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Over the past decade, much attention has focused on change-making efforts, especially those funded by the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments program. We bring together theory on agency and intersectional power to investigate a research question: • How and over what/whom do faculty engaged in departmental change efforts express agency, with attention to structural, cultural, normative, and interpersonal power relations? We draw upon recordings of faculty meetings and interviews across multiple change teams and years to characterize consequential change agency. Analysis of these highlights how accounts of contentious events reveals power dynamics at play, and ways those in power prevent or promote change. We argue that key elements of change agency include meeting others where they are, sharing agency with them (“we”), using potential control verbs (can, could, might, etc.), acknowledging their concerns, and inviting them into the effort in ways that suggest ownership.
While changing engineering departments to become more inclusive and equitable is a common goal, research repeatedly confirms that such change is rare. Notably, change efforts commonly fail in higher education institutions (Kezar 2011), and this failure is typically attributed to faculty resistance, ineffective leadership, competing values, and conservative traditions (Klempin and Karp 2018). Recent nationwide National Science Foundation-funded efforts to revolutionize engineering departments provide insight into the salience of power dynamics as drivers of or barriers to equitable, lasting change. We interviewed members of these change teams to understand the challenges they encountered and how they navigated these. Using an intersectionality framework (Collins & Bilge, 2016) we explored four lenses on power relations: (1) from a structural lens, we see that policies may affect individuals differently based on their social and role identities; (2) from a cultural lens, ideas and culture organize power, often blinding those with privilege from noticing bias; (3) from a disciplinary lens, people train and coerce each other to behave in certain ways and to sustain norms; and (4) from an interpersonal lens, we see that an individual’s social (e.g., gender, ethnicity) and role (career, position, voluntary memberships) identities can shape how they experience bias. Usingmore »
We (the facilitators) work as social scientists and engineering education researchers from different universities on the NSF-supported program, Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) ( https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17501/nsf17501.htm ). We began to notice how power and privilege were enacted on our teams, which consisted of diverse team members (e.g., diverse in disciplinary affiliation, role in the university, gender, race, LGBTQIA+ status). This motivated a research project and workshops/special sessions such as the one proposed here, where we explore how power and privilege are enacted within interdisciplinary teams so that we can begin to dismantle systemic oppressions within academia  ,  . The POWER special session (Privilege and Oppression: Working for Equitable Recourse) was developed to guide engineering educators to identify and understand the intersectional nature of power and privilege before planning strategies to disrupt, disarm, and dismantle it.