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Black Men in Engineering Graduate Education: Experiencing Racial Microaggressions within the Advisor–Advisee Relationship


Abstract and Figures

The underrepresentation of Black men in engineering graduate programs contributes to the low numbers of Black faculty members, and in general, role models who could teach and inspire future generations of students in STEM. Addressing this national concern requires stakeholders to identify prevailing obstacles such as racial microaggressions, and where they occur. This article focuses on the advisor-advisee relationship and its effects on students’ persistence. By addressing practices and activities that turn students away from sustained participation in engineering, we may be able to increase the number of Blacks males who enroll, remain in, and graduate from engineering programs.
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Journal of Negro Education
Black Men in Engineering Graduate Education: Experiencing Racial Microaggressions
within the Advisor–Advisee Relationship
Author(s): Brian A. Burt, Alade McKen, Jordan Burkhart, Jennifer Hormell and
Alexander Knight
The Journal of Negro Education
, Vol. 88, No. 4 (Fall 2019), pp. 493-508
Published by: Journal of Negro Education
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©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4 493
The Journal of Negro Education, 88 (4), 493-508
Black Men in Engineering Graduate Education:
Experiencing Racial Microaggressions within the
Advisor–Advisee Relationship
Brian A. Burt University of Wisconsin-Madison
Alade McKen Iowa State University
Jordan Burkhart Colorado School of Mines
Jennifer Hormell University of Delaware
Alexander Knight Colorado Mesa University
The underrepresentation of Black men in engineering graduate programs contributes to the low
numbers of Black faculty members, and in general, role models who could teach and inspire future
generations of students in STEM. Addressing this national concern requires stakeholders to identify
prevailing obstacles such as racial microaggressions, and where they occur.
This article focuses on the advisor-advisee relationship and its effects on students’ persistence. By
addressing practices and activities that turn students away from sustained participation in
engineering, we may be able to increase the number of Blacks males who enroll, remain in, and
graduate from engineering programs.
Keywords: Black males, broadening participation, racial microaggressions, persistence, identity
Of critical importance to the nation’s infrastructure and workforce is the ability to access talent from
underrepresented populations by influencing institutional and systemic change (Chubin, May, &
Babco, 2005; Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE), 2016; Foor,
Walden, & Trytten, 2007; Moore, 2006). According to Yoder (2015), in 2015, Black men comprised
only 1% of those enrolled in engineering graduate programs (master’s and doctoral), or 1,574 out of
156,407 students. In the same year, less than 1%, or 112 out of 11,702 doctoral degrees conferred in
engineering were awarded to Black men. These data do not include Black men with international
status. These alarming yet consistent statistics highlight a missing segment of the population who
could contribute to the knowledge economy (Hurtado et al., 2008; Lundy-Wagner, 2013; Palmer,
Maramba, & Dancy, 2011; Tsui, 2007). An increase in the number of Black men in engineering could
lead to an increase in Black faculty members, education and thought leaders, mentors, and role
models who could teach and inspire future generations of students in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM). To address this national concern, however, stakeholders must
first identify prevailing issues that threaten the long-term participation of Black men in science and
engineering. One such issue is the prevalence of racial microaggressions within the advisoradvisee
In this article, the authors define racial microaggressions and illustrate how and in what ways
they manifest within an important engineering educational context, the advisoradvisee relationship.
The deleterious effects racial microaggressions have on Black men graduate students in engineering
is highlighted and evidence is presented about how students cope with those effects. Finally, the
authors offer implications for research, policy, and practice that can improve the advisoradvisee
relationship, as well as the broader engineering educational environment, for Black male students
who regularly face racial microaggressions. By addressing this critical relationship, which has the
potential to deter students from sustained participation in engineering, engineering educators may be
able to increase the number of Black men who enroll, complete degrees, and remain in engineering.
This work was supported by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program,
and the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (under grant 1651808).
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494 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4
The nature of the advising relationship impacts a number of student outcomes; the most
commonly cited in higher education research are time to degree, productivity, academic sense of self,
and completion rates (Barnes, Williams, & Archer, 2010; Felder & Barker, 2013; Lovitts 2001;
Nettles & Millett, 2006). Because of these potential outcomes, the advising relationship is often
considered a mentoring relationship where the advisor helps the advisee learn about and become
socialized to the academic field of study, the university, research, ethics, and many other important
aspects related to being a graduate student (Wrench & Punyanunt, 2004). Additionally, the advisor
can help students network by making new contacts and gaining exposure to other faculty, advanced
students, and members of their broader professional community (Bargar & Mayo-Chamberlain,
1983; Paglis, Green, & Bauer, 2006).
The advisoradvisee relationship is complex and life changing; an advisor can help to generate
ideas and support students’ postgraduate career choices, and help influence students’ professional
identity (Burt, 2019). In fields like engineering, where the academic advisor may also serve as a
student’s research supervisor (Burt, 2017), the advisoradvisee relationship includes myriad power
dynamics. As a result, the advising relationship could have positive and/or negative effects on
graduate students, including but not limited to promoting feelings of accomplishment and
progression, or disappointment and failure (Barnes, 2009-2010; Barnes, Williams, & Archer, 2010;
Felder & Barker, 2013; Fountaine, 2012; Johnson-Bailey et al., 2008: Palmer, Maramba, & Dancy,
2011). The extant higher education literature on advising tends to discuss these relationships across
fields of study, including samples from social sciences, humanities, and, natural sciences (see for
example Baker, Pifer, & Flemion, 2015; Gardner, 2007, 2008; Golde, 2005, 2007). A more nuanced
approach that focuses specifically on students within engineering would provide detailed examples
of how engineering advising relationships impact students.
The construct of racial microaggressions is gaining a considerable amount of attention in higher
education and psychology literatures (Pittman, 2012; Torres, Driscoll & Burrow, 2010), and even in
news outlets (Beaman, 2016; Garcia & Crandall, 2016). This increased attention highlights a growing
discourse around the experiences of individuals from underrepresented groups. Racial
microaggressions are typically described in the literature as subtle (or not so subtle) comments or
behaviors, unfair treatment, stigmatization, hyper-surveillance, and personal threats or attacks on
one’s well-being (McCabe, 2009; Minikel-Lacocque, 2013; Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007; Smith,
Hung, & Franklin, 2011). Racial microaggressions can be brief or recurring and tend to surface
through daily verbal communication, as well as behavioral and environmental policies and practices,
whether intentional or unintentional. Several studies have found that some perpetrators of racial
microaggressions are unaware that they engage in such communication and behaviors when they
interact with people of color (Sue et al., 2007; Sue et al., 2008). This lack of familiarity with how
one’s own actions impact other individuals poses some challenges to eradicating these behaviors.
Whether brief or ongoing, intentional or not, the message remains the same: racial microaggressions
denote “otherness” and are interpreted by recipients as insulting. The consequences of racial
microaggressions are still being explored, but existing scholarship acknowledges the psychological
stress experienced by victims of microaggressions (Johnson-Ahorlu, 2013; Smith et al., 2007).
Racial microaggressions exist in a variety of contexts (e.g., academic and non-academic), which
indicates that no matter where people of color go, they are inundated with messages that they are
different. Furthermore, their differences are often seen bad or negative. However, this article focuses
on how racial microaggressions take place on college campuses. In existing scholarship on
underrepresented students of color attending predominantly White institutions, students
overwhelmingly describe the campus climate as being hostile, isolating, and unwelcoming (Brooms
& Davis, 2017; Burt, Knight, & Roberson, 2017; Burt, Williams, & Smith, 2018; Dortch, 2016;
Felder & Barker, 2013; Harper, 2012, 2015). For example, Black students on these campuses
routinely report confronting negative comments and stereotypes from White instructors and peers
(Fries-Britt & Griffin, 2007; Johnson-Ahorlu, 2013).
