers from accessing high-paying fields. The emphasis on academia and STEM creates a standard known as the Achievement Gap which creates, “an association between students of color and poor achievement, which may feed racist stereotypes about these students and their communities.”

The false implication that survival in STEM is based on intelligence ignores the impact of ethnic and racial discrimination in higher education. Weaponizing meritocracy against those who succeed in STEM, specifically the Model Minority Myth, not only harms the Asian American community but encourages discrimination towards other ethnic and racial minoritized groups. People of color, especially Black students in non-STEM fields, report lower degrees of discrimination, with Black women reporting higher levels of academic satisfaction. 

When we place fields that maintain racism on a pedestal, we simultaneously allow the persistence of other forms of discrimination.

Perpetuating Misogyny

In 2019, females received around 62% of degrees awarded in Liberal Arts and Humanities. This data excludes trans experiences, but it establishes that women make up the majority of non-STEM majors.

When women do make it into STEM, they have to fight against misogyny. Still, women make up 34% of STEM occupations in the U.S. despite making up more than 46.7% of the workforce.. They remain undervalued in STEM. 

By belittling the importance of non-STEM occupations, we belittle the significance of women’s education and labor. Labor isn’t limited to paid careers, with women carrying out more than two and a half times more unpaid domestic labor than men. The ambitions and labor of women are essential to the function of the U.S. economy and households. We harm ourselves by devaluing non-STEM fields and subsequently, devaluing women.

Devaluing Working-Class Labor

STEM occupations make up less than a fourth of the U.S. labor force while the jobs’ inflated values leave behind the working class. STEM fields provide some of the highest-paying jobs in the U.S. labor force. But working-class jobs, consisting of laborers without college degrees, barely make a living wage. Workers of color make up an increasing sector of the working class, specifically Black and Latine workers. 

Devaluing working-class labor undermines the skills of workers and bars them from higher wages and better benefits. Working-class jobs don’t receive the same perks that STEM jobs do. While tech employees get free food and paid parental leave in addition to high salaries, working-class employees struggle against union-busting to access livable wages. And with the cost of college rising, it gets harder for the working class to get the education necessary to obtain STEM jobs and benefits.

My family and I have been working-class our entire lives, and this only recently changed. As someone with a STEM career, liberal arts connections and background in the working class myself, I’ve witnessed the effects of the STEM superiority complex of my tech peers. I urge everyone to recognize the worth of other fields. In order to make real progress, we must stop assuming the superiority of a discipline that actively contributes to systemic oppression.


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