Crystal City, Virginia
April 29, 2018
April 29, 2018
May 2, 2018
Diversity and Undergraduate Education
As engineers seek means by which to design, develop, and deploy technologies in meeting the grand challenges for engineering in the 21st Century, it is important that engineers, think and act, specifically, imagine - more holistically - in conceiving and delivering future solutions of benefit to all of humanity. Unfortunately, often as a function of a lack of diversity in perspectives, beliefs, and values of those privileged to engage in these grand engineering exercises, a more homogeneous view of humanity may emerge. This narrower lens of perspective not only constrains the engineering exploration but could foster technological solutions that are blind to the needs and considerations of often marginalized and disenfranchised groups such as blacks/African-Americans here in the United States. While an unintentional consequence of the engineer’s decision-making, the implications can be profound.
Afrofuturism, a means by which to view possible and alternative futures, offers a potential antidote to this thesis. In explicitly placing the often-disenfranchised black voice central - with an intent of universal betterment through and by technology, Afrofuturism, at its core, offers a bridge of empathy; connecting the pertinent cultural insights and considerations to the engineering dilemma. With this understanding, not only could a more culturally relevant engagement occur but more inclusive engineering “design thinking” be fostered. This could provide a more complete picture of all people throughout the engineering process; potentially expanding the solution space both in novelty and, equally as important, inclusivity. And, inclusion matters in technology design; for, without appropriate countermeasures and/or advocacy the risk exists of constructing technologies that simply “mirror a narrow and privileged vision of society, with its old, familiar biases and stereotypes”.
Afrofuturism, in practice, helps to make visible how traditional engineering design practices can be, while not necessarily intentional, both “culturally located” and “power laden”. Similar to such speculative design approaches as Science Fiction Prototyping and complementary to liberatory design practices such as equityXdesign, Afrofuturism affords a framing for engineering decision making that could lessen, in a more proactive sense, unintended consequences of design decisions. The proposed paper explores Afrofuturism as a means to enable the engineer to see and counter tacit commitments and limitations of more traditional engineering design approaches, a design lens, in essence. Through an examination of recent challenges in the design and development of wearable technologies within the health and wellness space (i.e. connected fitness technologies), this paper presents a case study in engaging Afrofuturism in imagining more inclusive, equitable, and just future concepts. Moreover, thoughts are offered in how this infusing of both the value and relevancy of diversity in thought and perspective in engineering could increase the participation of blacks/African-Americans in engineering.
Winchester, W. W., & Al-Jaroodi, J., & Carlsen, R. W. (2018, April), Afrofuturism: Catalyzing a Pathway to More Inclusive Engineering Design Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. https://peer.asee.org/29514
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