The National Science Foundation is spending over $500,000 to videotape male engineering students while they work in labs to see if they are causing women to experience "microaggressions."
The University of Michigan received the funding for a three-year project that is studying whether male college students ignore their fellow female classmates’ work.
"Because engineering is cast as a masculine field, women engineering students can experience subtle yet pervasive stereotypic messages in their learning environments that can negatively influence their experiences," according to the grant for the study. "This early stage research project will identify specific behavioral manifestations of gender stereotypes—microaggressions—and their cumulative effect on learning, performance, and persistence in introductory engineering course teamwork."
"Such microaggressions may cause the climate of the team to become less welcoming to women," the researchers warn. "The proposed research unites two areas of strong research interest (social science research on gender stereotypes and engineering education on teamwork and climate) to advance understanding of women's underrepresentation in engineering as compared to men."
The study has received $548,459 in taxpayer funding since it began in September 2014. The project is estimated to continue through August 2017.
The project will involve videotaping engineering classrooms to observe "perceived stereotype threats" against female students.
"The goal of the project is to identify and reliably measure microaggressions in both lab-based and classroom-based engineering student project teams," the grant said. "The research will test whether exposure to microaggressions increases perceived stereotype threat and diminishes a sense of belonging in engineering for women compared to men, leading to a gender gap favoring men in the important engineering outcomes of learning, performance, and persistence."
The first phase of the study is to "identify the specific types of microaggressions," such as male students "ignoring women's contributions or assigning women to less important tasks."
"Researchers will develop a reliable microaggressions assessment procedure, and will analyze effects on engineering outcomes (learning, performance, and persistence)," the grant said.
Following the analysis of the recorded lab sessions, the researchers will host focus groups for students. The students will also be shown videos with and without "microaggressions" to test their "persistence in solving problems."
"Introductory engineering student teams will be tracked and observed at three points in one semester to measure microaggressions and their influence on academic and psychological outcomes," the grant said.
Denise Sekaquaptewa, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, is leading the study. Her current research focuses on "stereotyping, prejudice, stereotype threat, and effects of category salience on test performance."
Sekaquaptewa said her team is in the beginning stages of looking for microaggressions on the tapes of engineering students. She said it is too early to draw conclusions, but is encouraged by the study's findings thus far.
"At this stage, we are still coding videos of engineering teams for behavioral indicators of microaggressions," she said in an email. "We have some self-reported survey data, but what we think is most novel and exciting about our project are the behavioral indicators.