FRC Team Bullying

Hey everyone,

I’ve been putting this off for a while because I’ve been pushing it to the back of my mind, but I feel like I’ve waited long enough. I’m on an anonymous account to protect the team I was on from backlash.

I’ve been a member on my FRC team for 2 years, and have held leadership roles both years. I’m also a female, which does play a role in this story. In my first position I was a manufacturing lead. My second year the lead mentor asked me to take a position in outreach, so I figured why not get experience in different fields. Suddenly, everyone seemed to have forgotten that I had any manufacturing experience or knew anything about robotics. Any ideas I had were immediately pushed aside and any time I suggested a fix I was told I knew nothing in the subject, but then one of the guys would suggest the same fix and he would be praised for finding a solution. I finally just stopped trying to help robot production all together.

On top of not doing what I was really passionate about, all the blame started getting put on me whenever something went wrong. Other non-production based leaders were supposed to help me out. When a grant I had asked for help with countless times didn’t get submitted when multiple people told me to wait to submit it so they could read it over, I got blamed. The lead mentor asked me what the eff-word (he used the actual word) was wrong with me. I didn’t feel any trust toward him after that moment. There were other situations where I would do 90% of the work for something, but the males I had edit my work would get all the credit. I would also ask people for help on chairmans, which I wrote the entirety of, but they said they had to work on something else (that wasn’t even related to build season). I kept pushing through because I had to, and regionals were coming up.

I was on drive team, Chairmans presentation, and was nominated for Deans List at regionals. I only really wanted to do one of those things, and I didn’t choose to do the other two, but, needless to say, I was extremely busy. People started yelling at me for not being dedicated enough when I was out practicing for something else. I constantly got yelled at in the pit and when I brought up someone was breaking the rules they’d brush me off saying the rules don’t matter. When a male told them the same thing I did, they’d immediately do what he asked. My breaking point was when someone yelled at me for cleaning.

My friends found me crying outside, and once I told them what happened they got the lead mentor. I did NOT want them to do that, as this was the same lead mentor who yelled at me. He told me to suck it up.

I started talking to other girls on the team, and was sad to learn I was not the only one facing these issues. One girl that really enjoyed building was pushed into outreach, all the girls were blamed when something went wrong, and they never got credit for the work they completed. We had 0 girls in engineering roles, yet the team brags about the number of females it has. At that point I was so frustrated by the lack of equality on our team, I confronted the lead mentor. Instead of him agreeing with the fact that our team had a problem, he started attacking me. He told me I had no friends, that I deserve to be treated the way I was, and that I wasn’t sacrificing. He brought up times where I physically could not come to robotics as reason why I don’t sacrifice. When I told him about the times I pulled all-nighters to get awards done, he said that was only one example of my sacrifice.

I finally quit the team, because clearly the mentor is too stuck in his ways to try to change. Afterwards, all my friends on the team ignored me, and I’m scared to tell people the lead mentor was the real reason I left. They think I left because I hate them, but I don’t. I also want to start a new team, but I’m scared they’ll think I’m doing it to annoy them. I just want to make a safe place for people to be able to learn about STEM without the fear of being pushed into gender roles or yelled at.

First off it’s really sad to hear what you had to endure from your lead mentor and your team nobody should have to go through that it doesn’t matter who you are or anything like that nobody should go through that as a mentor on my team it really makes me what to be a better mentor on my team after reading your story about your frc experience.
Second I would suggest bringing it to the attention of first hq and and explain what happened.once again you have my sympathy I hope that you can find another team in your area or in the surrounding areas that would allow you to join good luck starting up your new team if you choose to and that those same issues don’t happen to you again.

I’m very sorry to hear how you have been treated by your team. That’s completely unacceptable. If you are planning on starting a new team and would like some guidance please PM me. I would be more than happy to assist.

I’m really sorry to hear about the experience you’ve had this past season.

Hopefully you are able to find a great outlet for STEM inspiration next year, since it sounds like you have at least one more year in high school!

Obligatory comment about how we don’t know both sides of the story. Regardless, that doesn’t change your experience or the steps that got you to this point.

The only real advice I can offer from behind the keyboard is to find a few trusted adults outside of robotics to share these experiences with (IRL!). These adults could be a parent, favorite teacher, school counselor, youth pastor, etc. This should be someone you can count on being there for you. They might have advice, but they’ll definitely be there to listen and process with you.

I have a few people that meet that criteria in my own life, and I can’t emphasize enough how important those individuals have been to me.

Best,

-Mike

As great as FRC is, we still have our fair share of jerks (I really want to use a stronger term here), just like any other large organization. Dealing with them can be really tough, and when needed getting them out of the program can sometimes be even tougher.

My advice is going to be split into two parts. First the inter-personal stuff, and second the structural team stuff.

It sounds like you need to “bite the bullet” and open up with your former teammates some. I would start with the other girls, as it sounds like they know a bit of what you were going through already, and have been through it themselves. You’ll likely find sympathetic ears there, and it’ll help you build confidence and comfort in talking about it so you can then approach others on the team. It’s not easy, and you’ll probably run into some people with bad attitudes, but at least at the end you’ll know you did everything you can to stay friends with everyone.

On more structural stuff, the easy path is to create a new team, with the goal of being more inclusive and less discriminatory. The harder path is to work to reform your old team. Of course, the easiest path is to quit altogether.

There’s no easy way to create a new team without there being bad feelings. Being geographically on top of each other, your new team would be competing with the old for students, sponsors, and everything else, and if you create the new team by causing a mass exodus of girls from the old team, the old team is bound to feel a little bitter.

I would urge you to tackle the harder path, and work towards reforming your old team. You mentioned the lead mentor a few times, what about other mentors? Are they more receptive? Are there other mentors you can talk to about this issue? How is the team set up - community based, school based? If it’s a school based team, you have a whole administration at the school you can talk to about the problems you face, and hopefully they would be receptive. If the team is school based, the school administration really has the ultimate authority, even above the lead mentor. Look to other successful teams in your area, especially those with girls involved in strong build-related leadership roles. See if you can’t arrange for them to come talk with the girls on your team about their experiences, how they got into those rolls, and how they deal with boys that can, at times, act more like trolls.

Whatever path you take, the key to being successful is going to be building up a support network for yourself, which means tackling the inter-personal stuff with your former teammates. And that’s all about talking, being open and honest. Reinforce with those people that you still like them, that you want to stay friends - and then follow it up with actions, like inviting them out for a pool party (if it’s anywhere near as hot as it’s been here in MN lately!), or ice cream, or a movie, or to hunt Pokemon in the park. Keep those connections alive and active despite not seeing them at team meetings all the time.

I don’t know where you’re located, or if this is possible for you, but I hope you have the opportunity to find a new team.

I don’t agree that you should have to sacrifice your happiness and FRC experience in high school to try and fix a broken, toxic, team. If the leadership treats students like this, it will at best be a major uphill battle to try and fix this, and this won’t be fun for you and will stress you out. A new team would potentially give you the experiences you want to have and the opportunities you’ve been denied on your current team.

When I was a senior in high school, I commuted over an hour each way to do robotics in order to be part of a quality FRC team. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Hopefully you don’t have to do anything as drastic as this, but if there are other teams nearby you can join, you’ll have more success. You won’t be able to just walk in and step into any role you want on the new team, but you’ll learn a lot no matter what, and you hopefully won’t have the same issues.

Anon,
I found your post distressing on many levels – as a mentor, and a male engineer, as a business professional.

I wish there was easy advice on a path forward for you to continue with your team. I regret to tell you but the business world can be just as cruel and unforgiving and you have just been handed a very hard lesson at a very early stage in your career. I hope my suggestions here may help.

  1. Break out of the gender box. This is not a male female competition. If your mentor is putting you into a ‘female’ box, don’t take the bait. You need to find people from the team, male and female, who witnessed firsthand what happened this season and bring them up to speed on your perspective. People you trust. Try to reconnect with your friends on the team.

  2. Find neutral ground – you need to discuss this with the team leadership. It may be unpleasant but it is a conversation that needs to be had. Ask for a meeting specifically to discuss your situation away from the building and build space, where neither side has any advantage. I can’t believe the team only has one mentor but if so, bring in another adult who is neutral – a favorite teacher, a guidance counselor, etc. Meet in a public library or some other public place where people are not inclined to raise their voice but not so noisy that you can’t have a conversation.

  3. Prepare your thoughts and try to take the emotions out of the equation. I know this is difficult. Keep to the facts – work load, lack of resources (can’t produce a chairman’s award by yourself), lack of support (again, can’t produce chairman’s award by yourself), where your strengths and weaknesses are, etc. I feel that you have a preferred role on the team where you excelled and emphasize your successes in that role where you contributed more. And try to leave the gender out if possible. Write out the bullets and bring this to the discussion. Try not to write out a stream of thought or you’ll just end up reading it off the page.

  4. Have a list of things you would want to see change with the team – it sounds like the issue may be bigger than just you. This may also keep the conversation away from just the two of you put the focus on the success of the team. Two things that struck me right off the bat is that he needs to be more approachable and respect is a two way street. Have some ideas about how to accomplish this without coming off as a personal attack on him.

Mentoring a team is not easy. Remember that we are human too and we have our faults. Personally, I forget that my members are high school students and I set high expectations of them without realizing that they don’t have the tools, resources, or support to accomplish the tasks the team needs done. I get frustrated when deadlines missed, work isn’t completed, or quality is lacking – but that never excuses being abusive, offensive, and disrepectful. If it doesn’t fly in the office, it doesn’t fly in FRC.

Please don’t cut and run from the team. I hope that you can at least attempt to work through this problem. If you do, you will be 10 years ahead of all your classmates. I know professionals that can’t do this. Talk it out and give it a chance to change. If nothing comes out of it, hold your head high, shake his hand, and know that you gave it a second chance.

