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Title: Professional shame as a socio-psychological mechanism for marginalization in engineering education.
BACKGROUND Previous work has identified the reality of structural constraints placed on engineering students from underrepresented gender, racial, or ethnic backgrounds, a process known as minoritization. Students from minoritized and marginalized backgrounds are often expected to overcome additional obstacles in order to be successful in engineering or to claim identity as an engineer. Such a cultural backdrop contributes to the experience of professional shame, which has not yet been characterized in the lived experiences of engineering students who identify with minoritized backgrounds. PURPOSE We contend that professional shame is a major factor in both creating and perpetuating cycles of marginalization that inhibit students from forming a professional identity as an engineer or succeeding in their academic program. Anchored in theoretical foundations of psychology and sociology, we define professional shame as a painful emotional experience that occurs when individuals perceive themselves to be wholly inadequate in relation to identity-relevant standards within a professional domain. In this paper, we examine the lived experiences of professional shame in undergraduate engineering students in the United States who identify with racial, gender, or ethnic backgrounds that are minoritized within the structural constraints of their engineering programs. METHODS To answer our research question: How do students from minoritized gender, racial or ethnic backgrounds experience professional shame within the context of engineering education? We conducted an interpretative methodological analysis (IPA). Specifically, we conducted semi-structured interviews with junior engineering majors (n = 7) from two predominantly white institutions (PWIs) who self-identified as being from a minoritized gender, racial, or ethnic background. We found IPA to be especially effective in answering our research question while affirming the nuances of the diversity found in our participants’ gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds. We carefully analyzed the interview transcripts, generating descriptive, linguistic, and contextual comments. These comments informed multiple emergent themes for each participant, which were subsequently integrated into robust themes that characterized the psychological experiences shared by all participants. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS Our findings are summarized in four robust, psychological themes. First, minoritized identities were salient in moments of professional shame. Second, in response to professional shame, students sought out confirmation of belonging within the engineering space. Third, their perception of engineering as an exceptionally difficult major that required exceptional smartness intensified the shame experience. And, finally, participants experienced a tension between wanting to adhere to engineering stereotypes and wanting to diverge from or alter engineering stereotypes. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPLICATIONS Through examining participants’ experiences of shame and subsequent struggle to belong and claim identity as an engineer, we seek to address efforts in bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion that may be hindered by the permeation of professional shame in the experience of minoritized students. We see these findings as critical in giving insight on how minoritization occurs and so that equity can become a systemic objective for everyone in the engineering community rather than the burden only on the shoulders of those who are marginalized by the community.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2045392 1752897
NSF-PAR ID:
10327158
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the Research in Engineering Education Symposium & Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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