Dear FIRST Robotics : ED&I

Hi. You may or may not recognize us from Instagram, but there’s actually another account that I want to talk about on here. @dearfirstrobotics has become a platform for FIRST participants to tell their stories, and while the entries are saddening to read, they’re extremely relatable to many of us. It’s become really clear now: minority groups experience a lot of trouble within the program, and too much of it can be attributed to mentors and volunteers. I highly encourage you to read the stories on this account.

Not all of minorities’ problems in FIRST come from mentors and volunteers, I’ll make that clear. However, it’s still a troubling number. Yes, some high schoolers may be ignorant because of their youth and they’re a part of the problem, too, but mentors and volunteers are where it can be contained and stopped. They should listen to the problems of minority groups and know how to act accordingly because they drive the program and are our role models. Mentors are the backbone of this program, so they need to be closely monitored and trained.

Between Inspiring Youth Voices training and Inspiring Success training, FIRST actually does a pretty good job of explaining what equity is for a FIRST team. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the content in Inspiring Success. There’s still a problem, though.

The current Youth Protection Program required for mentoring does not include the in depth training that Inspiring Success training does. Mentors are currently not required to take this course, and the training modules are not featured nearly enough in FIRST’s newsletters, websites, and social medias. FIRST’s resources are good, but they need to be in the forefront of the program, not tucked nicely away.

FIRST’s core values include equity and inclusion. They have a good starting point, and I have to believe that they’re genuine in their sentiment. They’re just not pushing these great resources enough, and I think that many others agree, from the few stories I’ve read so far. We have to keep pushing forward.

We’ve recently released to feature a petition to sign, people to email, and a template to start off with. I believe in this community and this effort, and my love goes out to everyone who has written to dearfirstrobotics, as well as everyone else who relates.

(P.S. Here’s the equity FIRST discord server for anyone wanting to chat about this effort, get help with becoming a part of it, or just needing support for any reason. To my fellow girls in stem, here’s a girls in steam discord server for us to support each other.)


As a 6 year volunteer I’ll be honest and say I have never heard of these particular training courses before today. Are there links you can share for where these are found within the first website? If you could pass those along I will ask my connection at HQ to see what can be done to make these courses more visible.


They can be found on this page: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Training & Resources | Resource Library | FIRST

Or directly accessed through this link. We’ve very recently made them mandatory for all mentors on 1114. I highly recommend them for any mentor or volunteer in this program. They’re useful both within FIRST and in our diverse society.


So sorry to hear that, and, yes, FIRST does have an “Inspiring Youth Voice Training” listed under “Youth Team Member Trainings” on their ED&I page. The modules are only 2-3 minutes and they’re honestly pretty vague compared to the Inspiring Success training that we want to have mentors and volunteers doing. For teammates, though, it’s decent starting point to get a conversation going when people don’t want to spend more than 10 minutes on this stuff.


I’m obviously a big critic of FIRST and FRC. I went through and picked out some choice quotes to highlight:

I can’t tell you why we can’t get more diversity on our team. I’m an engineer, and I love it, so I don’t know what to do.

If you’re a girl, you really need to know one of the boys on the team to be able to work on the robot.

I’ve given everyone equal opportunities to participate, but I just can’t recruit girls for the team.

I wanted to do more building, but every time I tried, someone jumped in to do it for me.

We used to have some African American students on the team, but I don’t know why we don’t anymore.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Those sound horrible… except they aren’t real quotes. They are literally quotes from the FIRST ED&I training available here and they are all about recognizing the problem.

Credit where it is due, FIRST is aware of the issues and is trying to make us all aware of them too. Anything, right now (particularly right now in the current political climate of the USA), to help make us aware of these issues and how we can improve is important.

I’m glad OP is raising awareness and pushing to make this required training for everyone.


Is nobody else extremely concerned about the Instagram posts alleging sexual harassment and assault that the posters stated went unreported? How the heck are teams ignoring this stuff? How are schools and teachers ignoring it? How are parents ignoring it?

