Swimming Against the Tide

African American Girls and Science Education

Sandra L. Hanson
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-622-3
Publication: May 09

HC: $76.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-621-6
Publication: Dec 08

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-623-0
Publication: Dec 08

224 pages
5.5 x 8.25
22 tables

Following African American girls who “swim against the tide” in the white male science education system

Read the Introduction (pdf).


“They looked at us like we were not supposed to be scientists,” says one young African American girl, describing one openly hostile reaction she encountered in the classroom. In this significant study, Sandra Hanson explains that although many young minority girls are interested in science, the racism and sexism in the field discourage them from pursuing it after high school. Those girls that remain highly motivated to continue studying science must “swim against the tide.”

Hanson examines the experiences of African American girls in science education using multiple methods of quantitative and qualitative research, including a web survey and vignette techniques. She understands the complex interaction between race and gender in the science domain and, using a multicultural and feminist framework of analysis, addresses the role of agency and resistance that encourages and sustains interest in science in African American families and communities.


"Swimming Against the Tide addresses a crucial lacunae in the body of literature on women in science, particularly women of color. This is a ‘new’ and innovative approach, since very few book publications on women in science have addressed the subject of African American women in science and from an age specific and culturally relevant perspective. Theoretically and methodologically strong, this is an example of feminist scholarship at its best." Josephine Beoku-Betts, Professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology, Florida Atlantic University

"Swimming Against the Tide addresses important research issues, with implications for the cultivation and retention of scientific talent and for practice and policy in science education. It also has implications for understanding the 'culture of science’ and the factors that encourage/discourage participation. Hanson’s statistical data and analyses are significant in the strength of findings, (in the) power of inference for young women's interest in and perceptions about science, and for the ways in which race and gender do/do not operate together in affecting outcomes for young women" Mary Frank Fox, Advance Professor in the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology

"(A)n excellent resource for those who are not familiar with this body of literature about race and science.... This book, overall, is an important contribution to our understanding of the gender, race, and class dynamics that influence the career decision-making of young women...Hanson's synthesis of previous studies on the subject makes this a valuable resource for those hoping to expand and deepen an understanding about how our educational system and science culture itself should be transformed to be a welcoming place for all who have an interest in exploring nature and the world in which we live." Teachers College Record

"Swimming Against the Tide is an excellent resource for those not familiar with the literature about race and science. It contributes to our understanding of the gender, race, and class dynamics that influence girls' career decision making.... Hanson's synthesis of previous studies on the subject makes this a valuable resource for those hoping to expand and deepen their understanding of how to transform our educational system and science culture into a welcoming place for all those who have an interest in exploring nature and the world we live in." Gender and Society

"Hanson's focus on African American girls and young women in science is needed and welcome, and her use of qualitative methods is valuable. Her work raises many questions for future research to address.... We certainly need insight into the science experiences of girls and women from specific ethnic groups. Hanson helps us to understand one important group of potential scientists as they 'swim against the tide.'" Contemporary Sociology

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments 1. Introduction: Understanding Young African American Women’s Experiences in Science
2. The Conceptual Framework: A Critical-Feminist Approach
3. Young African American Women’s Experiences in Science: “Science Is Like Opening a Present from Your Favorite Aunt. You Just Can’t Wait to Open It Because You Know There Is Something Wonderful and Unique Inside.”
4. Influences—Teachers and Schools: “They Looked at Us Like We Weren’t Supposed to Be Scientists.”
5. Influences—Family and Community: “My Mother Never Minded Me Using Her Kitchen Utensils to Dig Up Insects and Worms to Explore.”
6. Influences—Peers: “I Know Plenty of Girls at My School (Who) Love Science.”
7. Conclusions: “Science Is Not About Which Race Likes It Better, It Is About Doing What You Like.”

Appendix A: Tables
Appendix B: Detail on Knowledge Networks Sampling
Appendix C: Text for Vignettes
Appendix D: Selected Questions from Knowledge Networks Survey
Appendix E: Detail on NELS Sampling and Data

About the Author(s)

Sandra L. Hanson is Professor of Sociology and Research Associate at Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University. She is the author of Lost Talent: Women in the Sciences (Temple).