JEDI and Gender in the Classroom

Jennifer Blue, PhD

By Janet Homeniuk

April 29, 2021

The Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines, along with the Centre for Education Excellence (CEE) is proud to present a special talk with Jennifer Blue, PhD, Professor of Physics at Miami University.

Sex and Gender and Teaching and Research

Only about 20% of the physics undergraduate degrees in the United States go to women, a number that has stalled during a time when biology, chemistry, and mathematics have made large gains. In Canada, the percentage of women faculty in physics in universities is, unfortunately, still stagnant at 12%, according to a survey done by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (2013–2014.)

It is well known that women are underrepresented in physics and many STEM fields; there exists a higher attrition rate for women in STEM, and the existing STEM wage gap negatively impacts women. There has been plenty of work documenting issues of bias and inequity facing women in this field and in the academy broadly.

Less well known is that there is a growing body of work about bias and inequity faced by LGBTQIA+ people.

Jennifer Blue, PhD, has spent over 17 years working in the field of physics education research and, most recently, has focused on the area of bias in education research.

Blue says, “When I was a sophomore in college, I found myself the only woman in a quantum physics class. That was the first time I'd noticed any gender difference, since my first physics classes had not only the physics majors but the pre-meds in them, and lots of the pre-meds were women. My professor and classmates were quite nice, really, but I was still really self-conscious and have been trying to figure out why that happened pretty much ever since.

Her talk, “Sex and Gender and Teaching and Research,” to be held at SFU on May 6, 2021 will focus on how a more complex understanding of gender can help instructors support students in their classes.

Blue, a professor of Physics at Miami University and Affiliate, Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies will explain why researchers must take action to ensure that they expand their framework and perform richer studies in order to help instructors create more inclusive classrooms and a better student learning experience.

“Much work in physics education research, including much of my own, has examined differences in preparation, persistence, and performance between male and female students.” Blue observes. “I now believe that there are issues with the implied theoretical framework behind this work. When we look outside of physics, we see a growing, rich literature about the non-binary nature of gender, about intersectionality, and about identity formation.”

Physics education research

Within the field of physics education research (PER), and the scholarship of teaching and learning in general, Blue studies how students learn physics (or have difficulty learning it), how instructors can improve their teaching, and how to evaluate both the learning and the teaching of this discipline.

“I've seen lots of research about belonging in the last several years and done a little of it myself. I think we scientists are just learning to pay attention to the emotions our students are feeling. Do they feel as though they are welcome in the classroom, and that they belong there? Are they safe from microaggressions, and do they know that their professor is on their side?” Blue asks. “That matters to me. If we start with making all students know they belong in physics, then I hope the discipline can take care of itself.”

Blue’s audience will learn of the importance of how gender biases can affect teaching and learning and even the evaluation of teaching practices.

Host Sarah Johnson, University Lecturer in the Department of Physics at SFU says, "I have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women in STEM throughout my career in physics. In recent years, I have become more and more aware of the need for academics in all disciplines to have a thorough understanding of gender diversity, and how it impacts our teaching and educational research."

JEDI initiatives

Regarding the future of physics education research, Blue’s experience and commitment to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion highlights the need for a change across all university classrooms.

“As so many of us work on JEDI initiatives (my new favourite acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), it is important to remember that sex and gender are not the same thing, and neither sex nor gender are binary. This matters for all of us who teach and for those of us whose research involves sex and gender.” Blue writes.

When asked where she got the JEDI acronym from, Blue writes, “It is from a computer science paper. It works with the ideas of social justice that I've learned from both academic work and church work.”

For future students, a commitment to inclusive teaching practices can make all the difference in recruitment, retention and eventual success in the field of Physics, drawing from a diverse field of candidates, which ultimately benefits the entire discipline.

“When we exclude people, we are missing talent. If we could include everyone, we'd have more great minds doing good work,” Blue writes. “We can also argue that having a more diverse group of people, even if it's not a larger group of people, then we would have a more diverse spectrum of ideas; people with different life experiences will think about problems differently and come up with a different set of solutions.”

SFU’s commitment to EDI

SFU is committed to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive community where all feel welcome, safe, accepted and appreciated in learning, teaching, research and work.

Joy Johnson, President and Vice-Chancellor, Chair, EDI Executive Sub-Committee at SFU says, "Advancing EDI at SFU is a priority for our senior leadership, but we can’t—and shouldn’t—do it alone. As we take these steps together, we want everyone’s voices to be heard. I invite you to be part of the change and join me for a conversation about inclusion.”

The Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE) is hosting the free lecture, followed by a conversation between Jennifer Blue, ISTLD Director (interim) and University Lecturer in the Department of Physics, Sarah Johnson, and the audience.

To register >>

For more information on Jennifer Blue, visit: