(73g) Steps Toward Improving the Experience of Lgbtq Students in Our Chemical Engineering Departments

Authors: 
Butterfield, A. E., University of Utah
Farrell, S., Rowan University
The inclusion and retention of students who are part of a gender or sexual minority can involve some unique challenges for engineering faculty and department staff. However, these challenges are not well understood, and have only relatively recently became the subject of engineering education research.

Our LGBTQ students are often growing into their minority identities just as they begin to develop their engineering identities in our classrooms. They may feel forced to conceal their true selves, fearing professional penalties for speaking casually and honestly about their lives, as their non-LGBTQ peers and professors do. They may not themselves be comfortable with their orientation or gender identities and, while attempting to cope with the standard challenges of a chemical engineering degree, they may also be waging an intense internal struggle. This struggle may go on to result in their sudden loss of the love and support of their family and friends, or in hostility in our classrooms by peers or even faculty. Highly stressful experiences combined with an unwelcoming classroom environment have a negative impact on learning.

These challenges for the student are often met by an engineering culture that encourages hetero- and cis-normativity, and simultaneously poses topics of sex, orientation, and gender as taboo for a classroom or laboratory environment. In such an environment, it can be difficult to create a more inclusive chemical engineering department or even begin to address the hurdles faced by our LGBTQ students.

ASEE, with support from NSF, launched a Virtual Community of Practice that aims to (1) increase awareness of LGBTQ issues in engineering departments and classrooms (2) build knowledge and skills to disrupt discrimination and promote LGBTQ equality in engineering departments on college campuses and (3) to identify best practices for promoting LGBTQ equality in engineering. To advance these goals, twenty members of the VCP have created STEM-specific â??Safe-Zoneâ? (LGBTQ Ally-training) workshops for STEM educators to create more LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms and in departments. Through conference workshops at ASEE and AIChE and through webinars, about 400 engineering faculty have participated in the training to date. This presentation will discuss the results of our VCP to date, including best practices for creating an LGBTQ-inclusive learning environment in chemical engineering classrooms.

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