Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
How the Performing Arts Can Promote Inclusive Engineering Campuses
How can the arts contribute to a culture of inclusivity within engineering? This paper explores preliminary findings from our study of a four-year, primarily engineering college whose longtime undergraduate curriculum requires all students to complete a substantial humanities project.
Many engineering students at this institution choose to do this humanities work in theatre, where they study classic and contemporary plays and participate in productions. They have the option of writing an original play as their capstone project, and if successful their play may be staged for a campus audience. For 35 years, an original short play festival on this campus has performed the work of students. From nearly the beginning, these original plays featured the difficult themes of sexual identity and orientation. In 2017, to celebrate this rich heritage, the theatre program presented a retrospective of LGBTQ+ themed plays written and performed by students since 1987.
We report here on our findings from a mixed-method study of this theatre program and its influence on the culture at this primarily engineering college. As Cech and Waidzunas point out, engineering culture is not generally a welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people or for open discussions about non-normative sexuality. However, the data we have collected around the theatre program at this institution —specifically, the plays dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, surveys we conducted of audiences at the 35-year retrospective of LGBTQ+ themed plays, and interviews with people associated with the theatre program, including its faculty director and several openly queer current and former engineering students— make a compelling case that theatre can contribute to an engineering culture that is more inclusive of non-normative sexualities (not just for people involved with the theatre program but for the educational culture at large) than is typical in engineering schools. Our methods include gathering quantitative data from surveys and analyzing qualitative data from the words of students and alumni reflecting on their experiences as queer engineering students, how their experiences in the theatre program helped them embrace their nonnormative sexual identities, and how the theatre program contributed to an inclusive climate at this engineering institution. Because our study subjects are engineering majors, not liberal arts or theatre majors, the implications of our study can be extended to other engineering educators. We will conclude with recommendations drawn from this study that can be applied to other engineering institutions (whether or not they have theatre programs).
DiBiasio, D., & Boudreau, K., & Quinn, P. (2018, June), How Theater Can Promote Inclusive Engineering Campuses Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30583
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