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©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4 495
In Smith and colleagues’ (2007) exploration of 36 Black men across five institutions, they found
that among other things, Black men were hyper-surveilled while engaging in common collegiate
activities such as using the computer lab on a weekend to complete an assignment. Kevin, a student
in their study, was stopped and asked for his identification by a campus police officer after someone
called to report suspicious activity. In this particular case, Kevin was perceived to represent a criminal
threat, someone who was not likely to be in a computer lab on a college campus on the weekend. To
Kevin, however, the action by the police officer, and the initial call by an anonymous campus peer,
signaled a racial microaggression, based on the common criminalization trope regarding Black men.
Both the caller and the police officer made assumptions that he did not belong, not because he did
anything wrong, but based on their own perceptions of what a stereotypical college student looked
like. The result of Kevin’s case, and those of other Black men in their study, was severe psychological
stress induced by persistent racial microaggressions. Similar to the findings of Smith and colleagues,
McCabe’s (2009) multi-race study of racial and gender microaggressions, which included six Black
men, found that Black male collegians perceived themselves as being treated as threats to their
professors and peers as they, too, received unprovoked attention from police.
As a result of such confrontations, students feel obligated to validate their intellectual
competence in the classroom and affirm their rightful position at their institution (Fries-Britt, 1998;
Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002). In other words, students feel required to, and as a result, attempt to
disprove implicit and explicit assumptions made about them (Moore, Madison-Colmore, & Smith,
2003). At colleges and universities, students of color are not only striving to complete academic work,
they are simultaneously finding ways to mediate challenging feelings of inadequacy brought on by
racial microaggressions (Johnson-Ahorlu, 2013; McCabe, 2009; McGee & Martin, 2011; Truong &
Museus, 2012). For instance, Johnson-Ahorlu’s (2013) racially diverse study (participants were
African American, Asian American, Latinx, Native American, and White) explored how, if at all,
students experienced stereotypes and stereotype threat related to their racial identities. Most germane
to this study, African American students experienced racial stereotypes, which were presented to
them as attacks on their academic capabilities (e.g., shock from faculty and peers when they achieved
in the classroom and inquiries about their abilities to handle the course workload). In addition, the
fear of fulfilling these stereotypes further debilitated students and negatively affected their academic
performance. McGee and Martin (2011) also investigated how stereotypes impacted Black students’
academic achievement. In their study of 23 Black undergraduate and graduate students in
mathematics and engineering across four institutions, they reported occasionsboth within the
academy and within societywhere the students’ capacity to excel in mathematics and science were
questioned based on stereotypes about their Black identity. As a result of these experiences, Black
students formed strategies (i.e., stereotype management) to cope with the stereotypes they faced on
campus. Such strategies included disproving their academic inferiority, attempting to maintain
control of their environment, which included being prepared for future racial assaults, oscillating
between cultural ways of communicating (for example, between one’s Black peers and White
individuals within the academy), rejecting existing stereotypes about Black learners and instead
defining their own sense of academic self, and seeing themselves as contributors to future students
by serving as mentors. By incorporating these strategies, students experienced increases in their
academic performance and persistence.
While there is a growing body of scholarship regarding the racial microaggressions college
students face, the majority of these studies center on undergraduate collegiate students.
Comparatively absent from this corpus is research on how graduate students experience racial
microaggressions. Even less scholarship details how racial microaggressions present themselves in
domain-specific contexts (e.g., engineering). Taking a more nuanced approach to identifying these
harmful behaviors at the graduate level is important because racial microaggressions are likely to
also manifest in field-specific ways that may go unnoticed without deeper investigation. Furthermore,
microaggressions that occur at the graduate level, and in the case of this study, specifically, in one’s
field of study, impact student retention, achievement, sense-of-self, and identity in that field (Burt,
2019; Burt, Williams &, Smith, 2018). Highlighting the voices of students who experience racial
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496 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4
microaggressions within engineering will provide helpful illustrations of messages and behaviors
perceived as being detrimental to their academic achievement and persistence in engineering.
Using “racial microaggressions” as a conceptual framework, the following research questions
guide this study:
What do racial microaggressions look like within the advising relationship for Black men in
engineering graduate programs?
What are the impacts of racial microaggressions on Black men in engineering graduate
Data Collection
Data were drawn from interviews with 11 Black men in engineering graduate studies from a large
Midwestern research institution (referred to as “Midwestern University” from this point forward).
Students varied in their engineering specializations. They also ranged in class level (i.e., the year they
were in graduate school during the time of data collection). It should be noted that in this study the
term “Black” is used to denote the more global diaspora of race. Thus, Black is not synonymous with
African American; six participants considered themselves Black but not necessarily African
American (i.e., Nigerian, West African, Caribbean, Ethiopian, and Ghanaian). One student had
attended a historically Black college and university (HBCU) and another had attended an
undergraduate institution outside of the United States, whereas the rest attended predominantly White
institutions (PWIs) for their undergraduate studies. Finally, at the time of data collection, five students
were interested in obtaining industry positions upon graduating, one was interested in a faculty career,
and five were uncertain of their post-graduate plans. See Table 1 for participants’ demographics.
Table 1
Demographic Data for Study Participants
Pseudonym Class
The majority of students were identified through snowball sampling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016),
in which the principal investigator (the first author) identified a small purposeful sample of eligible
participants (i.e., Black, male, doctoral student in engineering) who then referred other eligible Black
graduate engineering students. The principal investigator conducted all interviews using a semi-
structured interview protocol (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) in which a standard set of questions guided
interviews but there was flexibility to ask follow-up questions where necessary. Interviews ranged
from one to approximately two hours. Participants were asked about their collegiate background,
doctoral experiences, and identification with and intentions to remain in engineering. After data were
collected, audio recordings were transcribed verbatim to capture participants’ meanings in their own
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All researchers (this study’s authors) conducted data analysis using thematic analysis to analyze
the interview data. Thematic analysis helps to identify patterns in text data (Braun & Clarke, 2006;
Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006). This analytical method was selected because the preliminary data
were to be reviewed by multiple researchers, and the flexibility of the method allowed for the
discovery of patterns, discussion among us, and explicit connections to existing literature (Braun &
Clarke, 2006).
Data Analysis
For the first round of analysis, we divided transcripts among ourselves so that each transcript was
reviewed by at least two of us. We first searched for evidence based on existing knowledge related
to racial microaggressions in higher education. Each of us read through the transcripts and identified
areas that captured how students experienced racial microaggressions within the engineering context.
Additionally, we noted the ways in which racial microaggressions impacted the students who were
interviewed. After highlighting potential areas that addressed the research questions, we met as a
team to discuss initial thoughts. Based on the preliminary findings, we decided to focus on instances
of racial microaggressions between students and their advisors. During the second round of analysis,
we considered how students’ interpretations were similar and different, and where different,
discussed the nuanced dimensions. For example, we noted considerations pertaining to how
interactions between students and advisors exemplified racial microaggressions, participants’
feelings after being microaggressed, and effects of these offenses on students. After these steps, the
findings were organized into two themes: Racial Microaggressions within the AdvisorAdvisee
Relationship; and, Threatening Effects of Experiencing Racial Microaggressions within the Advisor
Advisee Relationship.
Ensuring Quality
Several steps were taken to ensure the quality of the findings. First, after the transcripts were
produced, the audio recordings were checked against the transcripts to verify the accuracy of the data.
Second, the transcripts were sent to the participants to verify the accuracy of content and meaning;
no participants responded with changes to their transcripts. Third, the authors intentionally assigned
multiple researchers per transcript to improve the interpretations of the data. Engaging in this peer
debriefing, which also included ongoing discussions around preliminary findings and themes,
provided checks to the interpretations and allowed consensus on the study’s findings. Finally, because
five researchers analyzed the data, and we had different backgrounds and perspectives, we reflected
on our positionalities and subjectivities (Cooper et al., 1998; Peshkin, 1988). This process of being
reflective helped to acknowledge who we were and the biases we held relative to the data. By
engaging in these practices, we were able to acknowledge, and to the extent that it was possible, to
separate our biases from the data analyzed.
