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

I have absolutely been harrassed and (more often) ignored by male student drive coaches while at pretty much all ages between 15 and 25. Have the debate if you want, but you’re certainly not solving this issue.

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I really wanted this thread to be about storytelling and making positive change. That can’t be done without airing out the ugly, but it’s definitely not really about student vs adult drive coaches. I would appreciate if we could maintain space for those who want to bravely tell their stories, and to support them as they do.

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This season was the first season where I was a key volunteer at a FRC event, being an FTAA. I’ve been working towards this for many years, and after setup on Wednesday, I sat down for the Thursday morning key volunteer meeting. I’ve even partially attended these in the past for Midwest due to the activities I was working with for the 2020 event. Immediately after sitting down, one of the SRE staff working the event confronted me, saying that “We’re having a kinda private meeting here in a bit”, just flat out assuming that I wasn’t involved with the meeting, despite me being one of the people leading the field build yesterday. He continued to treat me in similar ways throughout the weekend. Despite other people who had seen me around for years at the event being at the table there, nobody seemed to stand up for me, even those who knew I was one of the FTAAs at the event. This is one of the most embarrasing and terrifying interactions I’ve had a FIRST event which almost caused me to have a panic attack right then and there. I don’t know whether it was sexism, transphobia, or just my age, but it was still extremely dissapointing for the very first day that I was ever a KV at a FRC event.

I’m extremely thankful that I’ve had some amazing advocates for me here in Illinois throughout my transition, but it’s still extremely disappointing that many of the key volunteers and staff at FRC and FTC events alike seem to not care about spelling my name correctly, getting my pronouns correct, or being just generally respectful to me outside of those, despite the many hundreds of hours I pour into these programs each season.

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One thing I find really frustrating is being seen as a “gatekeeper to the real knowledge holders.” We did a battlebots screening party at the beginning of April and my team brought both our robots.

I was hanging out with Blip (the newer of the two bots) and for a long time had no one coming up to me to talk about the robot. Being a newcomer with new tech, I was expecting to explain it to a lot of visitors. Meanwhile, Tantrum had two male team members next to it and was swarmed (this is before the finale was aired, by the way). I joke that my role on the team was “make robots pretty” but I do know how they work and did real work rebuilding them between matches. Quick shout-out to @davepowers and 1678 for actually talking to me about robots.

I’ve experienced variations of this (in and not in FRC) for a while and I have also done this to others. It’s really easy to blind to this type of bias (I’m still working on it) but being aware is step number one.

One of my former coworkers wrote a really great blog post that mentions some of this.

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What does this acronym stand for?

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Show Ready Events, the company FIRST uses to manage and coordinate a lot of the “show” sides of the event and ensure it runs smoothly outside of the robots.

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Thanks, for some reason I went to Site Reliability Engineer.

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I can’t dive into the details or give an actual quote as i wasn’t present in the exchange but I know our drive coach had an issue at one of our district events.
To provide some context, throughout the season team 1908 had supply baskets in both the men’s and women’s restrooms with various menstrual products, anti-fog glasses wipes, and hair ties, so shoutout them for that.
At some point we were about to play a match against 1908 and during the strategy meeting one of our alliance partners said something to the effect of “we don’t need to worry about shorebots being smart, they think tampons belong in the men’s bathroom.”
I can’t think of anything I personally saw or experienced of the top of my head but this exchange immediately came to mind with the thread as it made our trans drive coach quite uncomfortable

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Thank you Dee.

I’m not aware of anything my team experienced coming from external sources at competition this year. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Internally, we had to discourage a student from continuing with the team for sexist harassment this year. He needed me to tell him out loud that our women members belong and do good technical work. He hasn’t been back since then.

First time in 10 years with the program I’ve had to do that.

That wasn’t the only factor, but we only retained 1/3 of our recruited female members this year, when normally we run near gender balance. Several things to improve related to that.

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I have more stories than Chief can bear in my history. I’ll call one out specifically from this season that comes to mind.

I’m drive coach for 1923. My operator is a young woman, and one of our mechanical captains. One of the things we have fun with at each event is our hairstyles. We match styles, we fix each others’ braids, and in general I feel pretty confident that through our bond I’m creating a space where she can feel confident enough to speak up in strategic huddles - because even if we’re the only women, at least she’s not alone and she knows I have her back.

Anyway. One day she picked pigtails. I will do anything my kids ask in terms of spirit, because this is about them having fun - but I cringed internally while she proposed it because I knew what was coming.

Lo and behold, within half an hour of our pigtail styling-sesh, a complete stranger made a “ha, nice. Handlebars.” style comment. I hope I don’t have to explain why that’s severely unacceptable.

I am, frankly, exhausted of having to fight for spaces where my students - all of them - feel safe and valued. I will do it with everything I have, because it matters. But I’m tired.

