Author John Rodriguez is the project manager for the Consortium for Verification Technology, Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Science. His post is part of a series by the members of Michigan Engineering’s Staff Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture Committee.
My wife was recently a “mystery reader” for our son’s first grade class. With our family being fans of the modern superhero characters, she decided to read a book on superheroines. This book featured short stories from various female characters within the Marvel universe. When I asked her about this experience, she noted that following her reading, many of the young boys expressed concern about there not being a featured male character.
I considered the disappointment these boys felt. They sat and listened to a book of stories with characters that did not look like them; they heard stories about girls and they were all boys. Was it hard for them to look past gender and learn from the lessons in these stories? I recognize that I am often blinded by biases and privileges that I enjoy as an able-bodied man.
What about the girls? How often do they hear stories in a mixed-gender setting where only women are featured? That day, they didn’t have to wait for a special “girls-only” event to experience such a thing.
Our experiences and expectations can become so normalized that when there is a departure we feel highly concerned, while at the same time someone else experiences acceptance and validation. At the University of Michigan, underrepresented minorities make up 13 percent of the undergraduate population. While we would like to see this number improve, we have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to set the groundwork for that improvement. Are qualified people looking to U-M with the understanding that this is a great place for them to succeed?
I look forward to being part of the discussion on issues like these as a member of the Michigan Engineering DEIC.
I fight for my kids to not only attend a quality school, but to be in a space where they see other kids, teachers, and administrators that look like them and can understand their struggles. I want them to understand that they belong. I do not want them to wonder if they should be there or not.
As much as we want this experience of belonging for ourselves, we must always continue to fight so others can share in the comfort of knowing that not only do they belong, but that they can also achieve success at U-M as our future superheroes.