This study has some notable limitations that should be considered. First, the sample size of 11 is not
representative of all Black men graduate students in engineering at Midwestern University nor of all
Black men in graduate programs in engineering in the United States. Therefore, readers should be
aware that this study’s findings provide a nuanced understanding of a select group of students at one
“high research activity” institution. Similarly, because of Midwestern’s heavy emphasis on research,
it is possible that certain kinds of racial microaggressions, related to students’ research abilities, were
more likely to surface between the student and advisor at this institution. It is possible that at other
types of institutions (e.g., teaching-focused), other kinds of racial microaggressions would surface.
As an example, if at other institutions students are required to hold teaching assistantships, they may
encounter racial microaggressions from the students they teach. Those messages, too, could inform
Black men of what a future academic career in engineering might entail. Second, engineering
students’ experiences vary by their specializations because they are involved in different sets of
courses and interact with different departmental faculty and peers. Finally, existing higher education
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research suggests that students experience graduate education differently depending on their current
stage in their doctoral program (Gardner, 2009). It is possible that students’ recognition of racial
microaggressions were related to their levels of class status (i.e., students who were more advance
could more easily speak to the microaggressions they had experienced).
Despite these noted differences, research on the experiences of Black students in STEM suggests
that these students tend to share some common racialized experiences (e.g., racial microaggressions,
tokenism, imposter syndrome, stereotype threat) with regard to race (Fries-Britt, Burt, & Johnson,
2012; McGee & Martin, 2011). These racialized experiences tend to occur despite students’ STEM
field of study, specialization, year in graduate school, and institutional type. In other words,
regardless of these potential factors, Black men in STEM report similar challenges that threaten their
persistence in STEM.
Findings from this study illustrate that Black men in engineering graduate programs engage with their
faculty advisors in a variety of educational spaces, including one-on-one meetings, the laboratory,
and occasional casual conversations. In particular, the authors discuss these findings across two broad
themes. Students reported that through these interactions with faculty advisors, they encountered
experiences that shaped how they valued the advisoradvisee relationship (“Racial Microaggressions
within the AdvisorAdvisee Relationship”). Equally important, students revealed how they processed
subtle and overt racial microaggressions within the engineering educational community
(“Threatening Effects of Experiencing Racial Microaggressions within the AdvisorAdvisee
Setting the Context
At the time at which these data were collected, all participants had witnessed the election of Barack
Obama as President of the United States. Like many other college campuses, Midwestern University
was a location where race, gender, and politics permeated the campus environment (Jaschik, 2008;
Tatum, 2008). Because race was at the forefront of the national and international discourse, students
in this study were participants, passive or otherwise, in campus efforts to address racial discord.
Simultaneously, the more advanced students noted previous successes in recruitment efforts to
diversify the engineering community. In fact, many of the advanced students stated that they were
targeted and strongly recruited to attend Midwestern University, and that if not for such strategies,
they might not have attended the prestigious institution. However, they also explained an abrupt
transition when all recruitment efforts ceased as a result of attacks on affirmative action at the federal
(Supreme Court) and local (state referendums) levels. Thus, their experience of being
underrepresented and isolated became further exacerbated as fewer Black students were recruited for
the engineering graduate program. To provide further context, Table 2 indicates the number of
students enrolled at Midwestern University at the time of data collection. Note that Black graduate
student men across the entire university only comprised 1.4% of the student body; the specific
numbers of Black men in engineering were severely low and are masked to protect the anonymity of
the institution and participants. Consequently, while the study’s sample size of 11 may appear to be
small, the men included in this sample represent the “critical mass” of Black men engineering
graduate students at Midwestern University at the time of data collection.
Table 2
Graduate Enrollment by Race and Gender at Midwestern University
(Academic Year 2009-2010)
169 (1.4%)
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Racial Microaggressions within the Advisor–Advisee Relationship
The participants defined their perceptions of the role of an advisor and the advisor’s importance in
shaping the graduate school experience. For example, Jackson, a third-year mechanical engineering
doctoral student, compared the advisor–advisee relationship to a marriage:
Well some people liken the advisor, advisor–advisee relationship to a marriage in that you know you are
likely to be together four/five/six/seven years, depending on how long you are here and so. Being able to
come in and kinda foster that relationship is important.
Jackson’s interpretation of the advisor–advisee relationship acknowledges the potential extended
time that an advisor and advisee could be “together” and the importance of “fostering” their
relationship for the duration of the academic experience. In addition, Jackson’s quotation sets the
tone for how participants described their expectations of their relationship with their advisors. All
participants described having or wanting a supportive relationship, one where they learned and
received encouragement from an expert in their field. Jackson’s quote also represents how students
entered into their relationships with their faculty advisors with respect to their understanding of the
power dynamic between student and faculty advisor; this relationship suggested, at least to some of
the participants in this study, that one should not do anything that could jeopardize the “marriage,”
as Jackson called it. The participants in this study stressed the importance of the connection between
engineering student and advisor in terms of the mediating roles faculty played in students’ academic
careers, or at least students’ perceptions of the role faculty would play in their academic careers in
the future.
When graduate students reach out to potential advisors, their first interactions are crucial to their
relationship, which make microaggressions occurring during these interactions particularly
problematic. In the present study, two participants described prospective advisors who did not
respond, which influenced early negative perceptions of their prospective advisors and shaped their
perceptions of how the advisoradvisee relationship might continue. Jaden, a third-year electrical
engineering doctoral student, described his first interaction with his advisor:
When I did my initial grad search I only found a few advisors who I considered working with. Um. A lot
of them wouldn’t respond to email and I thought, “this won’t go well.” The one who did, I went to his office
and he gave me this bizarre look. I’m not sure if he expected me to be Black honestly, that’s what I think it
In the statement, Jaden connects the interaction with his advisor to race. Jaden’s initial interaction
with his advisor produced subtle feelings that caused internal dissonance, and made him question
himself“Is my advisor not talking to me because I am Black?” In this case, Jaden interpreted his
initial meeting with his advisor as being a racial microaggression based on the quizzical look. As
explained by Solórzano, Ceja, and Yosso (2000), racial microaggressions can be subtle, but because
they also tend to accumulate over time, they nonetheless trigger feelings of inadequacy in those who
experience them.
Jackson, too, was uncertain about how well the “marriage” was going between him and his
advisor. Because of the infrequency of interactions with his advisor and their different personality
styles, Jackson had concerns about the relationship:
At the same time, I had reservations about my advisor. At the time I had only met with him once. I was
unsure as to whether or not our styles would mesh, whether we would get along for you know the extended
period of the Ph.D., whether he would provide the right type of support and interaction that I thought would
be beneficial.
As students progressed through graduate school, however, they all described both positive and
negative interactions with faculty advisors. What was perhaps most enlightening was how some
students’ early perceptions of the advisoradvisee relationship set the foundation for their future
interactions. Jackson explained,
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I slowly started to realize that the advisor who I was kind of unsure about became more and more solid in
my mind . . . From my first half an hour interaction with him, of course it’s difficult to tell how he is going
to be for the next five years.
If the early interactions were uncomfortable, it took more time, and perhaps required more mental
energy, for students to trust their advisors. This might suggest that students were fearful that their
assumptions about mismatches between advisor and advisee may have been accurate.
While this treatise primarily focuses on racial microaggressions from academic advisors, one
student described receiving racial microaggressions from others in positions of intellectual authority,
such as the instructors of their courses. Similar to experiences expressed by Jaden, James, a fourth-
year biomedical engineering doctoral student, also experienced an interaction that prompted him to
question his status and belonging in graduate school. He described a scenario of indiscernible grading
practices from his professor:
My second year I was taking this class and the professor said one thing and did something else. . . he gave
me grade that I wasn’tI thinkhe gave usoverall, it was a group, it was a team, it’s a teamwork class.
