The 2020 global pandemic caused by COVID-19 highlighted a number of inequities in the United States including, but not limited to, the digital divide for remote learning and instruction, healthcare, livable wages, etc. It also highlighted an issue that Black Americans have had to deal with since being brought to this country for enslavement – racism. The death of George Floyd in May 2020 compelled many corporate executives, institutional leaders, and the like to issue statements in support of “Black Lives Matter” and standing in solidarity with the Black community. However, many Black Americans feel that these statements are made half-heartedly – statements stay statements and never evolve into meaningful action. In fact, Black/African American students are actively dealing with racism on campuses as recently as September 2021 where an anonymous racist letter was emailed to the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) (and subsequently almost all of the Black/African American students) at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.
In June 2020, a mixed methods research study was conducted on how underrepresented engineering students were impacted by COVID-19. The study included 500 participants, with roughly 50% of those participants identified as Black/African American. Participants were asked to respond to the prompt “Imagine you are chatting with a friend or family member about the evolving COVID-19 crisis. Tell them about something you have experienced recently as an engineering student.” Participants’ responses included a variety of topics related to coping with the pandemic and adjusting to virtual instruction, but some participants shared stories regarding racism, social injustices and unrest, and how it impacted their personal lives, mental health, and educational pursuits. This paper seeks to address the following research question: What were the experiences of Black engineering students at the beginning of the dual pandemic? Recognizing that some participants chose to address social issues in response to the initial prompt is an indicator that there is much needed discussion to be had about the experiences of Black engineering students with anti-Black racism while in pursuit of their engineering degree programs.
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