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Uncomfortable Conversations with Faculty and Students in Zoom: Experiences with diversity and inclusion spurred by police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S.

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 13 - Paper 3:Uncomfortable Conversations with Faculty and Students in Zoom: Experiences with diversity and inclusion spurred by police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S.

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Lance Leon Allen White Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Lance White is a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University in Interdisciplinary Engineering with a thrust in Engineering Education. He is working as a graduate research assistant at the Institute of Engineering Education and Innovation at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station at Texas A&M University under director Dr. Tracy Hammond. Dr. Karan Watson and Dr. Pavel Tsvetkov are his co-chairs. He completed his M.S. in Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University under Dr. Yassin Hassan working on experimental thermal hydraulics, and completed his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at West Texas A&M University.

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Tracy Anne Hammond Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Hammond is Director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Engineering Education & Innovation and also the chair of the Engineering Education Faculty. She is also Director of the Sketch Recognition Lab and Professor in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering. She is a member of the Center for Population and Aging, the Center for Remote Health Technologies & Systems as well as the Institute for Data Science. Hammond is a PI for over 13 million in funded research, from NSF, DARPA, Google, Microsoft, and others. Hammond holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and FTO (Finance Technology Option) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and four degrees from Columbia University: an M.S in Anthropology, an M.S. in Computer Science, a B.A. in Mathematics, and a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and Physics. Hammond advised 17 UG theses, 29 MS theses, and 10 Ph.D. dissertations. Hammond is the 2020 recipient of the TEES Faculty Fellows Award and the 2011 recipient of the Charles H. Barclay, Jr. '45 Faculty Fellow Award. Hammond has been featured on the Discovery Channel and other news sources. Hammond is dedicated to diversity and equity, which is reflected in her publications, research, teaching, service, and mentoring. More at and

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Samantha Ray Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Samantha Ray is a Computer Engineering PhD student at Texas A&M University. Her research focuses on creating intelligent systems for tasks that require human-like levels of understanding. She has previously worked on human activity recognition (HAR) systems for promoting healthy habits and educational tools using sketch recognition and eye tracking.

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Donna Jaison Texas A&M University

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Donna Jaison is a PhD student under Dr. Karan Watson in the Multidisciplinary Engineering Department at Texas A&M College Station. She is a Graduate research assistant at the Institute of Engineering Education and Innovation(IEEI) at Texas A&M University under director Dr. Tracy Hammond. She completed her MEng. in Computer Engineering with specialization in VLSI from Texas A&M University, College Station. She completed her Bachelors in Electrical Engineering with a Minor in Mathematics from Mississippi State University.

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Christine A Stanley Texas A&M University

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The culture within engineering colleges and departments has been historically quiet when considering social justice issues. Often the faculty in those departments are less concerned with social issues and are primarily focused on their disciplines and the concrete ways that they can make impacts academically and professionally in their respective arena’s. However, with the social climate of the United States shifting ever more towards a politically charged climate, and current events, particularly the protests against police brutality in recent years, faculty and students are constantly inundated with news of injustices happening in our society. The murder of George Floyd on May 25th 2020 sent shockwaves across the United States and the world. The video captured of his death shared across the globe brought everyone’s attention to the glaringly ugly problem of police brutality, paired with the COVID-19 pandemic, and US election year, the conditions were just right for a social activist movement to grow to a size that no one could ignore. Emmanuel Acho spoke out, motivated by injustices seen in the George Floyd murder, initially with podcasts and then by writing his book “Uncomfortable Converstations with a Black Man” [1]. In his book he touched on various social justice issues such as: racial terminology (i.e., Black or African American), implicit biases, white privilege, cultural appropriation, stereotypes (e.g., the “angry black man”), racial slurs (particularly the n-word), systemic racism, the myth of reverse racism, the criminal justice system, the struggles faced by black families, interracial families, allyship, and anti-racism.

Students and faculty at Anonymous University felt compelled to set aside the time to meet and discuss this book in depth through the video conferencing client Zoom. In these meetings diverse facilitators were tasked with bringing the topics discussed by Acho in his book into conversation and pushing attendees of these meetings to consider those topics critically and personally. In an effort to avoid tasking attendees with reading homework to be able to participate in these discussions, the discussed chapter of the audiobook version of Acho’s book was played at the beginning of each meeting. Each audiobook chapter lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes, after which forty to forty-five minutes were left in the hour-long meetings to discuss the content of the chapter in question. Efforts by students and faculty were made to examine how some of the teachings of the book could be implemented into their lives and at Anonymous University. For broader topics, they would relate the content back to their personal lives (e.g., raising their children to be anti-racist and their experiences with racism in American and international cultures). Each meeting was recorded for posterity in the event that those conversations would be used in a paper such as this.

Each meeting had at least one facilitator whose main role was to provide discussion prompts based on the chapter and ensure that the meeting environment was safe and inclusive. Naturally, some chapters address topics that are highly personal to some participants, so it was vital that all participants felt comfortable and supported to share their thoughts and experiences. The facilitator would intervene if the conversation veered in an aggressive direction. For example, if a participant starts an argument with another participant in a non-constructive manner, e.g., arguing over the definition of ethnicity, then the facilitator will interrupt, clear the air to bring the group back to a common ground, and then continue the discussion. Otherwise, participants were allowed to steer the direction of the conversation as new avenues of discussion popped up.

These meetings were recorded with the goal of returning to these conversations and analyzing the conversations between attendees. Grounded theory will be used to first assess the most prominent themes of discussion between attendees for each meeting [2]. Attendees will be contacted to expressly ask their permission to have their words and thoughts used in this work, and upon agreement that data will begin to be processed. Select attendees will be asked to participate in focus group discussions, which will also be recorded via Zoom. These discussions will focus around the themes pulled from general discussion and will aim to dive deeper into the impact that this experience has had on them as either students or faculty members. A set of questions will be developed as prompts, but conversation is expected to evolve organically as these focus groups interact. These sessions will be scheduled for an hour, and a set of four focus groups with four participants are expected to participate for a total of sixteen total focus group participants. We hope to uncover how this experience changed the lives of the participants and present a model of how conversations such as this can promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and access activities amongst faculty and students outside of formal programs and strategic plans that are implemented at university, college, or departmental levels.

White, L. L. A., & Hammond, T. A., & Ray, S., & Jaison, D., & Stanley, C. A. (2022, February), Uncomfortable Conversations with Faculty and Students in Zoom: Experiences with diversity and inclusion spurred by police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S. Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana.

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