No Wookies in the classroom

This article via Wired about whether geeky decorations turn women away from computer science has me conflicted. The article is definitely provocatively titled, “Star Trek Stops Women From Becoming Computer Scientists”, but the underlying study being reported shows that sitting in a room with Star Trek decor correlates with women responding more negatively to a survey of attitudes about computer science, with men not showing the same effect.
As always with this type of study, there are things to poke at – would other strongly themed decors have the same result? What about a non-neutral room with lots of academic science posters and pictures? Or does a decor with any geeky content correlate with negative attitudes? Is the negative impact due to association with the geeky culture and the types of people the women think of as doing those jobs, so the issue is it being Star Trek, which triggers all sorts of stereotypes? Or is there a disinclination to associate so strongly with science that it defines one’s whole life including the decor of one’s space, and it doesn’t matter what the nature of that geeky decor is?
I obviously have ulterior motives for wondering – I inevitably end up decorating my spaces. And I’m a bit of a geek. I might even have a *very* *tiny* Enterprise model in my office that someone gave me, as well as the obligatory Escher calendar, conference posters, etc. Is this subtly hostile to female students, and do the quilts and curtains that I’ve hung help counteract that? Should I take down the XKCD cartoons I’ve hung on my lab door? I don’t want to – I like that students read them and will tell me “oh, now that I’ve taken your AI class I actually understand that!”. But I can also see how that type of imagery projects the message that you are either in the group and get it, or outside the group and don’t. I would be really curious if one gets the same effect with, say, physics or math.
So I’m thinking about it…. It adds to the oddness for me that I am the only female professor in my department, and I’m definitely the one with the strongest inclination towards geeky decor. Probably with the strongest inclination towards decor in general. I would have thought personalizing a space would show an appealing warmth and personality, which one might think would have a positive impact on attracting and retaining underrepresented minorities. But maybe I ought to think about bringing my Hermione wand home…

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