Duncan Mullins: Featured LGBTQ+ Ally

1/10   in the series AIChE Celebrates Pride Month

June is Pride Month in the U.S. This year, AIChE observes Pride Month by talking to LGBTQ+ chemical engineers and their allies to hear some of their individual stories, challenges, achievements, and more.  

AIChE began the series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies in addition to the Pride Month series as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include a variety of LGBTQ+ programs and events at last year’s Annual Meeting and this year’s Spring Meeting. These programs and events are all supported by the AIChE Foundation’s Doing a World of Good Campaign.

In this installment of our series, AIChE Celebrates Pride Month, we interviewed Duncan Mullins, who shared his story as an LGBTQ+ ally and a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education at the University at Buffalo.

Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work?

I am a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education at UB! A typical day involves either classes, working on homework for classes, being a TA (teaching assistant), or conducting research.

As a TA, I either hold office hours and facilitate student learning and solutions to homework, or I am running a lab session wherein I live-code for the students to solve and teach some skills. In regards to my current research, I work with the fabulous Dr. Jessica Swenson, doing qualitative research work. This currently involves analyzing interview data for words or phrases, and trying to build commonalities to better understand the engineering learning process in future faculty.

Can you recall an experience or the first experience when you identified as an ally of LGBTQ+ people?

Oh, absolutely. For me, it took place when I was still studying at Oklahoma State University for my master’s degree. I had an LGBTQ+ staff member who reported to me in one of my positions, and over the course of the semester, simply hearing their experiences and how they struggled with being out just made me frustrated.

I could see this incredible, amazing, competent and skilled human who was having a harder life simply because of who they loved. That was the first moment I remember feeling like I identified, definitively, as an ally.

Allies need to work to make improvements for the LGBTQ+ community, not simply abstain from making things worse.

Do you know people in the profession who struggle with being out in today’s workplace?

Yes, unfortunately. Universities are more welcoming than many places, but people can still be cruel. Even though there are systemic protections in the university, those protect against major discrimination. Protecting from microaggressions and undergraduate students making snide comments is much harder.

Does your organization do anything to foster inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people? If so, how do they engage allies?

My specific department does, yes. Several of the faculty are safe-zone trained and actively advocate for LGBTQ+ students and individuals. Within many of the courses taught by these professors, there is an active push for inclusion and acceptance. 

Duncan with his cats: Tidbit (12-year-old female, black and white) and Victor (4-year-old male, brown and gray).

Do you have any suggestions of what allies of LGBTQ+ people can do to help make their professional climate more safe, welcoming, and inclusive for diverse engineers?

Be present and show up. Let these diverse engineers know you are there, if you’re out, or supportive. Pride flags/stickers are great, supportive vocal comments that help in correcting and confronting bias or prejudice if it appears; and using gender neutral language whenever and wherever possible is a major clue in.

Being visible is most important. A vocal and visible ally is much more beneficial. It doesn’t have to be permanent, full time visibility, but if you never act or say anything to be an ally, no one will know you identify as an ally.

Allies need to work to make improvements for the LGBTQ+ community, not simply abstain from making things worse.

Are there any LGBTQ+ inspirations, role models, or moments in history that are important to you?

The spate of incoming and newer queer TV shows are amazing to me. The massive swing in positive representation is just incredible. Dan Levy stands out as a major recent one, but shows such as Young Royals, Love Victor, and Heartstopper are incredible.

What’s your dream getaway?

Anywhere with internet access, minimal people, restaurants, and great views of nature. As a graduate student, I don’t get much time to myself, so my dream getaway right now is a week with no responsibility, in an isolated place where I can sit and enjoy things; but with easily accessible places so I don’t have to do chores. A cabin in the woods, maybe in New Zealand.

Join AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community

This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives within AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.

The LGBTQ+ & Allies Community supports the IDEAL path. 

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Learn more about AIChE's Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.

Interested in helping?

Are you an LGBTQ+ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ+ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at chenected@aiche.org with the subject “Diversity and Inclusion.”