. . Yet, he decided, he would give the grade to the individual he felt did the most work. I don’t know how
he came about doing that, but there was people in our group that made higher grades than other people and
we did similar amount of work. . . I felt like it was a bump because he gave me a grade I wasn’t or that I
didn’t deserve or expected. And therefore that was something I didn’t have control over.
To mentally overcome the effects of what he perceived to be unfair treatment, James
compartmentalized and rationalized his experiences:
Stuff doesn’t always go your way, but you know, you suck it up and fight some more. . . I mean I’m happy.
. . I’ve obtained what I expected other than like, I guess, the small bumps that really, I guess have no control
It is clear from James’ quotations that he nonchalantly deemphasized the uphill struggle he faced in
order to move past the negative experiences. In order to deal with microaggressions and persevere,
he rationalized his negative experiences and minimized them as “bumps along the road.” While James
does not explicitly name race or racism in the context of his story, he recounted the above scenario
when asked to describe the experiences of being a Black male graduate student in engineering and
the challenges that arise. That is, while he did not mention race, the context in which James spoke
points to racial microaggressions.
Threatening Effects of Experiencing Racial Microaggressions within the AdvisorAdvisee
Findings from this study illustrate that some Black male graduate students interpret racial
microaggressions in a variety of ways that threaten their understanding of their professional identity
as engineers and influence their decisions regarding whether or not to persist in engineering. One
finding suggests that students’ perceptions of racial microaggressions were primarily related to oral
communication with their faculty advisors. For example, James, explained that his advisor
communicated with him in ways that appeared to belittle his intelligence and level of academic
Umso like . . . it’s like when he tells you stuff it’s kind of . . . if you approach him, and he asks you
questions and it was like some fundamentals you don’t know, or you were never taught it as far as software
stuff, he justI don’t want to say he belittles you, but he’ll kind of be like “yea, you learned this as a junior
in undergrad, and the sophomores here are doing it, blah, blah, blah”, and I’m like, “ok” (laughter). It would
go in one ear and out the other, but yeah, you know you don’t really feel good afterwards. But then I guess
talking to other students in the lab that’s been there longer than I have, supposedly that’s how he is, and
that’s the way he approaches, I guess approach you when you have “x, y, or z” lack of knowledge.
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©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4 501
In this quote, James painted a picture of what appears to be a typical interaction with his research
supervisor/advisor. While one could argue that the advisor was merely assessing James’ pre-existing
knowledge and skills, James suggests that this conversation and communication style was not an
isolated incident, but rather that his advisor routinely enacted microaggressions against him by asking
questions to verify whether or not he was qualified to engage in the work of their discipline. The
messages the advisor sent to James caused him to question his ability to successfully engage the
engineering material. Furthermore, evidence is seen of the psychological effects that racial
microaggressions can have on students. Although James hesitated to name the verbal assault as
“belittling,” perhaps a conscious move to help cope with the stinging effect of the comment, he
acknowledged that he did not “really feel good” after hearing the diminishing comment. Another way
James dealt with receiving the comment from his advisor was, to some extent, to ignore the
microaggression, as if to help reduce its psychological effect. While it is likely that he could not
completely ignore what was said, allowing the comment to go “in one ear and out the other” provided
temporary relief from what could otherwise be psychologically paralyzing to one’s sense of academic
self. Unfortunately, James provided an example of what he was learning as an engineering graduate
student: do not ask questions for fear of being perceived as intellectually inferior.
Another facet of dealing with the racial microaggressions that Black men students are subjected
to is internalizing what they hear, rationalizing it, and as a result taking ownership of the harassment
as a means to cope. This was apparent when Jackson commented on feedback he received from his
advisor: “And, I guess my feeling is that maybe I’m subject to other judgments that if I were in the
majority I wouldn’t be necessarily subject to.” Jackson’s comment suggests he believed that he was
being judged and subjected to different levels of scrutiny from his advisor because he was part of an
underrepresented ethnic group rather than being in the majority (i.e., White and Asian students).
Equally important to acknowledge, Jackson does not just recognize what he perceives to be unequal
treatment; he appears to rationalize and possibly normalize the treatment he receives in order to cope
with receiving microaggressions.
The outcomes of receiving racial microaggressions, across the engineering context, from the
same and different people, made students feel less comfortable in the field of engineering.
Alarmingly, all students expressed exhaustion due to having to navigate and negotiate what they
perceived as an unwelcoming academic space. Chris, a fifth-year chemical engineering doctoral
student, explains his exhaustion:
Now, when those get uncomfortable for the Black male, and especially the advisor relationship might get
uncomfortable coupled with the prejudice people may have with you being a minority male, in a field
dominated by White men, the pressures can get to you and can see the fact that you can’t do it.
Chris spoke of both the abstract and local effects for Black men specifically, and for minority men in
general, in engineering. He explained that the pressure of being in a White male-dominated field
contributed to his thoughts of failure. As a result of not feeling supported as a “minority male,” Chris
was uncertain of completing the doctoral program. In addition to trying to decipher what was and
was not racial prejudice within the engineering field, and in society more broadly, Chris and his peers
also had to contend with how race and racism was infused in their advisoradvisee relationships.
Similarly, Paul, an electrical engineering doctoral student, described interactions with his advisor that
challenged his sense of academic self and professional engineering identity. Paul explained, “I don’t
know why, I still don’t know why he, he basically said, you know, ‘why don’t you go out and work
first for a few years,’ that was his opinion.” Sometimes individuals who encounter racial
microaggressions may not be immediately aware of the offense, and might overlook such behavior
and comments in the moment (Constantine & Sue, 2007). In this particular case, Paul had difficulty
understanding whether his advisor was trying to be helpful or offensive, causing Paul to rationalize
the nature of their interaction. Paul attempted to make sense of his advisor’s recommendations. To
work in the field, rather than continue with his education, seemingly challenged what he had believed
about himself as an emerging scholar and an engineer. Although Paul and his Black male peers
experienced important decisive points where they felt questioned about their status as graduate
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502 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4
students, all of them remained enrolled and engaged in their programs. Taking Chris’s and Paul’s
statements together, these findings reveal why interactions with one’s advisor and professors are such
critical factors for Black men completing their doctoral program: interactions within the College of
Engineering mediates students’ learning, influencing their decisions about whether or not to persist
in the graduate program, and perhaps whether or not to remain in the field of engineering.
Appearing to be indifferent about experiencing racial microaggressions was a reoccurring
strategy practiced by participants in this study. The authors noted several instances when participants
laughed or chuckled, another form of appearing nonchalant, while simultaneously describing their
emotional pain and frustrations related to negative experiences with their advisors. Microaggressions
tend to create a sense of helplessness and can make individuals feel powerless to do anything about
them. For example, as described by James, he felt as if he had no control over the grade that was
given to him. That particular situation caused him unnecessary stress because he thought it would
“affect me staying here and continuing for my Ph.D.” While this coping strategy may be a form of
“cool pose” to maintain one’s sense of pride (Harris, Palmer, & Struve, 2011; Majors, 2011), the
strategy of diminishing one’s experiences with race and racism may also be an effect of victimization
(Smith, Hung, & Franklin, 2011). This finding is similar to observations by McCabe (2009), who
noticed that participants occasionally laughed when describing the offenses made against them.
Words alone could not capture how students were feeling, particularly if their learned coping
strategies included not discussing their pain and challenges. Thus, it is clear that the combination of
verbal and nonverbal data, afforded through qualitative analysis, provided further additional clues
into how students internalize and then cope with experiencing racial microaggressions.