School teams and community teams must make it a priority to create safe spaces for all participants in which everyone understands processes for handling these situations, creating comfortable dialogue for reporting, and most importantly preventing harassment and assault in the first place. I sincerely hope these students come forward to report incidents to their mentors, teachers, parents, administration and their friends, regardless of how “minor” students might feel the incidents are.


I would imagine that many school based FRC mentors are actually mandatory reporters and this is a bit alarming.


Apparently, there’s Non Medical Incident Reports that should be used in these situations, but there’s just a lot of us that don’t know about them. Along with ED&I, we’re hoping that FIRST will start normalizing NMIRS and coming out about the topics addressed in dearfirstrobotics. It says a lot about FIRST culture that these ~100 stories came out in less than a month, but never before until they had a safe, anonymous platform; we need to make people comfortable with talking about them in a “real” FIRST environment. We’ve been working with different regions of FIRST and hopefully things will change enough where we can provide that environment.


To be fair, NMIR’s are not heavily advertised as an option for teams. I’m only aware of them thanks to the informal awareness campaign of “Marshall and Co Stirring Up Stuff on CD”


Exactly! This stuff needs to be pushed to the front of FIRST – otherwise, what’s the point?


If I had a magic wand, I’d make a lot more of the incident reporting process transparent… including a yearly report about the number and general type of incidents reported and how they were addressed/resolved, appropriately sanitized of any identifying information.


I’m gonna quote my opinion on NMIRs here because I think it’s pertinent


Having had to fill out a few Non-Medical Incident Reports as a volunteer, HQ does review them. Every one. Some times things happen, some times they don’t. But that’s HQ’s discretion. I also was given feedback on one, and not on another. Just because you don’t hear something from them, doesn’t mean stuff hasn’t happened in the background.


I cannot suggest strongly enough that if that team feels they needed a resolution from HQ and did not receive what they were hopeful for, or felt slighted in communication, contact HQ. IMO the staff at HQ are great, and the FTC staff will work with teams if possible. At this point, it sounds like this was a while ago, and so a resolution may no longer be applicable, but at least the team could feel like they were heard.

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Right before COVID hit, so I am guessing it just got dropped. But I think I’m gonna delete these posts since they are irrelevant to the topic.

This might not be the right place, but I read your posts and one that caught my attention was the one about chairmans award. I found a few articles from them and found it really interesting, as I hadn’t really seen that side of it before, coming from a team that never submitted. I just wanted to post them here, (with permission) and see some other peoples thoughts and experiences on it.

(im not really sure how to use CD very much so if there is a better place to post this please tell me)

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Those are… opinions.


I’ve seen those, I think it goes a bit far in accusing FIRST and teams of imperialism and moral issues from taking money from questionable sources, but I do think the issues should be looked at. My view on the sponsorship stuff is that I’d rather the military be spending money on robotics teams than military stuff, and it’s similar for other organizations I have reservations about. I agree the most with the Chairman’s one, and while I’m not sure that teams getting awarded for unsustainable outreach that looks impressive on paper happens as often as the post lets on, I think it should be reformed into an award about actually improving your community and spreading STEM instead of focusing on promoting FIRST specifically in a relatively short time period.


“At the end of the day, teams just want to have [insert picture of impoverished/BIPOC/etc child typing on a laptop with the team logo in the back] on their Chairman’s brochure.”

The teams I know who actually do this kind of work would find this statement incredibly insulting. Much of this author’s article comes off as ignorant and presumptuous. Sounds like the author is projecting their own team’s experience than anything else.

While I agree that the Chairman’s award incentivizes propagation of new teams which can lead to unsustainability, the teams that do significant international work do not phone it in, and they 100% care about the people they are working with.

I’m not even going to acknowledge anything in the ethics gap article because of how preachy it comes off as. Sounds like a student who JUST realized the world is run by corporations.


Could a mod split this into a separate conversation? I think it’s important to talk about, but it’s straying from the core need for this thread, I think.

