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Lieutenant Uhura and the Drench Hypothesis: Diversity and the Representation of STEM Careers

Moira O'Keeffe

Abstract


Women are under-represented in disciplines related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are also under-represented in these careers. Communication scholars have considered the role that media representations may play in this imbalance, as well as whether or not a shift in how STEM careers are portrayed in the media could help to address it. In this audience-based study, STEM professionals and students interested in STEM-related careers were asked about their lifelong media consumption. Responses from people from under-represented populations are analyzed. Their comments provide insights into the influence of the “symbolic annihilation” of women and minority populations in entertainment media. The interviewees’ responses to specific characters provide support for Greenberg’s drench hypothesis (1988), which suggests that one powerful portrayal can offset the overall dearth of positive characters in the media landscape. In particular, the character of Lieutenant Uhura from the original run of Star Trek was frequently noted by female respondents as an influential character.


Keywords


media studies; Star Trek, STEM careers, stereotypes

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