The decision to pursue doctoral studies represents a sacrifice to forego a potentially lucrative
engineering career with a bachelor’s degree (Brazziel, 1987). But students make the choice to attend
graduate school to meet their personal and professional goals. In the current study, the excitement
and allure of being a graduate student and reaching one’s goals dissipated as students entered
Midwestern University. Upon matriculation, and throughout their academic journey, students faced
racial microaggressions (e.g., meeting the advisor, receiving a grade during a second-year class,
moments of being insulted later in the process). Although it is important to recapitulate the
cumulative effects of racial microaggressions over the lifespan of the students, the purpose of this
article was to provide a focused view of racial microaggressions toward Black men in engineering
graduate studies at one “high research activity” institution and their academic advisors. When the
Black men in this study entered graduate school, they did not anticipate facing consistent
antagonizing insults from those who were supposed to be their main sources of professional support,
their faculty advisors. Rather, they expected mentorship throughout their academic experience and
their entrée into the broader engineering professional community. This contextual background is
similar to Felder’s (2010) findings on Black doctoral degree completers who attended a large
prestigious institution. While the participants in her sample were not in STEM graduate programs,
she reported how students perceived faculty advisors to be necessary partners to their socialization
in graduate school and their field of study. The students, however, also noted times when they felt
disrespected by their advisors. These behaviors by advisors, Felder asserted, further marginalized
study participants. Her recommendations, with regard to improving advising experiences, appear to
align with the needs of the Black men in the present study who held higher expectations for a healthier
advising relationship.
The extensive, direct contact that faculty advisors have with students across multiple contexts
(e.g., classroom, research experiences, academic meetings) raises concern about the number and
severity of racial microaggressions Black men experience over the life-cycle of their graduate
education. Undergirding the racial microaggressions experienced by students might be conscious or
subconscious stereotypes of Black men. As highlighted by existing scholarship, there remain
assumptions (i.e., stereotypes) that Black students are academically ill-prepared and incapable of
achieving academic success (Dortch, 2016; Hernstein & Murray, 1994; Johnson-Ahorlu, 2013).
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©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4 503
Although students in this study did not report perceptions of feeling like criminals (McCabe, 2009;
Smith, Allen, & Dantley, 2007) within their advising relationships, deep-seated historical perceptions
of Black men may still be consciously or subconsciously at play. When preconceived stereotypes of
Black students persist, behaviors such as questioning the integrity of students’ work or work ethic
and interrogating students’ commitment to graduate study or specific field of study, for example, may
be perceived by students as racial microaggressions. As a direct result of being “othered” or
intellectually attacked by their faculty advisor, students described experiencing several psychological
and health difficulties, with thoughts of dropping out, or leaving engineering. Thus, persistent racial
microaggressions from their advisors further isolate students from their institution, graduate studies,
and potentially their field of study.
To be clear, none of this study’s participants chose to pursue graduate studies with hopes of later
dropping out. Rather, similar to other Black doctoral students (McCallum, 2016), participants in this
study excitedly enrolled in graduate studies with dreams of fulfilling their goals, making their families
proud, and improving their cultural communities with their academic and professional talents. To
accomplish these feats, however, they learned to cope with the experiences they faced within the
isolating and hostile engineering community. This finding contributes to existing scholarship that
reports other instances where Black studentsacross gender, undergraduate and graduate studies,
and fields of studyimplemented coping strategies in efforts to make progress in the academy
(Brooms & Davis, 2017; Burt, Williams, & Palmer, 2019; Fries-Britt & Griffin, 2007; Johnson-
Ahorlu, 2013; McCabe, 2009; McGee & Martin, 2011; Truong & Museus, 2012). In each of these
studies, as with the students in this study, to be successful, Black students had an additional task to
perform beyond that of course-taking: students had to psychologically manage the hostile messages
they received within their educational communities. These adaptive strengths (i.e., coping strategies)
were necessary to survive and thrive in their engineering community.
This article identifies several opportunities for future research and implications for future
professional practice. First, faculty advisors were identified as being perpetrators of racial
microaggressions against Black men. However, evidence suggests that there are other individuals
within engineering contexts that also cause harm to Black men through racial microaggressions. More
research and analysis are needed to identify who those individuals are, their relationships with Black
men, and the contexts in which those racialized incidents occur. Such an examination would provide
a more expansive picture of how some Black students experience engineering, including how their
retention in the STEM field is threatened. A second area for future research would interrogate the
campus or college climate. A study that explored the environmental factors from a campus climate
perspective might provide clues to the systems and structures that give rise to racial microaggressions
within a college of engineering.
Addressing racial microaggressions through professional practice needs to be a priority. Findings
from this study indicate that after experiencing racial microaggressions, some students express a
diminished sense of self as related to their academic ability, which has the potential to threaten their
retention in the STEM field. Additionally, it appears that some students struggle to develop an
identity consistent with engineering after facing racial microaggressions. These findings suggest that
there might be a relationship between one’s educational experiences (including one’s negative
interactions with a faculty advisor) and one’s engineering self-concept and identity as an engineer.
To address this concern, faculty, staff, and administrators need to be more aware of their Black men
students, and understand that while many graduate students struggle at times, Black men may face
additional challenges caused by the engineering context.
Besides helping to eradicate racial microaggressions, those in positions of power should create
more intentional support structures that strengthen historically underrepresented students’ academic
sense of self and help to buffer, at least in part, the negative impact of experiencing racial
microaggressions. In addition, faculty advisors need to become more culturally competent in the ways
they behave and interact with students from underrepresented groups. Addressing racially charged
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504 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4
behaviors and comments, whether those are intentional or not, is a small yet important step in the
direction of increasing and sustaining Black men’s participation in engineering.
Black men engineering graduate students have high expectations of a supportive advising
relationship. In the event that their reality falls short of their expectations, they must seek out
alternative people and experiences that can assist them in fully participating in the engineering
community. Although this final recommendation places an additional burden on Black men instead
of fixing the systemic issue of focus (racial microaggressions in engineering), their long-term
persistence in engineering could depend on it.
The findings in this article provide a clearer understanding of racial microaggressions within an
engineering context. Centering participants’ voices revealed a shared pattern of experiences between
students and their advisors. Understanding their collective lived experiences can better inform the
engineering education community of some of the challenges faced by Black men in engineering
graduate programs. It is important to acknowledge that since data collection, all participants have
graduated with doctorates from Midwestern University. Although their persistence should be
celebrated, the pattern of Black men having to overcome consistent negative experiences is not cause
for celebration. The engineering education community cannot continue to explain away students’
racialized experiences, no matter how challenging these experiences may be to remedy. This call to
action provides an opportunity for engineering educators and other members of the engineering
community to interrogate various actions and behaviors; for example: “How might my actions be
perceived as unwelcoming to students from underrepresented groups”? If we, as a scholarly
community, are serious about broadening participation, we must investigate the systematic practices
and activities that threaten to push students from underrepresented groups out of engineering.
While this study focuses on racial microaggressions between Black men in doctoral studies and
their advisors, there are other contexts within colleges of engineering where racial microaggressions
occur (e.g., between peers, with staff and administrators, through systematic policies). Scholars
should continue examining racial microaggressions and the implications they have for the field of
engineering, especially because there remain those who do not believe that racial microagressions
occur (e.g., Harris, 2008; Thomas, 2008). More scholarship on this topic might serve to affirm
students who have historically endured unwelcoming and isolating experiences in engineering, but
who have never had the language or evidence to “prove” that their experiences were valid.
The findings in this article have the potential to better inform those who interact with students
from underrepresented groups. Reducing the number of microagressions that occur in advisor
advisee relationships and dismantling the systems and structures that allow these behaviors to
continue need to be priorities. With this understanding, engineering educators can help to create
supportive educational spaces for academic achievement; engineering can then become a more
welcoming field of study for Black men.
We would like to thank the participants who courageously shared their stories with us, members of the Burt
Research Group (BRG) who helped with peer review, and the reviewers for providing valuable feedback and
helping to strengthen this work.
