LGBTQ+ Engineering Students: Culture, (Non)Visibility, and Resistance

Yang, Jerry Austin
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Recent efforts in diversity and inclusion in the engineering fields are beginning to unpack the various ways that underrepresented groups, such as racial and gender minorities, are marginalized in STEM. One key group that has been overlooked by many such programs is LGBTQ+ engineering students. Given their consistently negative experiences in engineering, such as homophobia and heteronormativity, there is a dearth of research on how LGBTQ+ engineering students may resist these challenges and create spaces in engineering in which they can thrive. I report on the results of a two-year mixed-methods study of LGBTQ+ electrical engineering students at a large public flagship university in the southwestern United States. Surveys (n = 854) and focus groups (n = 9) were conducted to capture the current climate, senses of belonging, and engineering identities of LGBTQ+ engineering students at the host institution as well as explore the ways in which the participants navigated and created space for themselves in engineering. Preliminary results show that participants used a variety of techniques to craft communities of support around them and gained institutional status to resist dominant forms of marginalization in engineering. These results suggest that LGBTQ+ students are already creating grassroots forms of change within their personal contexts, and engineering departments must continue to support and enable student efforts toward diversity and inclusion. This study has significant implications for research and practice, as these forms of resistance and grassroots change must be acknowledged by researchers, educators, and practitioners alike as they continue to move forward with diversity and inclusion initiatives.