What do you think FIRST needs to do to address the culture scandals (ie. IFI, Vex, multiple named groomers etc.) and prevent them in the future?

I’m sure many of you have seen the discussions surrounding multiple abusive situations in FIRST communities, predominantly towards women. As a former heavily involved student and much less involved mentor for an “elite”, Chairman’s winning team, I was most surprised by my lack of surprise reading these stories. I have personally removed myself from FIRST involvement in the last few years, in no small part due to the similarly toxic culture my, and other local teams had.

I genuinely believe that almost all former students of these so-called “role model” programs have seen similar things as I have - my team had a history of mentor-student dating, our adult mentors dating students on other teams as soon as they graduated, multiple assault stories minimized, a competition-over-everything toxic environment etc. Despite this, our mentors consistently won Woodie Flowers trophies, the team won Chairman’s awards, etc.

Personally, I believe that much of this can be attributed to the rapid, unchecked growth of teams - a business with 100+ employees and no formal HR policies and department would never be okay, but is frequently seen in FRC teams.

What do you think FIRST needs to do to address these oversights?

Here are some suggestions I would like to see.

a) All mentors, regular volunteers, adults involved with the team etc. should be required to register with FIRST, submitting a criminal record check yearly.

b) Teams should be required to submit an HR representative, that must complete HR training.

c) All mentor romantic relationships with other individuals in the FRC community should be reported officially, ideally through that HR representative. That includes mentor and previous student, mentor and mentor, mentor and mentor from other team etc.

d) Culture audits - potentially at events, a 30 minute session to speak to a few students, parents and mentors about the program and its flaws.

e) FIRST should set an official guideline about the transition from student to mentor. Many of the worst offenders on my team were those who had just made that transition, and did not have the maturity to handle it. I believe that if FIRST made mentors who had been a student in the last two years ineligible to mentor in any form, and promoted volunteering as their best option, many of these grooming situations could be avoided, and students would have the chance to grow up as an adults in an environment that did not necessarily reinforce the same cultures that they were students in.

f) Mandatory mentor and student video training about what kinds of communication and relationships are and aren’t appropriate. More resources to help students realize that what they are encountering isn’t right.

g) A re-centering of the Chairman’s and Woodie Flowers awards. While both of these awards recognize exceptional individuals, they also have a dangerous side. This ideal that your chairman’s winning team can do no wrong, and has an exemplary culture, or that an interaction with a mentor must be fine as they won an award is extremely dangerous, not to mention the minimization and self-lies that happen when writing the applications for these awards. Rather than promoting these ideas, I have a few suggestions. 1) Teams can only submit applications for another team or mentor, not their own - if a team or mentor has not made a significant impact on their community teams, they shouldn’t be eligible anyways. 2) An additional adult-written submission that focuses more on team culture, HR practices and improvements. If a team has had some sort of disappointing behavior, this would be a good place to acknowledge and include how it was addressed.

h) Regular student and mentor culture surveys. I envision an app, that has a biweekly, optional survey. Questions should include how comfortable women feel in the environment, how much stress the individuals are under from the team responsibilities, if they are taking care of themselves otherwise etc. While this shouldn’t be formally scored, regional representatives should be aware of this and eventually able to act on it.

What else could you see improving the dangerous cultures FRC has fostered for a long time?

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This seems unreasonably invasive. Even in a workplace, this is not required unless there’s a potential conflict of interest (e.g. supervisory relationships where one person might be affecting the other’s performance reviews or similar).


I think that any workplace that has adults working with minors has much much stricter dating policies than FIRST currently does.


This one is… a non-starter that won’t help.

Don’t get me wrong, having resources to deal with issues isn’t a bad thing. But you’re effectively requiring the lead mentors of teams to take on an extra workload, just to compete, with extra training.

And if that lead mentor is part of the problem, as was at least some of the case with IFI, it’s going to show them how to avoid issues for them…

Suggestions A and F are the most realistic, at least to my eyes. To some extent it’s already done.


I think that FIRST needs to make it clear that HR practices are a priority in its teams, and that it is something that cannot be ignored. If you cannot create some sort of official system in place to deal with these incidents, you are not capable of running a team IMO.

I also agree with E. I think that freshmen/sophomores in college should be experiencing college and branching out to try new things rather than mentoring, and I can see the logic in allowing them to have time to mature before returning in a mentor role.


