To understand the persisting gender and race disparities found in bodies of engineering students and professional engineers, engineering education equity researchers have mostly drawn on theories and methods of psychology. But increasingly, and from necessity, they are now engaging theories coming from the humanities and cultural studies. These include gender, race, and class theories, and less commonly, queer, crip, and intersectionality theories. Such disciplinary boundary crossing between engineering education and cultural studies research provides a rich opportunity to rethink the directions of not only engineering education equity research, but engineering education research altogether. Not coincidentally, it occurs at a time of a global awakening to inequities spurred by the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter organizing, and youth mobilizing against gun violence, particularly that inflicted on communities of color. But the ideas emerging from this work are profoundly unsettling in their questioning of long taken-for-granted assumptions, resulting in increased targeted harassment of STEM equity scholars, including engineering education equity scholars.
In this talk, I outline where attention of the field of engineering education equity research has so far been directed, and what it has accomplished. I then show how research that isn't intended to focus on engineering education equity paradoxically results in making arguments about equity (or its absence) through its very silence on these issues. Standard practice in such studies is to acknowledge their reliance on demographically limited populations (usually predominantly White and Asian/Asian-American men). But also standard is the failure to explain the implications of making research claims on such limited populations. This practice turns the voices of these limited populations into a voice representing engineers in general. This effect problematically elevates the voices of majority people over minoritized people, casts the issues of diversity, inclusion and equity as "not our problem," and solidifies the logics that maintain hegemonic colorblind or genderblind theories. This amounts to an effective and insidious cultural program to maintain profoundly inequitable power relations in engineering education.
Drawing on analogies from other fields, and supported by my recent work funded by NSF CAREER and published in the Journal of Engineering Education, I will demonstrate how important it is for majority researchers - people who identify as men, white, cis-gendered, class-privileged, able-bodied people, citizens, settlers, and individuals at the intersection of these and other categories - to analyze the majority position of power overtly in their research that they explicitly focus on other topics. Those of us in such majority social positions need to position ourselves in a visible, audible, and functional coalition with broader equity efforts and movements in order to disrupt the dominant logic that functions to maintain minoritized groups in an oppressed position while simultaneously blaming them for their oppression. I call on those who are positioned in majority groups, as I am, to "come get your people," to join me in turning our collective research attention on articulating and theorizing majority positions such as whiteness, masculinity, ableism, and a settler mindset to see how we devastatingly maintain engineering education as a predominantly white, male, and inequitable space. We must do this in order to then reconceive engineering education in more liberative and just ways. Because, folks, it's about power relations, and we are the ones who maintain them thus.
Speaker: 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.
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 feministengineering.org. 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.