In the Cockrell School of Engineering’s climate survey, there were several concerning responses describing a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. Although Cockrell has a standing committee on diversity and inclusion, it only consists of faculty and staff. It makes sense to include faculty members as part of the diversity committee, but this is not enough considering the results from the climate survey.
Cockrell must bring in an external diversity, equity and inclusion committee with people who are uninvolved in the School of Engineering. These external hires should have the necessary experience and proper credentials to help create a better environment for all students, faculty and staff.
The diversity committee should consist of members with little to no ties to the Cockrell School, so they can provide a fresh outlook. The committee’s only responsibility should be focusing on creating new strategies and initiatives that create a safe and respectful environment.
Students in the report mentioned feeling “dismissed by faculty about SSD accommodations” and professors being “insensitive with comments surrounding race, gender and sexual orientation.” This is completely unacceptable. Cockrell’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are clearly not enough.
Although it is home to the Women in Engineering Program, the School of Engineering still fails to create an environment where women feel seen, considering that only 29.4% of undergraduates and 16.5% of faculty were female in the last academic year.
“Being a woman engineer is kind of intimidating at first. I’m still adjusting to it. It’s definitely nerve-racking, especially when you walk into a class your first semester,” mechanical engineering freshman Yatziri Lopez said. “It’s like, 15 guys go in and then finally one girl goes in. So you feel … not exactly that you’re less, but that you’re not as good enough as them.”
Bringing in a committee of experts on diversity and inclusion could have a greater impact on the environment for everyone in Cockrell. The external committee can take a look into the demographics of the Cockrell School and create a plan to hire a more inclusive faculty and staff.
“Not seeing professors that are female is very nerve-wracking because you don’t have that connection, that ‘Okay, at least my professor is female. You can talk to (her) for advice.’ So that’s an aspect that I think could and should improve,” Lopez said. “It just amazes me because I thought that by this time, there would be more inclusion for a woman engineer, and it’s slowly getting there but still has a long way to come.”
The Cockrell School of Engineering has already brought in external entities to host diversity seminars. Christine Julien, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and professor in electrical and computer engineering, said that the school’s already hoping to establish an external diversity committee.
“We submitted, (a few) weeks ago, a proposal to get funding to build a center for equity in engineering, and part of that initiative is to assemble an external advisory board. It’s specifically focused on recruiting and retention of undergraduate and graduate students,” Julien said. “Retention in this context is talking about climate, making everyone feel included and supported. So as part of that effort, we’ve already started building an external advisory board, which would be outside experts.”
The Cockrell School of Engineering should bring in the external committee on diversity, equity and inclusion regardless of if this proposal is approved or not. It’s refreshing to know that this initiative is already in the works, but it’s long overdue. It’s time to finally make it happen.
Ponce is a journalism freshman from Laredo, Texas.