February 28, 2022

Dear Cockrell School Students, Faculty and Staff,

I want to open my message this month by reiterating that the Cockrell School and our leadership support all members of our community, including our LGBTQIA+ community members, as well as those who are friends, family, allies, and advocates of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. I once again affirm that every member of our Texas Engineering community is valued for all aspects of their identity. Please know that you belong here.

As we close out the month of February and look to March, we move from celebrations of Black History Month to those of Women’s History Month. As a quick reminder, Black History Month has been an officially recognized national observance for more than 40 years, though it traces its beginnings back to the pioneering work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson in the 1920s. The celebration of Women’s History Month gained traction in the 1980s and has been a national observance for more than 30 years.

At this juncture, I'm reminded of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality. If you haven’t done so before (and honestly, even if you have), I strongly recommend that you spend 20 minutes of your week watching her TED talk on the topic. Briefly, intersectionality refers to the intersection of various identities (e.g., Black woman student) and the cumulative way that an individual experiences multiple forms of discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism and ageism). During February’s second annual Celebrating Cockrell’s Black Excellence Panel (which, if you missed, you can catch here — also strongly recommended) the student moderator Dorcas Olaoye asked the panelists about the differences between the experiences of Black men and Black women in the engineering field. The panelists did a fantastic job drawing a picture of the feeling many of us have as individuals when we walk into a room. We often look for others who share aspects of our identities — those we might consider allies and advocates — with whom we might have common experiences or social references. The more marginalized intersecting identities one holds, the more difficult it can be to identify someone who is likely to have those shared experiences.

This notion of intersectionality and the importance of diversity in engineering goes beyond our personal experiences and pervades every aspect of our work as engineers. A common example comes from my own domain of computing, where the systems we build can be demonstrably thwarted by intersecting identities that are often excluded from our engineering considerations. The same problems arise when we fail to consider diversity more generally in our engineering work, from solutions built and tested primarily for men, including poorly fitting PPE that is widely used in healthcare and more broadly during the pandemic, to near-infrared sensors that cannot recognize darker skin for such everyday tasks as dispensing soap, or tools that classify people by gender based on digital clues but routinely fail on trans and gender non-binary people.

These serve as reminders as to why diversity in engineering is essential — diverse individuals bring different perspectives and creativity, which are essential to the engineering enterprise. And diverse teams function better than non-diverse ones.

So here at the interface of months celebrating just two of the many and diverse identities in our Cockrell School community, I encourage you to really consider all of the identities that others bring into spaces you share, whether classrooms, the workplace, student organizations or the hallway. Spend some time learning about identities other than your own. And I once again encourage you to connect with someone new whose identities don’t entirely overlap your own so you can better understand how they perceive and are perceived in your shared spaces.

Take Care,

Christine Julien Signature

Christine Julien
Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Cockrell School of Engineering