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Critical Theories for Unmasking the Personal and Structural Racialized Experiences of Engineers

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 15: Perspectives on Engineering Careers and Workplaces

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Gretchen A. Dietz University of Florida

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Gretchen A. Dietz is a graduate student within Environmental Engineering Sciences at the University of Florida. Her research interests include diversity in engineering and qualitative methodologies.

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Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences, Associate Director for Research of the Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of problem-solving, cultures of inclusion in engineering, engineering ethics, and environmental justice.

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Erica D. McCray University of Florida Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Erica D. McCray is an Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Florida. Prior to joining the faculty, she served as a special educator for students with behavioral and learning disabilities in Title I elementary and middle school settings. Dr. McCray has been recognized on multiple levels for her teaching and research, which focuses on diversity issues.

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This paper is being submitted as a theory paper. Strides have been taken within engineering education research to assess engineering’s racial homogeneity. For example, work presented on Color-blind Racism within an engineering educational context was presented at the 2018 ASEE Annual Conference by Pawley, Mejia, and Revelo. The presentation concluded with a call to action in adopting more Critical Race Theory methods within engineering education research in order to address White supremacy in engineering. This paper serves as an answer to their call by providing another perspective for research within race studies. To do this, we provide a glimpse into our project on the racialized experiences of engineers in industry. This example project is in its beginning stages of data collection; therefore, this presentation will solely focus on how we aim to apply the theories of race that are outlined. The overall intention of this presentation is to provide theoretical guidance to others.

Critical Race Theory was highly popularized in the 1980s for its use with legal and education studies. Although nearly two decades have passed since this movement of race research ignited, the engineering profession still lacks diversity. Whites still hold a majority within engineering, which in turn defines the cultural setting of the field. In this setting, one potential response from Blacks is that they hide their Black identity to fit into the dominant White workplace culture. To study this situation, we offer an extension to the work of Wendy Faulkner and her concept of in/authenticity that women in engineering experience in a male dominated field. We shift this lens to focus on the experiences of race rather than gender, and further concentrate on Black engineers. This paper also presents a framework derived from Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Kendi expresses three identities of racial disparities: segregationists, antiracists and assimilationists. We use these personas to investigate their occurrences and effects on the experiences of Black engineers.

We are using these two theories in our own work as complementary ways of interrogating the personal and structural aspects of racialized experiences in the engineering workplace. Faulkner’s theory of in/authenticity describes how, as Andalzúa states, Black engineers have to put on a “mask” to survive in White male dominated workplaces. By using this framework, it is possible to unmask those experiences and understand the personal impact that workplace culture has on an engineer. Kendi describes how racist policies from the structural level impact the perception of Blacks within the workplace. Kendi suggests that racist policies are implemented because of a desire to maintain advantage, and they are justified through racist ideas. Thus, the workplace culture that surrounds Black engineers is expected to shape their in/authentic experiences. Put together, these frameworks provide a means to uncover how the in/authentic identities of Black engineers result from racist and antiracist ideas in the workplace.

Dietz, G. A., & Douglas, E. P., & McCray, E. D. (2019, June), Critical Theories for Unmasking the Personal and Structural Racialized Experiences of Engineers Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32568

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