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This is one of the most appalling things I’ve ever heard. As uncomfortable as it is to read these stories and just try to fathom what is going on in these people’s heads, I am very thankful to @Dee for starting this conversation.

Growth is uncomfortable. But clearly we as a collective need to grow right now.

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32 posts were split to a new topic: Gender Neutral Bathrooms at Champs

I’ve had the experience of being a key volunteer in the Lead Robot Inspector role as both a man and now a woman. My experience has mostly been very positive and has exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways but as you’d expect there was a pretty stark contrast in how I was treated. There were so many times where I was just flat out ignored because there was a male inspector standing beside me. Eventually I made sure to introduce myself to every team at load in so people wouldn’t just assume the oldest whitest man who happened to inspecting that day was the LRI.

The other thing that bothered me is the lack of uniform options given to LRI and RIs. Quite a few of the key volunteers at events like the Volunteer Coordinator and Event Managers have multiple options like a well-fitted men or women’s cut polo. LRI’s are just given the pretty crappy “unisex” (mens) volunteer shirt that fits some bodies well but just looks sloppy on others. Don’t even get me started on the tactical vest…

I think if you talk to most women they’ll agree that presentation has a huge affect on how well one is respected in a professional setting. It’s an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. As a woman just wearing clothes that fit well can make you appear smarter. Only offering uniforms that primarily cater to men not only hinders gender presentation and individuality but it actually makes my job harder.

Ultimately I’d really love to see more women in RI and LRI roles and I think FIRST still has ways to go in making the role feel approachable and inclusive.

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First off, as many have said before, thank you Dee for starting this thread. This is something we need to talk about. For an organization that prides itself on inclusiveness, we still have a ways to go.

While I didn’t get the chance to take part in FIRST this year, as a student and a mentor I’ve had my own experiences and heard of many others that have disappointed me greatly.

My first year doing FRC, my very first comp, I had an older boy from another team inform me of his interest in me within not even 24 hours of knowing him, stalked me at comp, and made unwanted physical advances towards me multiple times. I ended up hiding away with another team, an all female team, who helped keep him away from me. I’m thankful for the girls on that team, and will forever be.

As a drive coach, I was talked down to by male drive coaches multiple times. The worst (from my recollection) was when a male drive coach decided, without discussing with myself or the other (also female) drive coach, exactly how strat would work for that match. He acted as though he knew all, took no thought as to what the other members of his alliance wanted to do, and then showed up at the last minute for our match, and talked down to me when I warned him about fouls. While minor compared to many things I’ve seen and heard, I’m positive it wouldn’t have happened if I was a male drive coach. It was frustrating, and all in all, extremely disappointing.

Being able to talk about these things is so important. For those of you reading this thread who aren’t in demographics to experience sexism/racism/homophobia/transphobia, please reflect on how your interactions with other members in the FRC community affect their experience and opinion as to what this program is about. We all have learning to do in so many ways, and I think this is a great start.

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When talking about outreach to judges in our pits, we had a judge tell us how shocked he was to see our nearly equal percentage of female and male students because of how he remembers when “there were 0 females in FRC.” I am extremely grateful to come from a team that makes a constant effort to promote inclusivity both within our team and in our community. However, FRC events often seem to magnify how often this sadly is not the case.

I am my team’s operator, and as a girl who has been on drive team since I was in FTC as a middle schooler, I couldn’t count how many times we have been the only drive team on our alliance, or even on the field, with a female. After eliminations at one of our events, another team member’s mom told me that she was proud to see us successful on the field, but she was even more proud to see that the only girl on the field came from our team.

When other drive coaches and drive teams are saying things like “Let’s go boys!” or “Nice match boys keep it up” it gets a little bit frustrating. They may not be intentionally ignoring me personally, but it starts to make an impact after a long season of being taken less seriously than male team members. There have been too many negative interactions to specify each one, but they all reinforce sexism and implicit bias and eventually I internalized it. A few team members helped me realize the fact that we DO NOT deserve this in any way, all women in STEM deserve so much better than what we get.

After a recent incident, another team parent told me about her experiences, and what she has learned as a woman in STEM. Every woman that came before us paved our way and made it possible for us to be here. Now, every girl in FIRST makes it less likely that those who will come after us have to deal with the same things on a daily basis.

Threads like this start to make a dent in the huge problems that we have to face as a community. Not only do they make people more aware of their words and actions, but they make it more acceptable to share our experiences. As so many have already said, thank you for creating this safe space to talk and help make our community a better place. It will truly make a difference for the future generations of FRC.

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Reading through most of these comments is heartbreaking. There should be room for everyone to participate in FRC without having to steel themselves against the kind of mistreatment people have shared here.

