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Recently, white supremacists rebranded as the “alt-right” have waged a national media campaign targeting critical education scholars, including STEM education diversity research and our commitments to equity, inclusion, and social justice. Many campuses have been besieged by white supremacist activity seeking to incite violence and attract media attention.
In this climate, many of today’s students are encountering conversations around difference, power, and privilege amid a flurry of alt-right propaganda, exposed in a new way to overtly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, or ableist ideas through new media. This is a high-stakes, low-safety environment for all learners, presenting particular challenges for instructors.
This paper calls for a return to first principles, for us to make the case again and anew for the importance and value of diversity, inclusion and social justice, and especially the importance of dismantling white privilege and white supremacy, in higher education and in engineering. This paper thus revisits the arguments for diversity made in past decades and re-examines them in the light of re-invigorated white supremacist movements in the United States and Europe. It reviews the literature on proven successful strategies for countering hate activities in classrooms and on campuses. It calls for the explicit incorporation of these in engineering curricula without delay, and for widespread professional development of instructors, building on the success of the recent ASEE and NSF sponsored Safe Zone workshops.
Donna Riley is Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.
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