Assistant Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering Kelly Cross is the driving force behind “Queering STEM Culture in US Higher Education,” a book she says gives voice to members of the STEM community, which is often relegated to the margins of the society. Co-edited and co-authored with Professor Stephanie Farrell of Rowan University and Assistant Professor Bryce Hughes of Montana State University, “Queerizing STEM Culture” will be published by Routledge on June 28.
Diversity in STEM is a research interest for Cross, who earlier this year received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for surveying engineering professors about their beliefs and values around diversity, equity and of Inclusion (DEI) and to develop a game tool to support teachers responding to Situations DEI.
Here, Cross discusses her new book in a Q-and-A with Nevada Today.
Q: This book is about the queer and trans community in post-secondary STEM, which has been a focus for you. In 2017, you published the article “Engineering Faculty Perceptions of Diversity in the Classroom”, examining how STEM teachers perceive diversity and inclusion, among other works. How deep is the need for awareness of queer and trans issues in academia?
A: The need for awareness in academia is great, especially in STEM, which tends to take the position that “who you are” doesn’t matter in a STEM education. The national conversation regarding civil rights for the queer community, including trans members, has come under attack across the country and across the social landscape. Despite the growing number of young people becoming aware of their queer identity, the education system at both levels, K-12 and secondary education, has yet to respond to this growing student population. Therefore, we offer this book as a resource for those involved in higher education, whether it is a parent of a queer student or a colleague trying to support a current member of STEM disciplines who happens to identify as queer. In the book, we capture the untold experiences of gay-identified people in STEM and provide space for often ignored voices within the ecosystem of STEM culture and higher education. You can find research to support my view on American Society for Engineering Education LGBTQ+ in the STEM University Resources webpage.
Q: The book shares the experiences of queer and trans community members in post-secondary STEM culture, describing a situation where these groups continue to face exclusion and barriers. Recommendations on how to change this situation are also included. Can you tell us a bit more about the work?
A: I would add that the book also includes trips from allies to the queer community. Allies are key to building awareness and support. I would also like to mention that most of the authors and editors are all part of the Virtual Community of Practice (VCP), which is committed to improving the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM by developing Safe Zone trainings and workshops that specifically focus on the unique educational culture of STEM that historically has been exclusive to several non-centered identity groups, including gay people, people of color, and women. Information on PCV is available on the American Society for Engineering Education Webpage on Safe Zone Workshops. Also, (the book contains) chapters from administrators and their perspectives on how to support the queer community from a position of academic leadership.
Q: Tell us how this book came about.
A: Several colleagues encouraged me to write my story about the experience of being an openly queer STEM professional and my academic career path. After discussing my idea of writing a book about my experience with an editor at Routledge, she asked if I would be interested in working on an edited volume with multiple stories. After a long reflection and consultation with my mentors, I agreed to lead the project. I first recruited my two co-editors and developed a plan and schedule to create the book. I also hired an experienced editor to support the writing of the book as all the authors had different levels of experience with academic writing and in particular with the autoethnographic approach we applied in the project. Most of the authors are members of the VCP and it was really a group effort. The group was already making a difference with Safe Zone training, and the book offered a different way to interact with the wider STEM community and give voice to members of the STEM community, which is often pushed to the margins and overlooked. , if not outright. ignored.
Q: In a chapter of the book, “Building a Village to Manage my Triple Threat Multiple Identities,” you share some of your experiences and the importance of building a professional network that affirms the integration of multiple marginalized identities. Without saying too much, can you share a bit about your experience and how your support network was able to help you navigate your situation?
A: Although I have had challenges throughout my college career, it is my faith in God and the support of “my village” over the years that has kept me engaged and encouraged to know that I have something something to bring to the STEM community, whether they like it or not. not. I want the “closet” queer student to know that there is a way to navigate STEM culture and that your gender identity or sexuality does not define or have anything to do with your ability to do science. I was able to survive because I found a community. Queer people, like all other human groups, need a community. STEM culture is not designed for you to be a lone wolf! Further, I want educators to know that education, especially engineering education, is a process of identity development and therefore students will explore their multiple identities during their education, including their sexual identity. So, as educators, we have a responsibility to support this development so that our students and colleagues can become the best STEM professionals possible.
Q: What audience do you hope this book will find its way to, and why?
A: The audience for the book is anyone – including family members and educators – interested in learning more about the experiences of identified queer people in STEM and understanding ways to support this community. Although we use an academic approach to telling the stories, I think the essence of the stories is also accessible to non-academics. I specifically asked each author to explicitly state what they took away from their chapter. So even if you don’t understand all of the STEM jargon, there are still lessons that can be learned in other disciplines and areas such as industry and government agencies.
Q: Is there anything else about the book or your work that people should know?
A: The project has not been easy for many authors. Thank you for appreciating their efforts and their gift to shed light on a subject rarely discussed within STEM. It is our intention to start a conversation. We know this is NOT the full representation of the queer community or the discussion of our role in STEM.