An african american women’s experience in an engineering class

I was going through one of those routine insurance checks when, on hearing I am in both philosophy and engineering, the woman taking my data told me about her daughter’s experience at another Texas university.

Her daughter has wanted to be an engineer since she was a little girl. A college education for her has meant a combination of scholarships and loans. In order to save money, she decided to go to a community college near home for two years and then transfer. So in her first class at a university, her professor asked about her background. When told he said, ‘Houston Community College can’t teach you anything. You don’t belong here, and I’m going to get you out of this class in ten days.’

Of course, the science community has supposedly woken up to the fact that the country can’t afford to trash the talents of women and African Americans, but it seems the word is slow to spread.

The young woman survived the class, despite his ignoring her and the other woman in the class, solely addressing the male students, etc.

So I asked her to find out his name, said I’d write to the prof’s chair and the dean, but, as my partner pointed out, that’s not going to change much. Still, maybe we have to settle for just very tiny moves forward.

What do you think?

Also, the university is not mine; it’s the one up in the Texas panhandle.

19 thoughts on “An african american women’s experience in an engineering class

  1. I think he deserves to lose his job. And every complaint helps to highlight the problem. Yours alone might not change anything, but if they keep getting them then eventually change will happen.

  2. I suspect many of us would also be happy to write letters, if you think it’s a good idea.

  3. There’s something both sad and amusing at the thought that some engineering professor up in the godforsaken wilds of the Texas panhandle sees fit to peer down his nose at a community college.

  4. Is there a society for women in engineering that has people who deal with this? Or does the engineers professional society have a committee for the status of women? Getting in touch with them seems more in line with proper procedure and, my guess, is might do some good–because I’d bet that they collect data and what to know about stuff like this.

  5. Jenny, thanks for the suggestion. It led me to wonder about petitions in cases like this.

  6. +1 to Andrew’s Comment.
    One addenda to it though: In relation to “tiny moves forward,” I would say that this is the practical best we can accomplish at any moment. It just is doing good to issue public censure for the sort of behavior that professor showed. He wasn’t (just) being a chauvinist. He was failing to be a good teacher. He wasn’t doing his job. That is why I think he deserves (making the assumption that he was in fact acting as described) to lose his job.

  7. Wow – this is pretty shocking. I had to read this a few times before I understood. I thought at first the prof was suggesting she was too good for the class, and he would do his best to help her obtain a scholarship to go somewhere better. But no – he was being a complete and utter a*hole.

  8. […] An african american women's experience in an engineering class … Of course, the science community has supposedly woken up to the fact that the country can't afford to trash the talents of women and African Americans, but it seems the word is slow to spread. … […]

  9. This is unbelievable. Without verifying it’s difficult to dig deeper, but if possible I would like to find a way that the female tech / eng community could help this lady out. If we all gave $10 or $20 could we fund her college education? To me that would be the perfect revenge on this dirtbag.

    He may not think she belongs, but if we got 1000 people from the tech / eng community to give $10 to say “yes she does” then it sends a pretty strong message.

    What do we think?

  10. Kathy Reid,
    I think that’s a fabulous idea. It helps her, but it also send a very strong message about him. What about how to do it? Set up a paypal account?

  11. As the leader of Talent Acquisition for Brocade I can tell you one of our key initiatives is recruiting more women, especially Engineers. We are already hard pressed to meet our goals but when “Educators” fail so horribly to recognize the importance of their roles it’s disappointing. Not only should you write to that professor, you should write to the Dean, the College President and The Board of Directors. And forward this post along with all comments. Brocade actively supports Anita Borg and leads an organization we call Women In Networking and I would be happy to help any way I can.

  12. Brian, thanks so much. There have been just great suggestions. Discourse on this sort of topic has really moved on. I’m going to sit down in a day or two and figure out just what I can do. Anyone would has had paypal experience and can suggest how something might be set up would get my sincere thanks!

  13. I went through a similar situation in Ohio. I went to a small university with only 3 professors in the Chemical Engineering department. One professor, a Korean male, was extremely prejudicial to me. He made comments about me being a single mother, about my weight, and about my gender, and my age. Because there were many other females in the class he could not be as blatant with them. For 3 years I tolerated his abuse. He would give me a lower grade than my classmates when we clearly had the same answers. When I finally convinced a fellow female student to go to his office with me to point out that I we had the same answer, and method of getting to that answer with absolutely no differences in our work he lowered her grade and announced to the class the next day that if you let “someone” use your test to debate what grade I give them I will lower your grade too!

    Finally after 3 years of this, I was able to convince a couple students to speak on my behalf, in the course of a potential law suit.

    I was an adult and it was quite difficult for me to go through this, I can’t imagine that I would have survived it if I were younger!

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