FIRST Experiences as a Person of Color

Hi CD,

Almost a month ago a post was made about Legion of Black FRC Participants (link)]( and (link)]( on CD, which I think is a great idea. Since then, I have been thinking about my experiences in FRC as a person of color and how they may differentiate between my white friends, as well as my friends who are also PoC. I wanted to create a thread for POC who have or are participating in FIRST to share their experiences and how these identities (and others they hold) intersect, and any other relevant comments they may have. I apologize if this thread sounds exclusionary to any.

Some links for relevant reading (Feel free to link some more!):
Inclusion in FIRST: (link)](
This article (link)]( from Gender Equality: A Work in Progress: (link)](
Women of color in STEM and bias: (link)](
Editorial from Huffington Post: (link)](

One thing is for sure, not a lot of people look like us at competitions or events. Only people that apparently do look like us are, music producers and retired basketball players…

FIRST hired for a new position in Sept. Inclusion and Diversity Manager. PM me if you want the contact.

I got a PM about this terminology and I wanted to clarify what I mean. I didn’t mean to offend in any way with this terminology and it has been brought to my attention that this has been used in a derogatory and offensive sense, and that was not my intention in using these terms. Feel free to use any other terms as you see fit and comfortable.

When I say non-white-passing, I mean someone who is not perceived by others who do not know someone’s ethnicity as white. On the flip-side, a white-passing person is perceived by others as white but is a PoC. I brought this up mainly because my brother and I are both Hispanic and at one point were both in FRC, but many people thought he was white until he clarified that we were both Hispanic (or he spoke in Spanish). I do not bring this up to address any type of privileges held by any other group, simply experiences, and have amended my original post.

Again, I used this term because it is a common one for me and did not know of its derogatory past until it was brought up to me, which I am very glad it was.

This was brought up by our RD last year. Having non-white judges and other officials as an example to non-white students is a priority and, I agree, could still use some work. I know there is effort being made in NC.

I think the diversity is much better in naturally diverse places. In lower NY we are naturally very diverse and the teams are by result.

This is true to an extent. FIRST has an up-and-down history with issues surrounding race, gender, ethnicity, and similar. Our team’s first year (2004) was almost our last due to the way FRC organizers in our state attempted to “highlight” persons of color on our team, essentially treating our school and it’s kids as a zoo with exhibits. It was insulting at best. We re-entered FRC two years later, when our concerns were addressed. The state leadership for the last five years (at least) is part of our community and are very much engaged in making FRC accessible and welcoming, and I have nothing but respect for them and their work.

I’m glad this thread is up, this is an important topic.

This is a very interesting discussion

In Brazil we do not differentiate people, we just have Brazilians in Brazil

I remember answering the FIRST questionnaire about the percentage each ethnicity within the team and not actually knowing what to do…

I ended up spending a long time thinking what to answer and at the end I just ticked "other” and put “people” in the box, I also requested that FIRST did not ask me that again.

A possible analog for you could be foreign students vs. local students. I think you would agree that it would feel very different to go to a competition in Brazil and have every judge, MC, and volunteer be a white American. Or if you came to America for a competition and those same people only spoke Portuguese and came from South America.
Diversity is important everywhere, though it is certainly more of an issue in some places than others. The reason I care about it is that I don’t want minorities (whether that’s females or other racial minorities) to see the STEM world as only inclusive of majorities or men.

Not that many people make a big deal of his ethnicity, but Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the super soaker) is a supporter of First. I not sure if he is a judge, but he gave substantial speeches at the Peachtree & Georgia Southern Classic regionals. (past tense because we are going to districts next year.) He also hosts one of Georgia’s DE fields at his research facility.

I’m not sure if my experiences as an Asian in FIRST are relevant here, but I have noticed that at least in the Pacific Northwest East and South Asian are fairly well represented. However, our robotics team has barely any Hispanic and African American team members, which comes as no surprise as our state, Oregon, is one of the whitest. However, despite the fact that Asians are so well represented, micro-aggressions still absolutely take place on the part of white FRC team members which is something I hope will soon change.

I always wanted someone to start a thread about this but never felt it was my place to start one, so kudos to you for starting this. I too have noticed a lack of representation of PoC in first, both as participants and as guests/judges. It gets more bleak when you look for people who tick off multiple “diversity” boxes such as females of color.

