Last spring, one of my engineering classes assigned a class period to talk about ethics in engineering. The aim was to discuss intellectual property, designing products to fail, and the like. At one point, a student brought up sexual assault, diversity, and inclusion, hoping to discuss interpersonal ethics. Male peers turned this into a joke and our male professor swiftly dismissed it.
Afterward, my friends and I discussed how shocking and heartbreaking this experience was. In engineering fields, white males historically dominate, sexual assault is a known problem, and diverse representation and equality are still lacking. It is disturbing to see a female peer spoken over and shut down after bringing up concerns about these issues during an ethics focused class. Knowing that our university proudly boasts diversity statistics, especially in the engineering college, made this lack of empathy, especially jarring.
I emailed my professor with my concerns about brushing past such important topics but never received a response. Young intersectional people already grow up rarely seeing themselves in most industries and experience discrimination in their everyday lives. Not hearing discussions about why this is or how to change it only further ingrains that they do not belong.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others sparked a demand for equity, equality, and justice in this country. Our country’s leader met these protests with condemnation. It is very clear that oppression and hate still fill this nation. A few days ago, Donald Trump banned diversity training in federal agencies, claiming they are anti-American. Our elementary school teachers tell us that America is a melting pot, a dream for immigrants. Now our president is telling us that if you are different, you are un-American, and your experience is not welcome.
Workplaces already often stop at once-a-year trainings, and now Trump is stopping federal agencies from even doing that. We cannot count on every employer to teach inclusion or support diversity, especially with our president discouraging just that. Universities do not know what work environments they are sending their students into; if we teach students the importance of diversity and inclusion and how to have these uncomfortable conversations, they can impact the workplace they enter.
Those not targeted by discrimination or oppression will not understand the effects of their actions until they are told. Universities are not starting these conversations about inclusion and empathy before sending students into fields where these harmful behaviors thrive. Without being in an environment that requires and encourages these conversations, those who have the upper hand will never understand the importance of these issues. By not teaching their students empathetic and inclusive behaviors, universities are contributing to the problem.
A university that advertises its diverse population should be the perfect environment to promote these conversations in a way that makes people feel safe. Instead, my peers and I feel ignored, hurt, and scared. We are supposed to be the generation of change, yet some of my own peers are proud of their sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes, and no one stops them.
We are living through a pandemic that is exposing stark racial inequalities, months of protests demanding help and acknowledgment from those in power, and our president calling diversity training divisive propaganda. Conversations about the inequalities in our country and classrooms are crucial and pressing. The change will not come until those on top understand why the change is necessary. Inclusive conversations lead to an empathetic understanding, which will give us the best shot at the change we need.