Empowering Voices in Engineering

On September 15, 2017, two graduate students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) organized and hosted Empowering Voices in Engineering (EVE), the first of what they say will be many workshops focused on diversity and inclusion within the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Thanks to hours of commitment by MSE Ph.D students Zoey Warecki and Naila Al Hasan, EVE was designed to equip engineers with the knowledge and tools needed for meaningful conversations about race. In a confidential and open discussion, participants were able to talk and ask questions about tough racial issues faced by students and engineers.

In his opening remarks, Clark School Dean Darryll Pines explained, “This conversation today is about being open and honest with each other. This isn’t just one conversation—this is the start to a series of conversations to make us a better and more diverse community.”

Dean Pines stressed the important role that universities play in teaching diversity. “What I love about the university is that it brings people from around the world to sit together and solve problems together. I get to see how they bring their culture to solve a problem, and then a different culture to a different problem. The more diverse a team is, the more successful that team becomes.”

Divided into three workshop sessions, EVE focused on understanding racism and privilege, combating racial trauma, and identifying racism in day-to-day encounters in order to speak up against it.

The first session, “Understanding Racism and Building Community,” was led by Naliyah Kaya, coordinator for Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA). She engaged attendees in creating a community learning agreement, akin to “rules of engagement in the session.” She then defined the concepts of racism in its different forms, meritocracy, and implicit and unconscious bias and how they collectively tied in their impact on society.

Carlton Green of the University Counseling Center led the second workshop, “Self and Community Care in the Midst of Racial Trauma,” opening his session with breathing exercises—one of his many tips to caring for body and mind when facing the anxiety and stress of trauma.

Green also discussed symptoms of racial trauma, including fear, hypervigilance, headaches, insomnia, body aches, memory difficulty, self blame, confusion, shame, guilt, irritability, apathy, hopelessness, and risky behavior. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact the university's Counseling Center or Mental Health Services.

But it was when Green reviewed the timeline of racist incidents on the UMD campus—several of which mobilized Warecki and Al Hasan to organize the event—that the room of students, staff, and faculty fell silent.

“This workshop started out with a focus on having conversations within our Department of Materials Science and Engineering, but we knew we needed to expand,” said Warecki.

The final session of EVE, “Tools and Resources Needed to Speak Up,” was led by Professors Jason Nichols and Jonathan England from the African American Studies Department within the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Nichols began by explaining that, “although race is a social construction, [it] is very real in material reality. It affects people’s access to health benefits, education, food, housing, and too often it affects their quality of life.”

“When large sections of our population do not get the same opportunities, it hinders all of us,” said Nichols. “We rob them of their humanity and rob ourselves of the accomplishments they could have given.”

During their time, the lecturers defined several forms of racism, identified racism in day-to-day interactions, and prepared the audience for speaking up against it. One activity had attendees reviewing situations of microaggressions toward race, gender, sexuality and political standpoints.

Stressing the important difference between “respect” and “tolerance,” Nichols and England provided tactics on responding to racism and intolerance, and how others can be good allies instead of bystanders.

If you are facing racism, Nichols and England recommend the following response:

  1. Take a moment: Take a deep breath, compose yourself, and depress your anger.
  2. Express yourself: Tell them how their words or actions make you feel.
  3. Redirect: Direct a similar but reworded question or statement to them.
  4. Perspective: Allow both parties to talk about each of your perspectives, then discuss what you find problematic.
  5. Seek help: Reach out to campus resources, such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Counseling Center, and Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.

In his closing remarks, Dean Pines reflected on the events of 2017 that gave way to the EVE workshop, namely the death of Richard Collins III, a black student and an Army lieutenant at Bowie State University. “What happened in May has changed our campus forever and changed many people forever. We have a chance after this unfortunate tragedy to turn Maryland into a model campus for the rest of the nation.”

This EVE workshop is the first of many to come for the Clark School, as well as for the Maryland campus. In addition to the A. James Clark School of Engineering Diversity Plan, there is a University strategic plan for diversity and a recently formed Joint President/Senate Inclusion & Respect Task Force comprised of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni. This Task Force is charged with evaluating how best to nurture a climate that is respectful and inclusive of all members of the UMD community, standing against hate, and reaffirming the values that define the university.

More than a workshop, EVE is also a student led committee founded in MSE. If you would like to learn more or are interested in joining the committee, please email: eveumd@gmail.com

Read more in The Diamondback.

A. James Clark School of Engineering Resources:

University of Maryland Resources:

  • Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy
  • University Police / Department of Public Safety
    301-405-3333 or 911
    Unsure whether the situation is an urgent police matter? Call the non-emergency number to discuss: 301-405-3555.
  • Mental Health Services
    Mon–Fri, 8:30 am–4:30 pm
    Regarding psychiatric assessment and care.
  • Counseling Center
    24 hours, 7 days a week
  • Office of Student Conduct
    Mon–Fri, 8:30 am–4:30 pm
    Code of student conduct incident referral form

Published September 28, 2017