It’s definitely not any PoC’s responsibility to educate white folk, but if anyone is willing, what are some ways we (non PoC) can be allies? What type of things would you like to see at events? Should volunteer coordinators try to focus on making a more diverse judging pane/volunteer crewl? Should we (the collective FIRST community) try to get more distinguished guests/speakers that are PoC at events?

I think the Legion of Black FRC Participants is a good thing. I hope it becomes a strong community much like FIRST Ladies has.

The number one thing anyone can do in regards to race is to not worry about it. Most Problems occur when some assumption about someone is made based on race. Think of skin color like pit scouting robots. What good elim pick list is based solely off pit scouting data?

As far as the current level of diversity in FIRST? More external factors seem to be at play than internal. From my perspective (African American) FIRST and the general community aren’t doing anything particularly wrong and my experience has been generally positive. #1 reason you will or won’t see someone of color on a FIRST team is where it is located. Who goes to the school. #2 is media. How many African American engineers or female engineers have you heard of? More importantly how often are they mentioned? If you never see it you won’t think of it as an option. Then you’re flooded with examples of every profession but engineering to seal the deal (mostly sports & entertainment).

We are always striving to more aggressively recruit minorities who are less likely to show up for the team based on “generic” recruiting. Looking at our Facebook photo, which is our Bayou Blue Banner team photo, I see that no fewer than 5 of the 36 students and receent alumni in the photo would self-describe as non-white, and several others for whom I really don’t know. Slidell is listed as 73% white, 16% black, 8% hispanic, and 3% others categories, and northern Slidell (SHS’ district) is more predominately white than southern Slidell, so we’re pretty close to representative. Only eleven were female, but they included a team co-captain, the drive coach, the human player, and a candidate for the most impressive freshman ever on the team. I believe that our smaller 2016 team has a higher percentage of minorities, both in gender and race. It has even become a bit of a team joke that whenever someone expresses that he or she is a member of a gender, racial, or other minority that the response is one of surprise (oh, you’re black? and even on a few occasions oh, you’re a girl?) but not concern. Honestly, most of our students don’t care what race someone is, and several of the mentors are hustling to keeping up.

This year, we have started having “build” and “business” functions at different time, to make it clear that every team member should have a function on both sides. This was an intentional move to limit the “natural” migration of girls to “business only” functions, and inhibition of boys in serving in business functions. One of the truths that many of the mentors did not learn until after we were out of college is that a scientist, engineer, or mathematician needs to also be a bit of a salesman to prosper. The good news is that you can succeed without having to sell garbage - but it is essential that you can sell the ideas you believe in. OBTW, this same salesmanship in something you believe in helps our students become STEM ambassadors in the world, and you can’t cut it much finer than this: being STEM ambassadors is what FIRST is really all about.

Hey! I just wanted to chime in. I think a great way to begin allyship is becoming aware of, and developing language to combat microagressions, which were previously mentioned. In my experience, microagressions add another layer of stress to FIRST functions and events as I happen to check so many “diversity boxes”. They’re also hard to deal with when one is a token student with no idea how to explain why something makes them upset. Having an environment that challenges stereotypes and microagressions also becomes more inviting to students who may have been wary of the environment beforehand.

A second thing is to learn about “nerd culture,” which can be elitist and exclusionary to those who are not constantly surrounded by it. It’s also extremely common in FIRST due to the overlap of students into general nerdery - especially video games - and also robots. I’m not saying one has to dismantle nerd culture signlehandeldly, but becoming aware of how one may be exclusionary to others (and then learning how they can personally change that) is always good. NPR Latino recently posted a podcast about nerd culture that may be worth a listen (link, scroll down to Diversity in Geekdom)]( I don’t have many links on the issue sadly. :frowning:

Forcing or deliberately highlighting student diversity is often harmful to students, as is shown in mrnoble 's post. It’s kind of like when college brochures try to include every minority in a photograph. This can backfire on team dynamics and the students who are being highlighted due to the “diversity boxes” they check.

Thank you all for the positive messages so far as well!*

The only “naturally” diverse place in “lower NY” as you put it would be, New York City (Correct me if I am wrong). That being said, the reason why it is so diverse is because the event hosts “inner city” and international kids. Many of the student participants are minorities, i.e African America, Hispanic/Latino, Asian etc. many of whom are mentored by minorities as well. In my opinion, the problem comes when you see the staff working the events and competitions. It even surfaces among the invited speakers or guest. Many states may vary and have minorities represented but i have yet to see it on a larger scale or with consistency.

