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The Inequality of LGBTQ Students in U.S. Engineering Education: Report on a Study of Eight Engineering Programs

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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


Erin A. Cech University of Michigan

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Dr. Erin Cech is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. Before coming to Michigan in 2016, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and was on faculty at Rice University. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2011 from the University of California, San Diego and undergraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Sociology from Montana State University. Cech's research examines cultural mechanisms of inequality reproduction--specifically, how inequality is reproduced through processes that are not overtly discriminatory or coercive, but rather those that are built into seemingly innocuous cultural beliefs and practices. Her work on inequality in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions focuses on the recruitment and retention of women, LGBTQ, and racial/ethnic minority persons in STEM degree programs and STEM jobs. Cech’s research is funded by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation, including the first grant ever awarded by NSF to study LGBTQ inclusion in STEM.

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Tom J. Waidzunas Temple University

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Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Temple University

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Stephanie Farrell Rowan University

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Dr. Stephanie Farrell is Professor and Founding Chair of Experiential Engineering Education at Rowan University (USA) and was 2014-15 Fulbright Scholar in Engineering Education at Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland). From 1998-2016, Stephanie was a faculty member in Chemical Engineering at Rowan. Dr. Farrell has contributed to engineering education through her work in experiential learning, focusing on areas of pharmaceutical, biomedical and food engineering. She has been honored by the American Society of Engineering Education with several teaching awards such as the 2004 National Outstanding Teaching Medal and the 2005 Quinn Award for experiential learning.

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Research over the last three decades has provided extensive documentation of processes that reproduce inequalities for women and racial-ethnic minorities in engineering education. In contrast, scholars are only beginning to understand the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals in engineering. Cumulatively, the limited research that does exist suggests that LGBTQ-identifying individuals encounter stereotypes and bias and report negative experiences that fit within a spectrum of discrimination. However, due to data limitations, research has not yet been able to document LGBTQ inequality relative to the experiences of non-LGBTQ students at the same institution. In this paper, we utilize new survey data on over 1700 students (both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ) from eight engineering colleges across the U.S. to paint the landscape of inequalities for LGBTQ students. Specifically, we ask, (1) do LGBTQ students experience greater marginalization than their classmates and (2) is their engineering work more likely to be devalued? (3) Do LGBTQ students experience greater personal consequences than their peers in terms of stress, insomnia, and unhappiness? (4) Do these LGBTQ inequalities vary by school? We find that LGBTQ students face greater marginalization, devaluation and personal consequences relative to their peers. There is little variation in the negative climate for LGBTQ students across the eight schools we study, suggesting that LGBTQ inequality is part of the professional culture of engineering that pervades most engineering programs. Broadly speaking, these initial results highlight crucial considerations regarding the inclusion and respect of talented engineering students and the importance of addressing patterns of disadvantage to promote the inclusion of all students.

Cech, E. A., & Waidzunas, T. J., & Farrell, S. (2017, June), The Inequality of LGBTQ Students in U.S. Engineering Education: Report on a Study of Eight Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28981

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