ASEE Safe Zone Workshops and Virtual Community of Practice to Promote LGBTQ Equality in Engineering
Even though recent years have seen significant advances in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) equality in the U.S. through legislation and social acceptance, research shows that LGBTQ students and faculty on college campuses still experience exclusion and dis-crimination. This paper describes a transformative project that links diversity research with a faculty development initiative to promote LGBTQ equality in engineering. The aims of the pro-ject are to (1) identify aspects of engineering culture that present barriers to LGBTQ equality, (2) build knowledge and skills to disrupt discrimination and promote LGBTQ equality in engineer-ing departments on college campuses and (3) to identify best practices for promoting LGBTQ equality in engineering. This project uses a transformative, cyclical mixed-method research model to provide a basis for social change. The transformative research generates new knowledge of engineering culture through surveys of engineering deans, faculty and students as well as ethnographic participant observations during Safe Zone training sessions with engineer-ing faculty. The cyclical aspect of the project plan integrates this new knowledge into another level of Safe Zone training sessions that address engineering culture more specifically.
Safe Zone is a term commonly used in schools and workplaces to describe both a learning expe-rience (workshops) as well as the individuals who have completed the training. Safe Zone Workshops create a visible network of LGBTQ-affirming faculty who contribute to creating a positive and inclusive climate. While most Safe Zone initiatives are campus/workplace-wide, the workshops described in this paper were specifically designed for engineering departments. Over 270 engineering educators have attended the 26 Safe Zone Workshops offered at the ASEE Annual Conference during the first two years that they were offered. Evaluation results from the first two years indicated a clear call to expand the workshops and nurture the conversation about LGBTQ inclusion in engineering.
To meet this need and to expand the impact of the Safe Zone Workshops, a Virtual Community of Practice (VCP) was established through this project in 2015. The VCP relies on technology to support the creation of a scalable and sustainable model for sharing knowledge, tools and re-sources to promote LGBTQ inclusion in environments that are traditionally difficult to penetrate. Using a two-tiered, train-the-trainer structure, two experts trained a cohort of twenty leaders to facilitate online and face-to-face Safe Zone Workshops and lead a Virtual Community of Prac-tice for engineering faculty.
The VCP redesigned the Level 1 workshops and developed Level 2 workshops with content in-formed by emerging research on LGBTQ inclusion in STEM. The workshops were launched online in spring 2016 and in person at the ASEE Annual Conference in 2016. This paper pre-sents an update on the overall project and presents the evaluation results of the Safe Zone Level 2 workshops.
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