ASEE safe zone workshops and virtual community of practice to promote LGBTQ equality in engineering

Stephanie Farrell, Erin A. Cech, Rocio C.Chavela Guerra, Adrienne Minerick, Tom J. Waidzunas

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Even though recent years have seen significant advances in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) equality in the U.S. through legislation and social acceptance, research shows that LGBTQ students and faculty on college campuses still experience exclusion and discrimination. This paper describes a transformative project that links diversity research with a faculty development initiative to promote LGBTQ equality in engineering. The aims of the project are to (1) identify aspects of engineering culture that present barriers to LGBTQ equality, (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. Safe Zone Workshops create a visible network of LGBTQ-affirming faculty who contribute to creating a positive and inclusive climate in engineering departments. A Virtual Community of Practice (VCP) works together to support individual members to take action to advance LGBTQ equality in their departments. Over 270 engineering educators have attended the 20 Safe Zone Workshops offered at the ASEE Annual Conference in the last two years. Evaluation results indicate that the content of the Safe Zone Workshops has been appropriately tailored to an audience of engineering educators, and that there is a clear call to expand the workshops and nurture the conversation about LGBTQ inclusion in engineering. Online technology is being used to create a scalable and sustainable model for sharing knowledge, tools and resources to promote LGBTQ inclusion in environments that are traditionally difficult to penetrate. Using a two-tiered, train-the-trainer structure, two experts trained a cohort of twenty leaders to facilitate online and face-to-face Safe Zone Workshops and lead a Virtual Community of Practice for engineering faculty. The workshops and VCP are being launched in early 2016. This project uses a transformative, cyclical mixed-method research model to provide a basis for social change. The transformative research generates new knowledge of engineering culture through surveys of engineering deans, faculty and students as well as ethnographic participant observations during Safe Zone training sessions with engineering faculty. The cyclical aspect of the project plan integrates this new knowledge into another level of Safe Zone training sessions that address engineering culture more specifically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 26 2016
Event123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2016Jun 29 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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