PERSIST(Σ): Women and Non-Binary People of Color in Engineering Initiative
PERSIST(Σ), guided by a counterspace framework (Solorzano & Villalpando, 1998), is an initiative at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), an HSI and four-year institution, that aims to create identity-affirming spaces to promote the participation and persistence of women and non-binary people of color in engineering at UIC. As a collaborative effort between Equity and Inclusion in Engineering Program, Women in Engineering Programs (WIEP), and the Women’s Resource and Leadership Center, PERSIST(Σ) creates brave spaces to support students to:
- Promote their learning so their experiences are validated and viewed as critical knowledge;
- Share stories or experiences of frustration, isolation, microaggressions, and/or discrimination;
- Challenge deficit notions and mind-set of people of color and other marginalized groups to establish and maintain a positive collegiate climate (Solorzano et al., 2000; Solorzano & Villalpando, 1998).
As the literature suggests, hostile campus climates are associated with students of color leaving STEM fields before reaching graduation. These barriers can be more pronounced for women and non-binary students of color, who often experience a ‘double bind’ of race and gender marginalization when navigating the STEM culture (Cross et al., 2017). So, it is imperative for academic institutions like UIC to learn about their experiences to empower them and confront systems of oppression.
Since 2016, WIEP has conducted outreach programs such as the Women in Engineering Summer Program and Girls Who Code for high school and college students at two-year institutions to enhance the pipeline of women in engineering and encourage their enrollment at UIC. However, we recognize that promoting their participation in these fields is not sufficient to ensure they will stay. Therefore, PERSIST(Σ) is a response to the need for UIC Engineering to proactively address the unique challenges that women and non-binary people of color encounter in these spaces.