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Translating Theory on Color-blind Racism to an Engineering Education Context: Illustrations from the Field of Engineering Education

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Expanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Engineering Cultures from a Theoretical Perspective

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Alice L. Pawley Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Alice Pawley is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. Prof. Pawley's goal through her work at Purdue is to help people, including the engineering education profession, develop a vision of engineering education as more inclusive, engaged, and socially just. She runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education (FREE, formerly RIFE, group), whose diverse projects and alumni are described at She received a CAREER award in 2010 and a PECASE award in 2012 for her project researching the stories of undergraduate engineering women and men of color and white women. She has received ASEE-ERM’s best paper award for her CAREER research, and the Denice Denton Emerging Leader award from the Anita Borg Institute, both in 2013. She was co-PI of Purdue’s ADVANCE program from 2008-2014, focusing on the underrepresentation of women in STEM faculty positions. She helped found, fund, and grow the PEER Collaborative, a peer mentoring group of early career and recently tenured faculty and research staff primarily evaluated based on their engineering education research productivity. She can be contacted by email at

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Joel Alejandro Mejia University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Joel Alejandro (Alex) Mejia is an assistant professor of General Engineering at the University of San Diego. His current research investigates the funds of knowledge of Latinx adolescents, and how they use these funds of knowledge to solve engineering problems in their communities. Dr. Mejia is particularly interested in how Latinx adolescents bring forth unique ways of knowing, doing, and being that provide them with particular ways of framing, approaching, and solving engineering problems. Dr. Mejia’s primary research interests lie at the intersection of engineering education, literacy, and social justice. He is particularly interested in engineering critical literacies, Chicanx Cultural Studies frameworks and pedagogies in engineering education, and critical consciousness in engineering through social justice.

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Renata A. Revelo University of Illinois at Chicago

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Renata A. Revelo is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her B.S. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering and her Ph.D. in Education Organization and Leadership from the University of Illinois.

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Researchers across the engineering education research spectrum are investigating engineering and engineering education’s persistent racial homogeneity. Administrators and instructors alike talk about how they want their classrooms to be more racially diverse, and yet despite the herculean efforts of “minority in engineering” programs and the like, the needle has moved little. In this position paper, we describe a theoretical lens developed in critical race theory that has so far had little influence in engineering education to thinking about race although we consider it to have ample affordances. This lens is a theoretical framework developed by sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva called “color-blind racism,” and comprises 4 frames: abstract liberalism, cultural racism, naturalization, and minimization of racism. Because the author team sees great value in understanding how cultural values and practices associated with a US experience of Whiteness have been built into U.S. engineering education, we offer here an articulation of these frames, and illustrate each frame through a curated set of stories drawn from our experiences as K-12 students, as undergraduate engineering students, and as engineering faculty at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). We note some limitations of the color-blind racism theory as we have applied it, offer some practical applications of the theory to consider, and issue a call to action for both engineering education researchers and engineering instructors.

Pawley, A. L., & Mejia, J. A., & Revelo, R. A. (2018, June), Translating Theory on Color-blind Racism to an Engineering Education Context: Illustrations from the Field of Engineering Education Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31161

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015