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508 ©The Journal of Negro Education, 2019, No. 88, No 4
Wrench, J. S., & Punyanunt, N. M. (2004). Advisee-advisor communication: An exploratory study
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BRIAN A. BURT is Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy
Analysis, and Research Scientist, Wisconsin Equity & Inclusion Laboratory, University of
Wisconsin-Madison. ALADE S. MCKEN is doctoral candidate, Social and Cultural Studies of
Education, Iowa State University, School of Education. JORDAN BURKHART is a Residence Life
Coordinator at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. His research and practitioner
work focuses on equity and inclusive practices in the STEM education field; especially in the areas
of networking and restorative justice. JENNIFER HORMELL works in Residence Life & Housing
at the University of Delaware. ALEC KNIGHT is the Coordinator for International Programs at
Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.
All comments and queries regarding this article should be addressed to
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... Further contributing to the underestimation of the personal ability of students of color is benign neglect from advisors who may refuse to give any critical feedback on their work (Gay, 2004;Torres et al., 2010). Burt et al. (2019) found that Black men experience a range of microaggressions from their advisors, such as assumptions of intellectual inferiority and criminality, tokenism, and stereotyping. Such instances of discrimination and microaggressions are associated with increased mental health issues, which can further impede educational success for students (Burt et al., 2019;Torres et al., 2010). ...
... Burt et al. (2019) found that Black men experience a range of microaggressions from their advisors, such as assumptions of intellectual inferiority and criminality, tokenism, and stereotyping. Such instances of discrimination and microaggressions are associated with increased mental health issues, which can further impede educational success for students (Burt et al., 2019;Torres et al., 2010). While these problems are structural and must also be addressed at the institutional level, they can be mediated through mentoring or facilitating long-term relationships of guidance and support for students of color (Brunsma et al., 2017;Gay, 2004). ...
... Overall, given the unique barriers and challenges to retention for minority students in graduate programs (American Council on Education, n.d.; Brunsma et al., 2017;Park & Bahia, 2022;Torres et al., 2010), it is important to understand the mentoring needs of underrepresented students in order to provide the best possible help to them during what can be an extraordinarily difficult transition into academia (McNairy, 1996;Gay, 2004;Torres et al., 2010). Our findings show that formal implementation of a mentoring program can help mitigate diversity issues commonly found in academia for marginalized students of color (Davidson & Foster-Johnson, 2001;Burt et al., 2019;McGee, 2020), thereby increasing the representation, retention, and graduation of students of color in graduate programs. It is also important to consider how the recognition of racial differences and cultural sensitivity can benefit students (Harris & Lee, 2019). ...
Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the mentoring program of the Minority Scholars from Under-Represented Groups in Engineering and the Social Sciences (SURGE) Capacity in Disasters initiative, a pilot program that aimed to address the challenges that graduate students of color face in academic programs. SURGE promotes mentoring and professional development through its mentoring program for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students. Methods: Data collection involved distributing online surveys designed in Qualtrics to mentors and mentees five months after the SURGE program’s initiation. Separate surveys were created for student mentees and faculty mentors in order to collect feedback about the mentoring program. Mentees and mentors were also asked to rate their satisfaction with the specific individuals in their mentoring network so that the evaluation team could identify issues that arose across participants. Results: We found that students had several motivations for and expectations from SURGE. A majority of the students found the SURGE mentoring program to have been at least somewhat valuable in helping them achieve these expectations. Nonetheless, students did identify a few challenges, namely lack of swift responsiveness from some mentors, not enough guidance on navigating the mentor-mentee relationship, and little to no in-person interaction. While half of the students mentioned that some individuals within their mentoring team were hard to reach, a majority remained satisfied with the overall responsiveness of their mentors. This suggests that the many-to-many mentoring model helped to ensure none were entirely dissatisfied on this measure. Conclusions: These findings support previous research and show promise for mentoring as an effective intervention to the challenges that underrepresented students face in their academic programs and for their retention and representation, particularly in hazards and disaster-related fields. Implications: Overall, given the unique barriers and challenges to retention for minority students in graduate programs, it is important to understand the mentoring needs of underrepresented students in order to provide the best possible help to them during what can be an extraordinarily difficult transition into academia. It is especially crucial to do this for underrepresented students in the fields of hazards and disaster research and practice, as their contributions and perspectives are needed to address social disparities and inequities.
... Overall, Black men enrolled in STEM doctoral programs face many stressors due to structural inequalities, negatively affecting their academic achievement and success. Faculty and colleagues consistently question Black men's intelligence levels as scientists, judge them based on their physical appearance, do not provide effective mentorship, and expect them to be the "spokesperson of their race" Burt et al. 2019a;McGee and Martin, 2011b;Spencer 2021;p. 8). ...
... 478). Black boys have better academic and social experiences while learning mathematics when they have considerate teachers who believe in their academic abilities and help students form positive relationships within science (Burt et al., 2019a;Davis 2014). Additionally, as Louise Archer and colleagues (2015) suggest Black boys are viewed as problematic because of the ways they have been stereotyped, which makes it rather difficult for them to view themselves as becoming scientists. ...
... They also strongly dislike being severely underrepresented in their STEM graduate programs and thus suffer from acute isolation and alienation (Bush 2014). To help reduce the psychological effects of racial microaggressions inflicted upon them by their faculty advisors and peers, Black men enrolled in engineering graduate programs may deflect or normalize this particular behavior (Burt et al. 2019a). In addition, Black men respond to racial discrimination by "being both arrogant and humble simultaneously, [which] is a survival tool and mechanism that Black men […] utilize to liberate themselves psychologically from the exhaustion and toxicity of the racism they encounter in their programs" (Spencer 2021, p. 14). ...
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This study examines the racialized and gendered experiences of Black men (N = 20) from elementary school through graduate school. The Black men featured in this article are current STEM doctoral students and were asked to reflect on their K-12 and undergraduate STEM experiences as well as their current experiences as graduate students. Findings conclude that Black men, as children and teens, experienced gendered racism in their STEM courses, which included a severe lack of racial representation of Black scientists, leading them to believe that they could not become scientists in their respective disciplines. At the undergraduate level, Black men encountered racial stereotyping and were self-conscious of their gender and race due to being underrepresented in their STEM courses. And at the doctoral level, Black men deal with psychological health issues due to the racism-related stressors they experience on campus, along with feeling compelled to be the spokesperson for Black students at their respective college campuses.
... In research on practices that impact Black males' participation and retention in engineering, little attention is paid to their educational aspirations; however, much is known about the multitude of problems and barriers they experience in their graduate programs. Being forced to endure stereotypical and racialized experiences in the admission process and throughout their programs from non-Black peers and advisors (Burt et al., 2019a), while having to work twice as hard to be recognized and sacrificing school/ life balance as a result (McGee et al., 2019), Black males are prevented from entering or are pushed out of engineering. Moreover, even for those with an early penchant for engineering (Burt and Johnson, 2018;McGee et al., 2016) the accumulation of these barriers impacts their ability to construct an engineering identity (Benjamin et al., 2022) and hampers the socialization process needed to assume their desired professional role (Johnson and Strayhorn, 2022). ...
... In turn, stakeholders could begin talking to students about graduate school earlier, with the hope of decreasing the unknowns and mysteries surrounding graduate education. Additionally, knowing when students become-even remotely-inquisitive might also assist stakeholders in helping students navigate through potential barriers known to threaten their continued participation in science and engineering (e.g., weed out courses, gendered and racialized microaggressions, racism, etc.) (Burt and Johnson, 2018;Burt et al., , 2019aMcGee, 2020;Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). ...