One thing that I think is fascinating, in a depressing sort of way, is how common it is for many of us to simply be ignored. Yes, sometimes, the harassment and bigotry is targeted and overt and awful but it appears far more likely that people will treat us as if we just don’t exist.

There might be folks who think that doesn’t rise to the level of an “ism” or a “phobia” and still others who think “I am not catcalling women in the pits, so I’m one of the good ones!”. I think seeing these experiences should put the importance of inclusion into stark relief.

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THANK YOU. This was articulated so well.

It is being ignored that is so common and can be so destructive. The feeling that you don’t even exist sets off so much imposter syndrome that many of us already have in STEM environments. I know I spent and still do spend a lot of time doubting if i am good enough, smart enough, capable enough in this program. It doesn’t take much to bring my mind back to that place, especially in a stressful environment like an FRC event. We are simply asking for mindfulness in this regard, and for a little extra kindness and encouragement as we find our place at the table.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. I know how hard it was to be that emotionally vulnerable, and your bravery does not go unnoticed or unappreciated my friends. It is not fair that we are the ones being treated poorly and are also responsible for educating others on why their actions are hurtful, or that their intentions do not match their impact.

Thinking about intention versus impact is really important. You may have the best of intentions, but someone with different lived experiences than you may perceive it completely differently. By learning about others’ stories, we can better match our intentions with the impact we have on others.

I encourage others who feel comfortable to continue to share their stories. I feel this is a very informative thread, and I know I am going to spend some time reflecting and thinking this weekend about solutions to these issues that are being highlighted. I encourage others to share their ideas as well!

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Two parts:
Ive heard from some of the women on my team of some sexist interactions with other teams, but I wasnt there so not my story to tell

Transphobia:
Im a trans non-binary person, and while transphobia wasnt mentioned in the title, has been in the thread many times and i believe it fits here. Theres multiple problems I could state, like issues with bathrooms but i know those have been brought up here and in other threads. In terms of interaction with people, I have a few stories. I was not out to most people on my team, but on Trans Day Of Visibilty, we had a competition, and I decided to make myself a nametag with my pronouns and at the time preferred name. Now I saw two main problems here. First, I saw many people, even on my own team would read my nametag, but pretend not to and use my birth pronouns. Even worse, someone picked up my nametag, laughed, and showed it to people around me while it still was on the lanyard around my neck.

Homophobia:
Homphobia is definetly harder to notice, as its easier to see other differences in people than sexual orientation, but I certainly did hear comments like “thats so gay” and such. This is no unique problem to FIRST, but something I heard either way.

And because i dont want to be completely sad in this, there were plenty of people who were really good with my pronouns, and would make a strong effort to use them and even correct others who didnt. Personally, i had more good experiences than bad, its just the bad stick out more.

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I appreciate your point here, Nick, but I also want to echo @Andrew_L’s perspective and hopefully build upon it in a way he would agree with.

The centering of our own egos in this way isn’t meant to be policing, it’s meant to be illustrative—if I as a well-intentioned ally have this reaction to a comment, despite my faculties telling me not to worry about it, imagine the reaction that the marginal straight white cis man who’s not predisposed to see things from the other side will have. Are you undermining your attempt to reach and sway him by saying something he will take as insulting or unfair? Can we do better in informing him?

It’s a lens that can seem to ignore the matter of fairness in favor of asking already marginalized people to adhere to an even more exacting standard—I recognize that criticism.

That’s why I try not to criticize the marginalized people who bear the brunt of the discrimination and do the bulk of the advocacy for themselves, but I think part of our role as allies should be to “translate” their messages using our perspectives to help along the allies-to-be. And if there is some level of perspective we can share about how to communicate in a way that reaches more men, I think that’s all for the better.

The bottom line is that messages that start with “all men” aren’t helpful—not because they’re unfair per se, but just because they are counterproductive to the people whose minds we hope to change. Nobody likes to be told they’re the bad guy, especially in a way that seems so ironic given the matter at hand of generalizing about people based on immutable characteristics. Everyone is allowed to make different value judgments, but for me, that’s reason enough to do away with them.

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Let’s consider the history of the “not all men” flavors of arguments in popular Internet discourse. “Not all men” is a classic derailing, bad-faith argument that was intended to shift the focus of a discussion rather than engaging with it [which we’re witnessing here – this topic has become a topic for men to speak about how they dislike generalizations of men rather than the original topic, which was for marginilized groups in FIRST to share their stories].

Asking non-men on this forum, some of whom like me must remember the Internet circa the early 2010s during the peak of #NotAllMen, to not use the phrase “all men” neglects the history of this argument being used against us in bad faith for a very long time.

I am asking you to stop your Not All Men discourse and let this topic return to it’s original purpose. Continuing to shift the attention away from non-men, queer people, and trans people with a historically bad-faith argument format is doing harm.

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