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Gender and Human Imagery in the Halls of a BME Department

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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

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Kali Lynn Morgan Georgia Institute of Technology

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Kali is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a master's degree in Student Personnel in Higher Education from the University of Florida and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction- Higher Education emphasis from the University of South Florida. Her research explores equity in STEM education, student development and learning.

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Adrianna Bernardo


Todd M. Fernandez Georgia Institute of Technology

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Todd is a lecturer in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests are engineering students beliefs about knowledge and education and how those beliefs interact with the engineering education experience.

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Historically and currently, women are underrepresented in engineering. Women who do pursue engineering overcome isolation, chilly climates in labs, classes, and in teams to succeed. These experiences speak to the human aspects of a campus and disciplinary climate. However, another aspect of women’s underrepresentation in engineering is under-studied: Their representation in the physical spaces of the academic environment. These physical spaces include not only buildings, signage, and accessibility, but also the artwork, wall hangings, and historical artifacts displayed to decorate the structures. Such artifacts influence behaviors and sense of belonging for the members of a campus community [1].

This work-in-progress paper examines the diversity featured in the human imagery that decorates the walls of one biomedical engineering department, focusing on the representations of women. Spanning two buildings, this BME department is home to ~1200 undergraduates, and 300 graduate students. These buildings contain classrooms, team-based learning spaces, labs, offices, conference rooms, and common areas.

For this paper, we inventoried all images within the publicly accessible spaces in the department buildings during January 2019. The data we collected included the location, the artifact itself, as well as (inferred) identifications of gender, race, and ethnicity. Preliminary findings indicate that though women and men were pictured in relatively equal numbers, those representations are not equal in several ways. The finding we explore in this work-in-progress paper is the problematic ways in which women are represented. We argue that this imagery reinforces sexist norms as well as messaging about and to women in engineering disciplines. For instance, cartoon images promoting lab safety portrayed a stereotypical cartoon character of a male scientist as models of safe practices in contrast to a stereotypically female character who does not. Mirroring prior work in other settings [2], our findings have significant implications for women’s experiences in the engineering discipline.

References: [1] C.C. Strange and J. H. Banning, Designing for Learning: Creating Campus Environments for Student Success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2015.

[2] Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, “Portray Her: Representations of Women STEM Characters in Media,” The Lyda Hill Foundation & The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2020.

Morgan, K. L., & Bernardo, A., & Fernandez, T. M. (2021, July), Gender and Human Imagery in the Halls of a BME Department Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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