Did you face sexism, racism or homophobia at an FRC event this year? SHARE YOUR STORY!

EDIT: Please feel free to also share stories of transphobia, toxic actions or other harmful behaviors you may have been subject to. I should have chosen a more inclusive title.

I am frequently told by men that sexism is not as bad as I think it is in STEM environments and FIRST. There is a lot of internalized misogyny to work through here, and one of the only ways for those who don’t experience these things to understand them is to hear the lived experiences of those who do.

So I am terrified to start this thread but I know we need to talk about these things. I am hoping to create a safe space where we can share our stories of things that happened to us this season, and spark a meaningful discussion into how we change make real, tangible change and be better next time around.

So I will start by sharing what I experienced this year, as a white, bisexual woman this year in FRC. (Acknowledging your own biases is key!)

  • Multiple male mentors made assumptions about who was responsible for what in terms of the team. Without asking me what my role was, I was assumed to be only responsible for outreach, team culture and logistics. I actually serve as a lead tech mentor for manufacturing, I also help with CAD, wiring, plumbing, assembly, in addition to team culture and outreach. A white male mentor actually handles all of our logistics and does an amazing job! Occupying space as a highly feminine technical mentor has been one of the hardest things to do. No one makes space for you at the table.
  • A white male approached me in the hotel lobby at Champs and told me that female engineers were “highly sexual” while grunting at me.
  • Male colleagues of mine from another team only spoke to me when my team was looking to be in a picking position; I was ignored and dismissed the second our rank dropped, but they continued conversations with other male mentors on the team, including my partner. I was physically boxed out of multiple conversations.
  • A former male colleague told me was he mad my team was good, that he watched matches and was angry that we were able to be successful because of our approach to team culture was so different to his
  • A male mentor from another team did not want to work with my students on scouting at champs unless he was permitted to yell at the kids. Yelling at students is an absolute no on our team.
  • The mentor party at champs was an absolute boys club, I felt so out of place and not welcome, even though I was masking to make it seem like I was enjoying myself for fear of being called hysterical or crazy. I was holding back panic attacks and had to take breaks in the bathroom to calm myself down.

There’s probably more that I internalized, but this is the major list of incidents this year. I refuse to change who I am and I refuse to stop taking up space in this program!!! I hope others feel empowered to do the same.

If you feel comfortable, use this space to share your stories. Or DM me and I can anonymously post for you.

THIS BEHAVIOR IS NOT AND NEVER WAS OKAY AND WE DESERVE BETTER!!! Share your stories and let’s make positive change so FIRST is a diverse, equitable, inclusive and representative program!

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I am not a woman, so I will not attempt to speak for them, but I agree that it is definitely a problem that should be talked about. My team had a female student as our drive coach this year, and I noticed a lot of drive coaches(primarily old white men, but students as well) either not communicating with her or just telling her what to do. This is just one thing that stood out to me.

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No stories of my own to add (thankfully), but this is just terrible and something I would never think about someone doing. What would someone even hope to achieve by saying something like this?

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I think it stems from white men having so much power in this world. They think they can say or do whatever they please because there are rarely consequences for their actions.

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@Dee, you’re absolutely right. That sort of behavior is not ok and you deserve better…frankly, the entire FIRST community/engineering field does. As a straight white male, I acknowledge that I come from a place of privilege. For those of us who say they don’t see or experience sexism, racism, or homophobia in engineering, it is likely that you are also coming from a place of privilege. One of these “privileges” is the ability to not have to look at these issue or experience them directly. Please, talk to your students. Talk to your mentors. Talk to the volunteers. Ask them about their experiences. If you show genuine concern for them, you might be surprised by what they tell you. These stories are difficult to listen to, it would be a lot easier to ignore them, but it’s only acknowledging that we can start to make progress to living up to the ideals that FIRST represents.

And for Dee, you are not alone and you are appreciated! Thank you for your courage in sharing your experiences!

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THIS 1000 TIMES OVER! This is a pervasive issue in this program. These things suck to talk about, but they hurt even more to experience them. We need to get comfortable getting uncomfortable, and be open to having difficult conversations! That is the only way to learn and grow.

Thank you for your support!

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I only really experienced transphobia? It was at PNW championships and we were staying in a hotel. For some context I am out to my team as a trans person who identifies as female. At the hotel I was put with someone amab who identified as male and I was uncomfortable. One of the leads on my team helped me talk to our team manager and the person in charge of the team had said “I don’t want guys in girls rooms or girls in guys rooms” and had refused to put me in a room with another gender queer person. She had explained I had “guy parts” and needed to stay “with the other guys”. It was more of an ignorance to the differences in gender but I would still consider it transphobia :// I hope my team can make improvements next year in room pairing! And I hope this doesn’t have to happen to others.

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I am really sorry this happened to you. That is absolutely transphobia fueled by ignorance. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable no matter your gender. If you ever need to vent, I am here for you.

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Thank you so much :)) I hope it’s better next season but I appreciate you!

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Thank you for speaking out on these issues and creating a safes pace for mentors and students a like to be able to share their stories I know it must no have been very easy to do. I am wondering what ways would be a good avenue to give team members and mentors who maybe arent on CD to be able to share their stories. Does anyone have experiences with anonymous google forms etc. for tracking this sort of thing and ensuring no-one is excluded? As a mentor I want to figure out ways for everyone involved to have the best experience possible in this wonderful program.

