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The Swarthmore Engineering Department Examined Under a “Feminist” Educational Lens

jzarate's picture
Please read attached document.


Anne Dalke's picture

Feminist Engineering/Engineering Feminism


several of your classmates used McIntosh's phases of curricular revision to think about education in the math and sciences; you might be especially interested to compare your report on the Swarthmore Engineering Department with three other accounts: Feminism in the Math Classroom; Rethinking the Haverford Chemistry Department and Cultural Revision of an Organic Chemistry Lab.

What is most striking to me here is your juxtaposition of McIntosh's Phases 1 and 5: the sharp contrast of a woman- (actually? student!-) unfriendly field, with the collaborative work that students do to manage their work in such an evironment. Your pairing suggests a very different relation between phases than the more step-wise evolutionary process McIntosh traces: it's more reactionary, like the way in which "objectivity" and "subjectivity" operate as correctives/foils/opposing definitions to one another in the history of science, more generally conceived: in your account, students who feel intimidated by a hostile environment bond together to combate their sense of oppression.

I have an especial interest in your work because I recently co-taught a class with a physics professor here; it was called Gender and Science: Re-envisioning and Revising the Relation. There's a lot of material in that syllabus that might be of interest to you if you want to go exploring further in this terrritory; see especially a piece by a Swarthmore physics/astronomy professor:

Bug, Amy. "Gender and Physical Science: A Hard Look at a Hard Science." Women Succeeding in the Sciences: Theories and Practices across Disciplines. Ed. Jody Bart. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2000. 221-244.

Because of my co-teacher's speciality--and because we were so tickled by the analogy between the epistemological implications of modern physics and feminist standpoint epistemology--we used the field of physics as the exemplar in our course. I'm wondering if you want to keep thinking about answers to the questions you pose here, focusing even more specifically on the particularity of what it means to be educated as an engineer--how are you taught to reason? to use tools? to think and do and make?--and what difference it might make for more women to be doing that work.

In our course, we used a number of contemporary novels and films as imaginative test cases; would you like to do that? (What have been the representions of engineering, and women in engineering, in art?) Would you like to write a play or short story that revises those representations?

Looking forward to hearing/seeing where you go with this--