In the fall of 2012, my advisor, Dr. Marie Paretti, and one of my committee members, Dr. Lisa McNair, nominated me to the Virginia Tech diversity scholars program. Diversity scholars are graduate students who specialize in, and advocate for, the awareness, knowledge, and skills associated with diversity and inclusion in the graduate school and greater community. The goal of the diversity scholars program is to generate dialogue, provide advocacy, and implement change to lead to a more diverse and inclusive experience for all graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators.
One of the things that I discovered through my reading on sexual identity in engineering was that many LGBTQ engineering students experience engineering programs as a fearful and isolating space for people who are outside of heterosexual gender norms. Many students who are out to their friends and family outside of engineering still feel the need to pass as straight in their engineering circles. There is a perception that engineering culture does not value non-heterosexual individuals, and indeed that gay people are somehow not meant to be engineers. My own research has backed this up. Participants in a study I’m currently conducting have spoken about the importance of seeing other visible gay people and allies in engineering, while at the same time not making themselves visible to other engineers due to the personal risks of doing so in an engineering culture that does not always value difference.
The goal of my diversity scholars project is to start to change this here at Virginia Tech. I am developing a special session of Virginia Tech’s Safe Zone training program targeted at department heads in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. My goal is to get influential members of the engineering community at Virginia Tech to become visible allies to LGBTQ engineers, in line with my research interest of social change in engineering. Regardless of whether the department heads join Safe Zone or not, this training will hopefully make them aware of the issues facing their LGBTQ students and enable a shift in the culture of their departments.