I am glad to see that racism and prejudice does not exist in Brazil, maybe U.S should take some notes. But as humans, we try to avoid conversation that we are not comfortable with. In society, we demonized such issues so much that people avoid having meaningful conversation about it.

It’s great to hear about things like this. It should be spread on a national/international level. Any participant of FIRST should be able to look at a flyers or listen to guest speak and say, “I want to be like her/him” or “He/She looks like me” creating possibility for that student to aspire.

I saw a TED talk a while back where the speaker said, “Scholars have created this term “color blindness” to describe a learned behavior where we pretend that we don’t notice race. If you happen to be surrounded by a bunch of people who look like you, that’s purely accidental. Now, color blindness, in my view, doesn’t mean that there’s no racial discrimination, and there’s fairness. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t ensure it. In my view, color blindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem.” Mellody Hobson TED 2014. According to the “FIRST Program Evaluation” done by the Center for Youth and Communities, at Brandeis University, only 27% of participants in FRC are non-white. Out of 60 people in “leadership” positions at FIRST only 6 would be considered non-white based on research done on the FIRST website. Information also gathered from the FIRST website also shows that only 7 State Senior Mentors would be considered non-white. A lot of times we pretend these issue don’t exist in our homes, our schools, at our job, in our grocery stores, even within FIRST. We need to bring more awareness to these problems, so that we can as NYC FIRST says, “Discover the genius in every kid”

When I refer to lower ny I am referring to New York City, and Long Island.

On my team it is pretty much an even split between indian, white, and Asian people. Even though my school is pretty much all white people. I wouldn’t call any of those races poc but it is worth mentioning.

I will also mention NY is very segregated area and school wise because of the public school system. If you didn’t known in NYC you actually have to apply to High School and you fight against other top kids in the city to get in the top school. If your not a top kid you end up at a bad school for the most part unless you are lucky and are zoned for a decent school.

Teams like Stuypulse, and the Steel Hawks come from specialized high schools that are very difficult to get into unless your top of the class.

Because of this in Ny you see entire Poc Teams and entire white teams. Same thing goes for long island.

I must also say that many of the people who work the events are poc. One of the refs on long island that goes to every event is a poc and in NYC there’s just as many Poc working the events as competing in them.

But, regardless racism in Ny, and Long Island isn’t as prominent in the South, and the west. I’ve noticed from traveling people out of cities who haven’t experienced different cultures are extremely racist.

This statement… there is just…

I’ve LIVED in the south and most of the folks I met down there were not only more accepting but far kinder than anyone I’ve met in the Northeast. So, do me a favor and stop it with the stereotyping of anyone outside a city as some sort of redneck yokel.

And, on the topic of more volunteers as PoC, allow me to show you an example of what we see in VMS…

Jonathan Wimms L

So, you tell me, PoC or not?

For more fun, what gender is this person?

Alex Jones M

The point is, if that’s all you know about the person it’s pretty hard to guess. Not saying that judges and refs should all be older white men, but definitely saying, cut the VC’s some slack, they are working with who volunteers. If you want to see more PoC or other underrepresented group in the volunteer pool, help us by asking them to volunteer.

There are exceptions to the rule obviously but I disagree. Tennessee imo has some of the most racism I have ever seen. What I’ve seen in the south hasn’t always been direct racism but I have seen a lot of condescending attitudes towards poc which is worse imo.

As someone who was born in Selma AL, and raised in the suburbs of New Orleans, I see more racism when I travel to the northeast than I ever do at home. In old southern cities especially, you will find thoroughly mixed neighborhoods, people of African and Italian and Irish and Jewish and Vietnamese and Middle Eastern descent all living on the same block, and mansions a block down from shotgun doubles. The suburbs and small towns are more sorted, though by income rather than race. In most cities from DC northward, there seems to be a line in town (often a set of railroad tracks) which marks the territory between races, and other lines that mark territory between national origins. When I go into a restaurant or store and for some reason decide to look around for it, I rarely find in the south that there are only white people, or that I’m the only one. It seems to happen far more regularly in the Northeast. I haven’t spent enough time on the west coast to comment.