PS – I admire your recognition that working on outreach even though it isn’t your first passion after working on manufacturing would give you a broader set of skills and make you more valuable. Most members only want to work on their passions and really don’t think about broadening their own skills. Professionals who do this tend to get pigeon holed in their careers.

Best of luck to you in FRC and beyond. Peace.

Superficially, this is easy.

And, in practice it’s still not hard.

FRC is not the only place to learn about STEM, and in some ways it’s definitely not the best way.

Start an FTC or VRC team (or a …team, or a venture crew, or a …), with or without support from a school, and just have a blast doing whatever you enjoy.

Pick just about any subject that would interest you in an FRC context, and notice that you can probably go as deep as you care to, learning that same subject, in an FTC or VRC context.

Neither FRC in general, nor the FRC team you described are the only game in town. Take away the current situation’s power by not thinking of it as your only option.

Pick your own goals and path, and then head out on that path. You absolutely don’t need anyone else’s permission (other than the neutral/welcoming FTC/VRC organizations, and one adult who will agree to be part of the team).

The best revenge is living well.

Blake
PS: I’m not encouraging you to frame this as a situation that calls for hostile “revenge”. The saying means that alternatives to fighting with jerks are often the better choices.

What you’ve posted saddens me. I don’t think any high schooler should be put through that, and at the time this was all happening it probably felt like an impossible situation.

In the world outside of school, what you’ve described is similar to dealing with a bad boss. I’ve experienced that helplessness; no one around (or very few people) knows exactly how you’re feeling and what you’re dealing with, and it sucks.

If you want to know, there’s a silver lining - you got to have that experience on the cheap. What I mean by that is you haven’t had a job that’s become unbearable, and face that stress of having to go in every day to hours you don’t want to spend doing things you didn’t sign up to do, with terrible people you’re forced to have interactions, and if you quit you’ll lose your income (and possibly more) and have to find a new job (and if you have to move that means paying money to break your lease and all sorts of other costs).

Here’s a lesson that I learned through that - I can be entirely in control of my situation, and I get to decide how I want to react. Every day I go into work, it’s because I chose to do so. I chose if I want to find a new job or not. I decide when it’s time to quit, and I get to decide if things and events will bother me or not. A point I made to a co-worker one evening after our 15th consecutive 12 hour workday - when we were discussing what we were going to do (and he was saying how much he wanted to quit) - I’m a duck, gliding across a pond, and what you don’t get to see is my feet furiously paddling below the surface.

I sincerely hope you do well with whatever you decide to do, but please keep us posted with what happens. It’s unfortunate what you’ve had to go through, but your experiences can definitely benefit others.

Best of luck,

-Evan Foote

It sounds like your ex-team is attached to a school. Their are actually laws against this type of treatment in the school setting.

Assuming your account of the events are accurate, I highly suggest you do something to try to ensure no other student experiences this.

Is the lead mentor employed by the school? If not, is the school sponsor aware of the situation? If the school sponsor doesn’t make any end roads to solve the problem, climb the chain of command at the school. Start with the school sponsor, then enlist the help of other teachers you trust, the counselors, Principal, School Board, and PTA. Start at the lowest level and go up until you find a resolution.

Now, I want you to really look at the situation. I teach and interact with students on a daily basis. Many have difficulty realizing the consequences of their actions. Honestly look at what happened and see if your actions contributed to the problem.

The real world is a harsh place and unfortunately you will experience unpleasantness. You will need to develop ways to deal with this, these ways will be based on your personality and abilities.

For the sake of the other students on the team, please enlist the aid of a trusted adult and bring this matter up to the school administrators.

No one has mentioned it yet, so let me say that you should contact your local FIRST Senior Mentor. [S]he may be able to connect you with resources (possibly right up to a receptive team) in your area you are not already aware of.

Agreed. Also no one has mentioned that this is also very much against the FIRST YPP policies. Although that does not magically make the problem go away, this means that you, your other team mentors, and your FIRST Senior Mentor also have FIRST behind them. Lee Doucette at YPP is a great resource and at a minimum she can help guide you and your team in trying to work through this situation.

As others have said, I would suggest that your first step would be to re-connect with your teammates and then bring the problem to other adult mentors on your team. You will all need to work together to solve this problem. If you do not feel that you can or want to work through the issue with your team, then I believe it would still be helpful and appropriate to report your issue to YPP so that they can be aware of the situation in case another student on the team experiences similar problems.

All teams should be watching the Team Safety meeting video. This is the one for HS age. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPzxm4IfG6w&feature=youtu.be&list=UUyJqS0n0h5f3yeYxEADZuvQ

For adults working with teams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edfJT6ILCDc

One suggestion I would have is to talk to some women who are professional engineers, talk to them about how they broke through any gender barriers they found, and maybe even try to convince them to help mentor the team.