(336b) Uncovering the Resiliency Strategies and out-Group Bias for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science Students | AIChE

(336b) Uncovering the Resiliency Strategies and out-Group Bias for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science Students


Haverkamp, A. - Presenter, Oregon State University
Bothwell, M., Oregon State University
Driskill, Q. L., Oregon State University
Montfort, D., Oregon State University
The study of gender in engineering continues to be highly relevant due to the persistence of the field’s domination by men and masculinity. Mainstream discourse on gender in STEM, however, has been kept in a “black box” for decades according to writer and researcher Allison Phipps. She states that the reliance on a simplistic gender binary unaccompanied by the nuances of racial, cultural, or sexual identities undermines engineering’s own political aims of gender equity. In other words, all of us are hindered when our conversations regarding gender are simplified to just “men vs. women.” The reduction of gender into these two categories invisibilizes engineering students whose gender does not exist in those two categories, such as nonbinary or genderqueer students. Additionally, the existing body of gender research in engineering education has not considered gender conformity, gender history, or transgender status as part of their analysis.

In order to address these issues, we are conducting a multi-phase research project that centers the voices and experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) undergraduate engineering students. The work reported here entails the first-phase of the study, a national outreach questionnaire. The instrument was designed using the Qualtrics platform, and the link distributed through email to undergraduate engineering programs and professional LGBTQ+ engineering organizations nationwide. The objective of the questionnaire was to identify, recruit, and give voice to as many TGNC undergraduate engineering students as possible. The questionnaire consisted of 16 Likert-scale items and 7 open-text prompts, focusing on students’ perceptions of their own skills, community support, and personal resiliency strategies. In addition, the questionnaire requested suggestions for ways peers and faculty could improve the learning environment for TGNC students. Demographics on gender, disability, and race/ethnicity were also recorded. These results provide critical insight into the gendered social landscape of engineering for TGNC students.

Responses (n = 353) were separated into two categories: i) 301 respondents were identified as TGNC undergraduate students in engineering education, and ii) 52 respondents were identified as untruthful and malicious repliers. Likert-scale questions were analyzed through descriptive statistics in IBM SPSS for the 301 TGNC responders. The open-word responses were thematically coded in ATLAS.ti for both TGNC and untruthful participants.

TGNC student responders. This group reported having a great number of engineering skills as well as strengths outside of the classroom. Examples of abilities listed ranged from computational and theoretical skills to relational and emotional abilities. The TGNC students most frequently found supportive community outside of engineering or STEM contexts, but those who did have TGNC or LGBTQ+ engineering student peers noted the positive impact those relationships had upon their sense of belonging. While dominant narratives for improving the sense of inclusion for TGNC students often center around pronoun usage and bathroom access, the TGNC participants of this study identified other means for improving their program’s environments. In particular, the most cited recommendation called for broad cultural changes in engineering undergraduate education towards heightened levels of kindness, compassion, and understanding. The second densest coding reflected in the data was the suggestion to include social justice education within engineering education core courses.

Untruthful responders. This group wrote hate speech and profanity, and even directly targeted the graduate student researcher by name in their responses. Hate speech did not solely target TGNC individuals; respondents just as frequently engaged in anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and antisemitic rhetoric. Most respondents used internet slang commonly associated with “alt-right” or White Nationalist online sub-communities, which radicalize and recruit primarily in virtual spaces. Queer theoretical frameworks and scholarship help to contextualize this data by underscoring the connectedness of identity-based marginalization. In particular, race, gender, and body are not separate categories of difference. Rather, they are all mutually co-created and reinforced by one another. Backlash to the research team through biased responses and personal emails far exceeded our expectations. Efforts to advance inclusivity must also include an understanding of exclusionary processes and rhetoric. Analyzing untruthful and malicious responses provides a unique avenue for understanding such exclusion.

Next Steps. The outreach questionnaire provided the research team with an initial view into the lives, identities, and success strategies of TGNC engineering and computer science students. These results have been used to inform subsequent research activities including phone conversations and in-person ethnographic site visits, both of which provide deeper, complimentary, and context-specific narrative data.


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