Illustration by Mateo Juvera Molina

weSTEM Posters Ignite Controversy

WeSTEM seeks more actionable ways to encourage talking about and addressing bias.

A series of mysterious posters appeared on the walls of NYU Abu Dhabi campus.
“Girls, you won’t relate to the example used in this lecture. It’s about video games,” read the message of one poster in the series. “There aren’t many women invited to speak,” read another.
Shortly after, these fliers were joined by others, which read, “This happens at NYUAD too.”
Before the posters were found to be a part of campaign by weSTEM, a Student Interest Group aiming to empower women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, students voiced questions about their origin on social media platforms. A number of messages expressed anger and discontent.
“We wanted to create more actionable ways that people can start talking about bias and addressing bias,” said Brooke Hopkins, Class of 2018, who is the President of weSTEM.
According to Hopkins, the posters set out to spread awareness of unconscious bias, make people more aware of their social assumptions and encourage thinking about these assumptions more critically.
Each poster is based on a real situation from NYU Abu Dhabi.
“We have three posters, one is [a] student to student interaction, which is the biology and physics one, one is [a] professor to student, which is the video games one, and then the third is [a] professor to professor interaction which is the conference one,” explained Tom Abi Samra, Class of 2021, weSTEM’s Unbiasing Director.
The first kind, depicting students’ conversation about physics and biology majors, was intended to create awareness of bias within the STEM fields, in which some areas are regarded as being superior to others or geared towards men.
“There [are] the quotations marks which suggest that this is something real... in the physics poster the word physics is in very light text versus biology being very heavy text and girls is in blue, playing on this girl-guy blue-pink stereotype,” Abi Samra noted.
This deliberate stylization was intended to clarify the poster’s message.
After some of the posters were torn down, Abi Samra added that, “ripping them down does not make reality not exist.”
The Margaret Thatcher and Michelle Obama quotes which have been placed around and sometimes over the posters were not part of weSTEM’s campaign.
“We’re here to empower women, right? And I think by putting up more posters that are empowering women it is … a great compliment to the posters we put up … I think we are trying to address women’s empowerment from one perspective by … bringing to light these issues, and I think there are other people who brought it [to light] from a different perspective,” Hopkins said, when asked about weSTEM’s stance on the new additions.
“We thought it was important to highlight the negative because … a lot of women who have faced bias within STEM do not necessarily realize it is bias and will a lot of times blame it on themselves … and I think that by highlighting these instances of bias … you can become more self-critical even [of] your own bias or how other people’s conscious biases are affecting you,” said Hopkins, stressing that weSTEM apologizes for any discomfort or offense the posters might have caused.
“We wish people weren’t so upset by the posters, but rather upset by the content of the posters,” she added.
In an effort to continue and clarify the discussion around the campaign, weSTEM will host a discussion open to all community members on March 6 in the Living Room.
Benjamin Roberts is staff writer. Email him at
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