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While I’m willing to give some of those men the benefit of the doubt and assume they are just ignorant, they are most definitely wrong. While I don’t have and specific examples from this year, some of the things my team has experienced or I’ve observed in the past few (pre-covid) years:

  • My team runs a FIRST Ladies luncheon event at our local regional, and due to needing to order food for everyone attending, we send out emails (with the RD’s help) to all teams attending to RSVP their female members. When asked at the event if he had seen the email, and after saying yes, why he hadn’t RSVP’d his team members a male lead mentor, in front of one of his female students replied “I’m not female”.
  • When having left over cookies (in the box they arrived from the pizza shop in) from the event available at the front of our pit, a male mentor asked “where’s your oven?” to an all-girls team.
  • Adult, male drive coaches talking over, actively ignoring, and yelling at our female student drive coaches
  • Male students from other teams taking tools out of my students hands in order to “help” them fix our robot, unasked.

And all that doesn’t even approach the event-long harassment campaign one team put my drive team went through about a decade ago.

A few years ago we had a discussion about this sort of stuff at our annual retreat. We walked out of there with both visual and spoken ways to ask for help to get out of an uncomfortable situation, and how they can support each other in those cases. I really, really, really wish those types of things weren’t necessary, but they are. I really feel for female students on some of these teams, I can only imagine what they go through.

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Do you mind sharing the communication methods your team uses to help ensure this kind of harassment is minimized?

Maybe it’s time to only have student drive coaches.

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Did I face it? Possibly, but I’ve either forgotten about it or didn’t notice it at the time.

Some of these stories are horrifying and Dee, I really, really empathize with so many of the stories that are being shared in this thread or in others- just because it didn’t happen to me this year at an FRC event doesn’t mean I’ve never been in a sucky position like that (I elaborate on some stuff here for those curious).

I just want to throw out that I don’t think it’s all that fair to clump groups together in this way and it’s something that as (rightfully) enraged people, I notice a habit of doing. (read as: I’ve definitely crossed the line doing this irl so thought I’d share my tidbit of wisdom)

While when you’re facing garbage like this all the time, it may be mentally easier to clump people in a group like that. However threads like this can quickly devolve into the false rhetoric that ‘all white men are bad’. That’s not very fair of us to do and does not actively reflect the nuanced world we live in.

Ultimately, marginalized individuals probably have more issues with white men in FRC because they make up a significant demographic (thus leading to a significant number of issues). One of the worst interactions I have had with a team was (unfortunately) with a young female student as their drive coach who frankly, ended up speaking in a way that I cannot describe better than as bullying our drive coach/drivers because they were male.

As an aside… obviously I don’t have the context on all these situations so taking this with a grain of salt. But by the sounds of things, “a male mentor not working with your students unless they could yell at the kids” isn’t a sexism problem. It’s a him-being-arrogant-and-having-a-poor-understanding-of-teamwork-and-team-culture problem.

Tldr, we want to be a safe space, when posting be mindful of the (easy to fall into) blanket statement that all men are bad. It alienates the people who are on your side who do want to make change.

Just…no. Being a mentor in this case isn’t the problem. It’s the attitude of the person that’s the problem. Students are not immune to this.

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There was a local team a few years back that finally installed an adult female drive coach, who wouldn’t actually speak during the alliance strategy meeting, just so the other teams with adult drive coaches would start listening to the student drive team members when planning their match strategy. Having another adult there changed dynamics of the alliance meeting. A team shouldn’t have to resort to that when this is a student activity. The students are more than capable of being drive coaches.

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If the point/story being made is in reference to OP that’s fine but please take the ‘mentors should not be drive coaches’ argument into another thread please.

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I think it rarely devolves into that rhetoric, and most of complaining comes from white men who can’t come to terms with their historical privilege and power imbalance and get upset when it’s pointed out.

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The first are two-color safety wristbands. It’s easy enough to fidget with it and flip it around so the “wrong” color is showing, without drawing attention to it.

Next, key words/phrases that can be used, either by the individual needing help or the one offering help - in particular, the name of our founding lead mentor. Easy enough to ask a teammate “Do you know where Mrs X is?”, as a way for asking for help - that teammate can then respond with “I think she’s in the stands, I’ll help you find her”, giving both of them an excuse to leave the area (and the person that’s making them uncomfortable) together. From the other direction, I could say to a student “Mrs X was looking for you earlier, did you talk to her?”, giving the student a chance to say yes (aka all good here) or no (aka i need help).

And I just remembered something that happened this year at one of our events. There was a group of 4 people, 2 girls and 2 guys, from a team talking with one of my students. Without going into too much detail, the girls were trying to get one guy a “robo girlfriend”, and they were all very insistent on getting her personal contact details. She handled the situation very well, gave them our team business card (which has team contact info) and refused other attempt, until eventually the second guy told them to stop and pulled them away. I at least can applaud that guy for stepping up, even if it did take a while during which she was clearly uncomfortable (but not to the point of asking for help, yet).

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fam ur literally doing the thing right now of unfairly generalizing white men

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“We have investigated ourselves and found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Dee, thank you for making this thread. I appreciate the stories you and others have shared, and am horrified that they happened. You, and the FIRST community, deserve much better than that. We need to work on being better people.

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