I know a team that spent a significant amount of effort supporting building up interest in China, back when there were no Chinese teams. Then we had a year with a bunch of Chinese teams coming to events here in the US. Then China got some local regionals. To paint such a team with the broad brush indicated in this article represents a severe lack of understanding of what they, and many other chairman’s-worthy teams, have done.

I won’t deny that FIRST could put more emphasis on building teams sustainably. That’s a big gap in their system right now. At some point, teams need to be able to stand on their own - find funding and sponsors, recruit new members. Things like rookie grants are great, as they help teams get started, but they’re horrible because many teams fold after they run out due to lack of funds. I know grants like the NASA rookie grant require new teams to focus on chairman’s submission work. That should be changed to working on a sustainability plan. Yes, have grants that give teams money for their first two years, but make those grants contingent on completing a sustainability plan that shows progress towards fundraising and recruitment. And instead of being a hard cut-off at two years, phase teams out. Drop the amount they receive each year for a few years in a row. That lets them more organically bring on new sponsorship to replace their rookie grant. Such a system requires FIRST to work with the sponsors, and would represent a significant shift in how things are handled. Toss in a question on the Chairman’s award about sustainable outreach (you’ve started X teams, and Y are still active this season), and it’ll help let teams know sustainability is a goal. It really shouldn’t take more than that.

As for the question of ethics… two examples are given where technical development may not be entirely ethical - AI replacing jobs and leaving people destitute, and biometrics leading to Orwellian surveillance of the population. I would argue that both of these broad branches of technical development can also have positive ethical impacts.

For AI, having a network of automated cars could help reduce or eliminate traffic accidents. Here in the US, somewhere around 90 people per day die in a traffic accident. With smart cars that talk to each other, all of those deaths could be avoidable. People have always worried about emerging technologies making their jobs obsolete. But society as a whole adapts, and job opportunities shift and change over time. It’s a painful process at times, but the benefits to society can be huge. This view would seem to prioritize macro ethics (benefit to society) over micro ethics (benefit to the individual), which directly contradicts the position the opinion piece takes. Trying to argue the ethics of eliminating 200,000 taxi jobs in the US versus saving as many lives over the course of 6 years isn’t much of an argument, to me. I’ll take saved lives over job losses any day, even if that job is someday mine.

Next, biometrics. I don’t know about you, but I find it rather convenient having good security on my phone, knowing that my data is protected, yet being able to access it quickly and easily with a fingerprint or a glance. Biometrics is used, first and foremost, to enhance security, both personal and corporate, not track the population. Being able to protect your data from thieves is important in this era, and biometrics is a very secure way to do that.

Finally, I want to point out an example of gracious professionalism in the real world, and how it gets companies (for the most part, there are always exceptions) to act ethically instead of in their best interests. In a simple word, standards. There are all sorts of standards that come into play with your favorite devices. Without the USB standard, companies could make a lot more money and ensure brand loyalty - of course you would by their computer again, all your devices work with it, and switching to their competitor would mean replacing those devices as well. Without such a standard that everyone follows, you’d lock yourself into an ecosystem and give the company the ability to increase prices without worrying about losing customers - pure profit. Other standards - HDMI, Bluetooth, WiFi, to name a few - all promote the same selfless behavior.

Supporting gracious professionalism doesn’t mean you neglect an individuals experience for the sake of a team image, as the second opinion article states. It means you work, as a team, to handle a situation appropriately and professionally. How can anyone think that reporting incidents of harassment or assault would go against GP? Those incidents themselves, and the people that perpetrate them, are the ones that need a lesson in GP, and by bringing attention to them we help the whole community become more aware.

Every team needs to determine what’s important to it. Create a mission and core values that reflect your team, and hold yourselves accountable. Create a responsible and supportive culture within your team. Teams have to take responsibility for themselves and how they approach a problem, not place the blame elsewhere. It’s a shame that some teams look at things like the chairman’s award as a cutthroat competition where they need to min/max their way to the top. But let me ask one question - without Chairman’s and EI, what incentive would teams have to do any outreach? We may not have a perfect situation right now, but I think it’s much better than one where teams are isolated and not working to impact their communities.