A growing body of research explores the experiences of students in graduate education and more−particularly, students of color pursuing advanced degrees. However, little research provides information about Black students' aspirations to pursue graduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Even less is known about Black males' aspirations to pursue graduate education in STEM. Knowing why Black males aspire to pursue graduate education would assist stakeholders (e.g., administrators, faculty, advisors, family members, and peers) in better supporting and motivating students while they are in graduate school, or earlier in their educational trajectories. This retrospective study of 50 Black males' aspirations for graduate school aimed to better understand the factors that influenced their aspirations to pursue graduate degrees in engineering. Four themes were most influential: (a) Black male students received messages implying that a bachelor's degree was insufficient, (b) earning a graduate degree in engineering was regarded as a sign of community influence and respect, (c) students' professorial career goals necessitated an advanced degree, and (d) mothers functioned as support systems and role models for earning an advanced degree. Finally, we offer implications for future research and practice. These new findings about aspirations regarding graduate education will assist stakeholders in identifying critical moments and experiences necessary to encourage talented individuals to pursue advanced degrees in STEM fields.
... Such enactments dictate what engineering is, how it is taught and who is allowed to become an engineer [14], [15] . In engineering education, the culture has been described throughout the literature as gendered, raced, heteronormative, ableist, and techno-centric [4], [16]- [23] . This body of work problematizes a variety of embedded, taken-for-granted norms by exposing their marginalizing and harmful impacts on students with non-normative identities. ...
... In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, the problem has been researched from multiple viewpoints in an attempt to meet federal goals and industry needs for doctoral-level researchers who can address the needs of 21 st -century problems (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018). Within engineering doctoral departure research, specific factors include poor advisor experiences, support networks, life balance, costs, and changing goals (Berdanier et al., 2020); and race and gender-based discrimination (Bahnson et al., 2022;Burt et al., 2018Burt et al., , 2019McGee et al., 2019). However, early departure rates in engineering are not as high as in other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, partly because of consistent and relatively high funding of graduate students and a relatively short time to degree completion. ...
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Aim/Purpose: The research reported here aims to demonstrate a method by which novel applications of qualitative data in quantitative research can resolve ceiling effect tensions for educational and psychological research. Background: Self-report surveys and scales are essential to graduate education and social science research. Ceiling effects reflect the clustering of responses at the highest response categories resulting in non-linearity, a lack of variability which inhibits and distorts statistical analyses. Ceiling effects in stress reported by students can negatively impact the accuracy and utility of the resulting data. Methodology: A longitudinal sample example from graduate engineering students’ stress, open-ended critical events, and their early departure from doctoral study considerations demonstrate the utility and improved accuracy of adjusted stress measures to include open-ended critical event responses. Descriptive statistics are used to describe the ceiling effects in stress data and adjusted stress data. The longitudinal stress ratings were used to predict departure considerations in multilevel modeling ANCOVA analyses and demonstrate improved model predictiveness. Contribution: Combining qualitative data from open-ended responses with quantitative survey responses provides an opportunity to reduce ceiling effects and improve model performance in predicting graduate student persistence. Here, we present a method for adjusting stress scale responses by incorporating coded critical events based on the Taxonomy of Life Events, the application of this method in the analysis of stress responses in a longitudinal data set, and potential applications. Findings: The resulting process more effectively represents the doctoral student experience within statistical analyses. Stress and major life events significantly impact engineering doctoral students’ departure considerations. Recommendations for Practitioners: Graduate educators should be aware of students’ life events and assist students in managing graduate school expectations while maintaining progress toward their degree. Recommendation for Researchers: Integrating coded open-ended qualitative data into statistical models can increase the accuracy and representation of the lived student experience. The new approach improves the accuracy and presentation of students’ lived experiences by incorporating qualitative data into longitudinal analyses. The improvement assists researchers in correcting data with ceiling effects for use in longitudinal analyses. Impact on Society: The method described here provides a framework to systematically include open-ended qualitative data in which ceiling effects are present. Future Research: Future research should validate the coding process in similar samples and in samples of doctoral students in different fields and master’s students.
... In higher education, they can contribute to students abandoning their courses or even dropping out of university (Lee et al., 2020;Silva, 2016;Silva & Powell, 2016;Solórzano et al., 2000;Sue et al., 2009); and in postgraduate school, they may trigger feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction with research (Burt et al., 2019;Miles et al., 2020;Solórzano, 1998). ...
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Neste artigo, conceituamos microagressões relacionadas ao ensino e à aprendizagem de Matemática, na perspectiva de elucidar sua noção e destacar algumas de suas possíveis manifestações na Educação Matemática. Nessa direção, discutimos estudos recentes, e também que temos conduzido, os quais vêm indicando uma relação importante entre as vivências de futuros professores e professoras que ensinam Matemática com esse fenômeno e a falta de domínio de conteúdos matemáticos durante as aulas, bem como o desenvolvimento de reações aversivas em relação à Matemática, que muitas vezes favorecem a manifestação de episódios de ansiedade matemática ou procrastinação. Argumentamos que as microagressões relacionadas ao ensino e à aprendizagem de Matemática possuem características similares em relação às microagressões raciais. Entretanto, as questões sobre o ensino e a aprendizagem focam especificamente nos contextos de sala de aula e nas relações estabelecidas entre o professor, o/a estudante e o saber. Aqueles que têm dificuldades com o saber matemático, em ambientes acadêmicos e escolares, muitas vezes acabam sendo rotulados como incapazes de aprender e passam, ao longo de suas vidas, por situações desconfortantes. Por conta disso, a Matemática possui um importante prestígio social, favorecendo o desenvolvimento de uma relação muito íntima entre Matemática e poder que se reflete no contexto escolar. Considerações educacionais são discutidas acerca dos impactos das microagressões na formação docente nas relações que se estabelecem com os estudantes sob vários aspectos.
Background Extensive research has documented the importance of faculty advisors for graduate students’ experiences and outcomes. Recent research has begun to provide more nuanced accounts illuminating different dimensions of advisor support as well as attending to inequalities in students’ experiences with advisors. Purpose We extend the research on graduate student advisor relationships in two important ways. First, building on the concept of social capital, and in particular the work on institutional agents, we illuminate specific benefits associated with student-advisor relationships. Second, we advance prior work on inequality in advisor relationships by examining students’ experiences at the intersection of race and gender. Research Design To illuminate the nuances of graduate students’ experiences with advisors, this study included interviews with 79 students pursuing PhD’s in biological sciences. Thematic coding revealed several important dimensions of benefits associated with advisor relationships. Corresponding codes were grouped into three categories, describing three groups of students with notably different experiences with advisors. Findings The data revealed three distinct student-advisor relationship profiles which we term scholars, subordinates, and marginals. The three groups had vastly different experiences with access to knowledge and resources, access to networks, and cultivation of independence. Moreover, the distribution across these three groups was highly unequal with unique patterns observed at the intersection of race and gender. White men benefited from both racial and gender privilege and were notably overrepresented in the scholars group while White women and racial/ethnic minority (REM) students were more likely to be socialized as subordinates. REM men had the least favorable experiences with the majority of them being in the marginal category, along with a substantial proportion of White and REM women. Notably, even experiences of negative relationships with advisors were gendered and raced: REM men’s negative relationships with advisors were characterized by “benign neglect” while women primarily experienced conflictual relationships. Conclusion and Recommendations The findings illuminate important consequences of student-advisor relationships and pronounced inequalities in who has access to benefits accrued through those relationships. Creating more equitable experiences will necessitate substantial attention to improving mentoring and eliminating gender and racial/ethnic inequalities in faculty support.
Epistemic injustice is a condition where knowers and knowledge claims are unduly dismissed. Philosophers suggest that epistemic injustice manifests in three forms: testimonial, hermeneutical, and contributory. Although distinct, all forms of epistemic injustice stem from relations of power, privilege, and positionality — where some have the opportunity and authority to legitimize the knowledge contributions of others. The purpose of this study was to explore the presence of epistemic injustice in U.S. doctoral education through a systematic review of literature. We methodically searched hundreds of peer-reviewed journals for studies focused on teaching, advising, peer interaction, doctoral socialization, and other experiences concerning doctoral education across the humanities, social science, and science disciplines. We retained, reviewed, and analyzed 107 manuscripts. Our analysis revealed epistemic injustice in doctoral education as well as rules that foster the conditions for epistemic injustice. Implications for doctoral education and future research are offered.
