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Allies, Advocates, and Accomplices: A Critical Look at the Relationships Between white and Black women in Engineering Education

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Kristen Moore University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

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Kristen R. Moore is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at University at Buffalo. Her research focuses primarily on technical communication and issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice. She is the author of Technical Communication After the Social Justice Turn: Building Coalitions for Action (2019), in addition to a range of articles. She has received a number of awards for her research, including the Joenk Award for the best article in IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication, the Nell Ann Pickett Award for best article in Technical Communication Quarterly, and the NCTE Best Article in Theories of Technical Communication (in both 2015 and 2018). She is also the co-founder of Women in Technical Communication, a mentoring organization that received the 2015 Diana Award from ACM Special Interest Group in the Design of Communication.

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Monica Farmer Cox The Ohio State University

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Monica F. Cox, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. Prior to this appointment, she was an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, the Inaugural Director of the College of Engineering's Leadership Minor, and the Director of the International Institute of Engineering Education Assessment (i2e2a). In 2013, she became founder and owner of STEMinent LLC, a company focused on STEM education assessment and professional development for stakeholders in K-12 education, higher education, and Corporate America. Her research is focused upon the use of mixed methodologies to explore significant research questions in undergraduate, graduate, and professional engineering education, to integrate concepts from higher education and learning science into engineering education, and to develop and disseminate reliable and valid assessment tools for use across the engineering education continuum.

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Current scholarly and political conversations have galvanized researchers across academic institutions and across the discipline of engineering education to address the role of systemic racism in the discipline, university and beyond. As both popular (Hackman 2015; Gay 2016) and scholarly texts (Dace, 2012; Patterson 2018) can attest, however, not all who set out to work as allies are well-equipped to do so.

This proposed presentation begins with an analysis of three potential roles that can be taken up by activists and justice seekers. Moving from ally to co-conspirator, we delineate the power and positionality of each of the three roles, explaining the limits of allyship and exploring the affordances of positioning oneself as an advocate or co-conspirator. Then, we take a critical look at a key critical relationship that often remains adversarial: the relationship between white and Black women.

In engineering, the limited numbers of women and women of color has prevented an honest look at the ways difference among women creates a need for purposeful advocacy and co-conspiracy. Although many women in engineering initiatives exist, they have been known to cater to the needs of white women. As such, women of color, particularly Black women, often engage with affinity groups focused on race more than gender. As Riley and Pawley (2011) have demonstrated, the myths about gender and race reveal the need to articulate an intersectional approach to oppression; yet few white women have been well prepared to navigate their own positionality and privilege alongside and as an accomplice with Black women.

Using Walton et al’s (2019) theory of coalitions, we provide an dialogic exploration of the difficult dialogues white and Black women often fail to have and, using cases from a qualitative research study and engineering education, describe the steps necessary to traverse and redress the inequities among women in the academy and engineering.

Moore, K., & Cox, M. F. (2021, July), Allies, Advocates, and Accomplices: A Critical Look at the Relationships Between white and Black women in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36660

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