Diversity and Inclusion Begin With Trust
To address racism, engineering educators must forge relationships and collaborations.
Opinion By the LATTICE Team
We are the LATTICE (Launching Academics on the Tenure Track: an Intentional Community in Engineering) team—a diverse group of researchers, practitioners, and faculty who have worked together for five years to advance faculty diversity in engineering. The killing of George Floyd catalyzed a national reckoning with racial injustice and the need to dismantle anti-Blackness in engineering. Here we share how we built trust within our group, worked across differences, and collectively addressed equity in engineering.
We came to the LATTICE project with limited connections across the group and different lived experiences based on race and ethnicity, religion, career stage, sexuality, parental status, and academic discipline. Such differences often exist in groups that come together to dismantle racism. We began our work by getting to know one another and developing who we were as a group. We spent significant time building trust and reciprocal relationships.
Our team met twice a month for nearly 20 months before we implemented our first symposium. We began each team meeting with “worlds checks,” a concept borrowed from the Loving Leadership curriculum, which emphasizes the central role healthy relationships, compassion, and understanding play in leadership. Each person shared a personal update to provide context for our work that day. These checks connected us, deepened our relationships, and offered a structure for sharing ourselves on our own terms. Early on we held a team retreat in which we shared stories of meaningful identities, project visions and goals, and concerns about our collective work. We continue to learn about each other’s experiences, expertise, and disciplines, which helps us learn how to engage with authenticity and respect about topics like racism, heteronormativity, and sexism within the academy.
We learned that to interrupt the deeply entrenched systems of racism in engineering, we had to connect engineering and social science. We sought to expand our team’s literacy in core principles from the liberal arts to understand systemic inequities, cultural phenomena reproducing racism in engineering, and ways to dismantle this racist system. We each had different understandings of racism in engineering, from lived experiences to programmatic experiences to scholarly expertise. The social scientists on our team shared relevant theoretical concepts. We also used our programmatic and personal experiences to frame new theoretical knowledge. For us, addressing racism in engineering involved a collaborative approach in which engineers came together with social scientists.
We recognize that the institutional transformation necessary to eradicate racism from engineering education requires a long-term investment. Through LATTICE, we learned that building relationships and coalitions is hard work. We had some glitches and hurt feelings along the way, and we willingly learned from our missteps. Even as a group that is committed to advancing women, and especially women of color, we still had moments when we reproduced racism—for example, centering White women’s experiences in engineering and diminishing Black women’s experiences. However, because we invested the time to build trust and relationships, we could call each other in when this happened and work to do better. We would not have been able to talk authentically about race and racism in engineering without this groundwork.
Racism in engineering is systemically entrenched, yet many engineers have been unwilling to acknowledge it—let alone feel its impact or do the critical work to dismantle it. There are no quick solutions, one-day trainings, or instant coalitions to eradicate it. Interrupting the reproduction of racism in engineering requires continuous work and commitment to cultivating the necessary knowledge and skill sets. Relationship-building takes time, but it is critical and worth the investment. Our experience suggests that intentional relationship development is absolutely necessary for this work. We did not let our mistakes and discomfort diminish our commitment to each other or our efforts to bring racial justice to engineering. As Julie Posselt notes in her 2020 book Equity in Science, “Successful partnerships of diverse people seeking equity and inclusion goals involve more reflection and honest dialogue than is typical in the academy.” Transformation requires an ongoing reckoning with how our relationships, actions, systems, processes, and words reproduce racism. It requires interdisciplinary expertise and commitment to dialogue. The LATTICE collaboration was a true intersectional effort to increase diversity among early-career women in engineering and to improve their sense of belonging. Let us all make the long-term commitment to work together to eradicate racism from engineering and create institutional mechanisms that value and advance this work.
The members of the LATTICE team (https://advance.washington.edu/lattice) are Joyce Yen, director of University of Washington (UW) ADVANCE; Cara Margherio, assistant director of the UW Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity; Eve Riskin, professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty director of UW ADVANCE; Burren Peil, Ph.D. student in human-centered design and engineering at UW; Coleen Carrigan, associate professor of anthropology and science, technology, and society at Cal Poly–San Luis Obispo; Julie Ivy, professor of industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina State University; and Claire Horner-Devine, founder of Counterspace Consulting, LLC, and staff at UW.