Mental health concerns among doctorate (PhD) nursing students may impact program retention, especially among underrepresented racial-/ethnic-minoritized (UREM) students. Understanding mental health concerns among UREM PhD students is necessary to develop retention strategies. We conducted a qualitative secondary data analysis of a descriptive study with focus groups and individual semi-structured interviews. Participants identified as actively enrolled UREM in PhD nursing programs. Conventional content analysis was utilized. Mental health informed retention through the following themes: PhD program pressure and expectations, help-seeking barriers, personal motivations to succeed, and it takes a village: fostering peer support. Implications for nursing faculty are discussed.
Background While studies examining graduate engineering student attrition have grown more prevalent, there is an incomplete understanding of the plight faced by persisting students. As mental health and well‐being crises emerge in graduate student populations, it is important to understand how students conceptualize their well‐being in relation to their decisions to persist or depart from their program. Purpose/Hypothesis The purpose of this article is to characterize the well‐being of students who endured overwhelming difficulties in their doctoral engineering programs. The PERMA‐V framework of well‐being theory proposes that well‐being is a multifaceted construct comprised of p ositive emotion, e ngagement, r elationships, m eaning, a ccomplishment, and v itality. Design/Method Data were collected in a mixed‐methods research design through two rounds of qualitative semistructured interviews and a survey‐based PERMA‐V profiling instrument. Interview data were analyzed thematically using the PERMA‐V framework as an a priori coding schema and narrative configuration and analysis. Results The narratives demonstrated the interconnectedness between the different facets of well‐being and how they were influenced by various experiences the participants encountered. The participants in this study faced prolonged and extreme adversity. By understanding how the multiple dimensions of well‐being theory manifested in their narratives, we better understood and interpreted how these participants chose to persist.
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This article advances the Theoretical Model of Engineering Professorial Intentions to explain why individuals do or do not choose to pursue faculty careers. A 13-month ethnographic study of members of a diverse chemical engineering research group was conducted. The resulting theoretical model accounts for six emergent components that contribute to members’ identification with faculty careers: (1) social identities and personal factors; (2) sociocultural factors; (3) participation, interactions, and learning in research group experiences; (4) faculty prototype; (5) social comparisons; and (6) individual and institutional experiences. The article concludes with implications for further research and recommendations regarding mentoring and design of research group experiences that may promote greater interest in and identification with the professoriate.
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Black men, underrepresented in engineering, constitute a missing segment of the population who could contribute to the global knowledge economy. To address this national concern, stakeholders need additional research on strategies that aid in Black men’s persistence. This study explores the experiences of 30 Black men in engineering graduate programs. Three factors are identified as helping them persist from year to year, and in many cases through completion of the doctorate: the role of family, spirituality and faith-based community, and undergraduate mentors. The article concludes with implications for future research and professional practice that may improve the experiences of Black men in engineering graduate programs, which may also increase the chances that they will remain in the engineering workforce.
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While much is known about how Black students negotiate and navigate undergraduate studies, there is a dearth of research on what happens when these students enter graduate school. This article presents the results of a study of 21 Black male graduate students in engineering from one highly ranked research-intensive institution. This article provides evidence of structurally racialized policies within the engineering college (e.g., admissions) and racialized and gendered interactions with peers and advisors that threaten Black males’ persistence in engineering. We argue for taking an anti-deficit approach to understanding Black males’ persistence in engineering. We conclude with implications for policy, practice, and research that could further improve the scholarship and experiences of Black males in engineering graduate programs.
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Despite a growing body of work on the experiences of Black collegians, the higher education knowledge base lacks scholarship focused on Black men in graduate programs who are foreign-born and/or identify ethnically as other than African American. In this article, we provide a domain-specific investigation (i.e., based on students’ field of study), centering on nine Black men in engineering graduate programs. Three themes emerged regarding students’ racialized experiences and effects of racialization: (1) racialization as a transitional process; (2) cultural identity (dis)integrity; and (3) racialized imposter syndrome. We conclude with implications for developing and implementing promising practices and activities that aid students throughout graduate school. Such targeted efforts might also improve the likelihood of students remaining in the engineering workforce.
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Purpose In some fields, research group experiences gained in laboratories are more influential than the classroom in shaping graduate students’ research abilities, understandings of post-graduate careers and professional identities. However, little is known about what and how students learn from their research group experiences. This paper aims to explore the learning experiences of engineering graduate students in one chemical engineering research group to determine what students learned and to identify the practices and activities that facilitated their learning. Design/methodology/approach Ethnography was used to observe the experiences of one research group in chemical engineering. Fieldwork included 13 months of observations, 31 formal interviews (16 first-round and 15 second-round interviews) and informal interviews. Fieldnotes and transcriptions were analyzed using grounded theory techniques. Findings Research group members developed four dominant competencies: presenting research, receiving and responding to feedback, solving problems and troubleshooting problems. Students’ learning was facilitated by the practices and activities of the research group (e.g. weekly full group and subgroup meetings) and mediated through the interactions of others (i.e. peers, faculty supervisor and lab manager). Originality/value This study adds to the engineering education literature and contributes to the larger discourse on identifying promising practices and activities that improve student learning in graduate education.
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This study used a phenomenological approach to analyze the self-efficacy of two African-American women obtaining doctorate degrees at one predominantly white institution in the Midwest United States. Findings from this study suggested that verbal persuasion and vicarious experiences were the strongest predictors of self-efficacy as the two students attributed their success to supportive peers, family, faculty and engaging in welcoming communities. Student challenges to success included feelings of isolation while developing an academic trajectory, compounded by uninvolved or ambivalent faculty, difficult dissertation committee dynamics, and not asking for help. Self-efficacy provided a useful framework to help understand these experiences and the multiple variables impacting academic success in the context of doctoral studies for African American women graduate students in these types of institutions.
The educational achievement of Black males is in decline and scholars indicate that disparities between this group and other groups begin early. In elementary school and continuing into high school, Black males lead all other racial/ethnic and gender groups in suspensions, expulsions, behavioral problems, and referral to special education services (Harper, 2006; Jackson & Moore, 2006; Palmer, Davis, & Hilton, 2009; Strayhorn, 2008; White & Cones, 1999). By the time Black males reach college age, they are more likely to be incarcerated than enrolled in postsecondary education (Harrison & Beck, 2005). Given that students of color are projected to comprise 50% of the US population by 2050 (Museus, Palmer, Davis, & Maramba, 2011), the disproportionate rates of death, incarceration, unemployment, and comparatively low levels of college graduation rates among Black males raise imminent concerns for the …
This article reports on an exploratory study that examined the transition to independence in Stage 2 of the doctoral student experience in two applied social science fields. We rely on an interdisciplinary framework that integrates developmental networks and sociocultural perspectives of learning to better understand the connection between the challenges in Stage 2 of the doctoral education process and students' learning-based behavioral responses to such challenges during this critical transition. Results indicate the presence of three types of process challenges in Stage 2: structural, interpersonal, and individual. Results also point to a range of behavioral responses to such challenges and their relative effectiveness in advancing doctoral student learning towards becoming independent scholars. We conclude with directions for future research and practice.
This qualitative study investigated the collegiate experiences of 59 Black males at three different historically White institutions. Specifically, we explore how these students construct meaning from their collegiate experiences and their efforts for educational success. As Black males, they were confronted by a deficit perspective that often translated into lowered expectations of them across the college milieu—both academic and social—and posited them as outsiders on campus. In response, the students articulated two critical components of their college experience that positively shaped their persistence efforts: (a) peer-to-peer bonding and associations with other Black males and (b) mentoring from Black faculty members. Findings suggest that these social networks and micro-communities both enhance and support Black males’ persistence in college.