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Problems of Our Own Devising: Individuals' Challenges in Enacting Systemic Changes to Increase the Inclusivity of Engineering Departments

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Diversity and Inclusion

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Lorena Colcer Oregon State University

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Undergraduate chemical engineering student with research interests in education and social justice research within engineering.

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Christina Smith Oregon State University

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Christina Smith is a graduate student in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Utah in chemical engineering and is pursuing her Ph.D. also in chemical engineering with an emphasis on engineering education. Her research focuses on how the beliefs of graduate students around teaching and learning interact with and influence the environments in which they are asked to teach.

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Devlin Montfort Oregon State University

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Dr. Montfort is an Assistant Professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University

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Issues of power and oppression within the academic setting have been an ongoing concern for universities across the global community, and have become more prominent at this cultural moment. In an effort to address the topics of social justice, equity, and inclusion, many universities through national and grass root initiatives, have focused on ways to educate STEM student and faculty populations. Due to personal experiences , the three co-authors of this paper are engaged in various levels of social justice reform efforts at their university. All three have sought out education and support from within and beyond the engineering education community, and all continue working daily to learn more. We assume that we are not unique or even unusual in the engineering education community. Our university is currently restructuring the offices engaged with equal opportunity, social justice and diversity and will be requiring all faculty to work toward equity as part of their promotion and tenure assessments. Our college is involved in several multi-million dollar initiatives to address the underrepresentation and inequitable outcomes of certain student groups, and has recently rewritten its statement of goals to emphasize inclusion and increasing diversity. Our department is a change-leader in these college- and university-level efforts and is undergoing its own NSF-funded reform activities, one outcome of which is that nearly half of our faculty have gone participated in 60-hour trainings focused on inclusion, difference, equity, oppression and power. Within this department the three co-authors are deeply involved in social-justice-oriented change efforts. In other words, the important context for our stories is that we are actively working to educate ourselves and others within a university, college and department structure that explicitly values equity and inclusive social justice. However, even with all this preparation and even in this particularly progressive environment, we have felt unprepared for certain experiences. Our research and education in social justice had prepared us with narratives about the challenges facing reform efforts: resistant colleagues, well-intentioned misinterpretations, or even compassion fatigue. We have encountered very few narratives, however, concerning the inevitable missteps and difficulties arising from within the reform efforts themselves. We found ourselves disproportionately discouraged, therefore, when we faced challenges arising from our own efforts. We believe that these challenges are normal but underreported, and therefore seek to raise their prominence here. We choose to report on these challenges through first-person narratives of our experiences in order to center on the individuality of our experiences of the system. The purpose of this paper is to share some of those experiences that we felt were particularly challenging in order to normalize the process of change and to alleviate some of the demotivational power by making such narratives more commonplace. In particular, we have three stories to share: an undergraduate student experiencing microaggressions in a group explicitly designed to foster and model inclusive practices; a faculty member trying to facilitate that group and address those microaggressions, and; a graduate student collecting and reporting her colleagues’ negative experiences in a positive and productive way.

Colcer, L., & Smith, C., & Montfort, D. (2017, June), Problems of Our Own Devising: Individuals' Challenges in Enacting Systemic Changes to Increase the Inclusivity of Engineering Departments Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28758

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