(196f) Integrating Anti-Racism and Social Justice throughout the Chemical Engineering Curriculum to Create More Conscious Engineers | AIChE

(196f) Integrating Anti-Racism and Social Justice throughout the Chemical Engineering Curriculum to Create More Conscious Engineers


Abegunde, A. - Presenter, Northwestern University
Archuleta, C., Colorado School of Mines
Simitz, L., Northwestern University
Cole, J., Northwestern University
Sanroman, K., Northwestern University
Traditional chemical engineering homework and in-class problems are often theoretical or simplified and lack societal context. However, a design made without context may only work for the demographics of the person(s) creating the design and unmarries the work of chemical engineers from the tangible impacts the field has on the world. In these contextless problems, students aren’t given the opportunity to consider the positive or negative impact of their design on different demographic groups. Working towards de-centering western civilization, being sensitive to oppressions, integrating more cultural context and ethics into teaching, and reflecting on the role of identity in and outside chemical engineering will encourage critical thinking with an equity lens [1]. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Black and anti-Asian racism and violence, institutes of higher learning, which have historically exacerbated systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact minorities and people of color, need to critically rethink and redesign curriculum to be more widely inclusive, accommodating, and thoughtful of social justice. Incorporating context, such as the context in human-centered design or service learning, provides relevancy for students and improves learning, engagement, and increased community engagement [2]-[3]. There are already examples of institutions and faculty incorporating social justice and environmental considerations into their curriculum through human-centered design and service learning and a few who are incorporating context into class examples [4]. However, we have yet to see evidence of incorporating anti-racist and social justice principles in a systematic and curriculum-wide way within a chemical engineering context. Thus, we present an approach to normalize anti-racism and social justice ideals throughout curriculum, rather than presenting them as one-off, disconnected ideas, such that these become virtues students gain and take with them into their professional careers after graduating. Our work is part of a larger effort of the Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ARDEI) Committee in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Northwestern University, which is comprised of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty. The larger goal of the committee is to work together to build and contribute to a Department that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive through actionable ideas that the Department can pursue together to make lasting change in its culture. Collectively we tackled the initiative of incorporating anti-racism and social justice into the undergraduate curriculum. We aimed to find a low-cost, low-barrier-to-entry method for faculty to include anti-racism and social justice into the classroom. Specifically, we advocate for the inclusion of these principles into homework problems and course project designs at all course levels. In order to achieve this goal and get faculty support, we decided to create a bank of example problems, spanning freshmen to senior courses, incorporating critical thinking or example problems with the context of anti-racism and social justice. We subsequently shared these example problems with the faculty and invited them to bring example problems from their courses to a workshop where we help them incorporate these principles into the desired problem. We also aimed to incorporate anti-racism and social justice principles into lectures. For example, in the senior design course, topics of environmental and social justice are worked into lectures along with the term-long process design project, where traditionally economic and technical evaluations were emphasized, now environmental and societal impact evaluations are required for decision making in the feasibility study. Though most faculty are not trained in anti-racism work, we hope to alleviate this challenge and lower the barrier by working with them to create these examples. Additionally, we must carefully manage our work to ensure the anti-racism and social justice contexts and materials included do not lead to unintentional harm. We hope our work will serve as an example that other institutions can follow to incorporate anti-racism and social justice into the chemical engineering curriculum. However, we importantly note that this should not be the only actions taken by an institution to participate in anti-racism and social justice; otherwise the inclusion of anti-racism into courses will be seen as hypocritical if the institution is not also working towards making more equitable, inclusive, safe learning spaces. This work can be seen as one of many important steps in creating these improved learning spaces and ideally lead to more anti-racist and socially just engineers.

[1] D. Riley, “Engineering and Social Justice,” Synthesis Lectures on Engineers, Technology, and Society, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1–152, Jan. 2008, doi: 10.2200/S00117ED1V01Y200805ETS007.

[2] Y. Wang and R. Rodgers, “Impact of Service-Learning and Social Justice Education on College Students’ Cognitive Development,” NASPA Journal, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 316–337, Jul. 2006, doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1642.

[3] C. Baillie, A. Pawley, and D. Riley, “Developing human-centered design practices and perspectives through service-learning / Monica E. Cardella, Carla B. Zoltowski, and William C. Oakes,” in Engineering and Social Justice: In the University and Beyond, West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2008.

[4] L. J. Hirshfield and H. B. Mayes, “Incorporating Inclusivity and Ethical Awareness into Chemical Reaction Engineering,” Chemical Engineering Education, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 215–219, 2019.



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