2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Mixed in Engineering: Introducing Critical Multiracial Theory to Engineering Education Research

Presented at Equity, Culture & Social Justice in Education Division (EQUITY) Technical Session 9

According to several studies, mixed-race students in engineering are not properly included or engaged in engineering education research. Engineering education has navigated the ways that racial identities have set barriers to underrepresented minorities [1, 2]. Despite this, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields have a tendency to exclude mixed-race students leaving them to a citation or footnote, or not even mentioning them in statistics given the “challenge” and “complexity” putting them in an appropriate category, which can impact support networks for underrepresented students [3]. Likewise, diversity, equity, and inclusion research cite a low number of mixed-race students in excluding these students in research.
By disengaging mixed-race students, engineering disservices a population of engineering students that are continually left to the margins of inclusion in various aspects such as resources and opportunities their peers may have. While other spaces of engineering have used various theoretical frameworks to explore race in engineering, we need to look at theoretical frameworks that explore and expand mixed-race students' experiences. Critical race theory (CRT) has been used to explore racial identity in engineering. However, CRT excludes nuances of race that are left out of mixed-race experiences such as racial ambiguity, “passing,” code-switching, and colorism [4]. Thus, we propose that engineering education should utilize Critical Multiracial Theory (MultiCrit) building off of CRT, to explore the experiences of mixed-race students in engineering.
Developed in 2016, MultiCrit aims to expand eight tenets of CRT: challenge to ahistoricism, interest converge, experiential knowledge, racism, monoracism, and colorism, a monoracial paradigm of race, differential micro-racialization, and intersections of multiple racial identities [4]. While MultiCrit’s focus has been exclusively on the higher education space, we believe it should be extended into engineering education research. Engineering can utilize MultiCrit as a way to not only understand mixed-race student experiences but understand and explain the experiences of non-white students in engineering. Engineering education research continues to explore how research on race in engineering can reject deficit paradigms [5-9]. MultiCrit acts as a more nuanced version of CRT which includes ways for which mixed-race students can have multiple racial and ethnic identities intersect. Though one project has discussed multiracial experiences in engineering, it is exclusively for a very specific population of mixed-race students in engineering [10].
In this paper, we describe MultiCrit as a theoretical framework as an opportunity for a research framework in engineering education, related to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. First, we discuss the background of CRT and the development of MultiCrit. Then we look at how MultiCrit has been used in other fields such as higher education, psychology, and family studies. We include discussion about potential limitations of MultiCrit, and end with how MultiCrit can be used in engineering education research.

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