I would like to see examples of such a policy in other organizations. Mentors are volunteers. Such a policy sounds like a great way to scare a lot of 20-somethings away from participating in the program at all. I don’t see how adults dating other adults is relevant or how forcing them to share that info would “protect” minors.


I’m very curious what you think this would look like, or what this even means.


As a first step, they need to enforce YPP background checks on all mentors, not just mentors 1&2. I think you’ll find there’s a balance between frequency and cost - more frequent checks means higher costs, while less frequent means missing something. The question is, at what rate does the risk increase over time? Annual may be too often, once per decade not often enough. What I’ve generally seen used is every 2-3 years.

What sort of HR training did you have in mind? I think YPP training should be required for everyone, but I’m not sure what else would be included. Like it or not, every team is going to have its own culture, and short of abusive-level issues, culture shouldn’t be dictated more than it already is.

Good luck enforcing this. I don’t think we need to go to this extreme. People should be able to live their own private lives, within reason. While we’ve had a number of bad relationship issues show up lately, we’re missing all the stories of good relationships. I’ve known a number of mentor-mentor relationships that turned out quite well.

While we can certainly point out major issues like we’ve seen lately, I don’t want to get into a position of trying to judge team culture. There are so many aspects to culture…

If FIRST blocked recent graduates from signing up for a team on a dashboard… the only thing that would change is FIRST’s knowledge of those individuals mentoring teams. There is literally nothing that forces a mentor to sign up with FIRST before showing up to work with a team, other than the team itself. A team that needs mentors, or wants to welcome back recent graduates will do so.

Personally, I think there needs to be a gap between graduating and mentoring, and we tell any recent graduates from our team to come back in a few years after they’ve finished college, and then we’ll welcome them back as mentors.

This is YPP, which FIRST has, but doesn’t push enough (see above). My team being associated with a private catholic school, every mentor not only goes through a background check, but also has to take regular training (once every 3 years) called “Protecting Gods Children” - it says all the same stuff as FIRST’s YPP.

biweekly? I think you’ll find that engagement with annual surveys FIRST sends out is far less than ideal, try to do anything on a frequent basis and engagement will fall off very quickly.

Also, I find it interesting how this is driven largely by the issues at IFI, yet has no mention of how FIRST should enforce supplier responsibility.


Firstly, I believe that any adult that chooses not to mentor because they have to officially report any relationships they have within that environment has a poor sense of priority - if needing to divulge if you date another mentor makes you say you don’t want to mentor, what are your fundamental reasons for mentoring?

Secondly, this protects minors in the sense that many of the inappropriate relationships I witnessed were ones that began with a 20 something adult and a high school sophomore, and were not officially culminated or beyond the realm of appropriate until both were adults. I think that by at least making someone aware that its happening, it can help prevent situations such as a 25 dating an 18 year old they first met four years ago.

Some examples - if you are a teacher, health care worker, therapist etc. there are some very clear guidelines about dating former students and patients. I believe that at the very least FIRST should have the same - if you ever mentored someone it should be explicit that dating them is a no-go.

Congratulations! You win the “IBM In the Early 20th Century” award for wanting to out queer people to FIRST! I’m sure Greg Abbott will appreciate your efforts when they fly into Houston for Championships.


This is like saying anyone that doesn’t want to live in a police state must be a criminal… At some point we need to let people make their own choices and not subject them to approval from on high. Have reporting avenues open for problems and take action on those, but otherwise, just no. Schools have policies in place for a lot of this stuff, and while teams are registered with FIRST, most of them are actually overseen by schools. Let the schools handle it.


My wife and I mentor together, and have since before we started dating. We’ve never hidden our relationship, even when I left my old job and we started mentoring a team based at a Catholic school. Despite not hiding our relationship, if I had to report my relationship with another adult I have no authority over I’d be out of the program immediately. I do understand increased caution when it comes to relationships with former students, but this feels like a huge overreach otherwise. It also opens me up to judgment calls from people who might take offense to our relationship.


Denying breaks, enforcing clock-in times, requesting overtime…

This is the human RESOURCES department, not the HUMAN resources department.

First, these systems may already be in place. Second, what part of “Single unpaid mentor who has to deal with transporting, feeding, purchasing for, chaperoning, finding funding for, finding build space for, compliance with regulations for, keeping safe, and maybe teaching how to build a robot” lends itself to “here, now you have to be a trained HR professional as well”? Right. Didn’t think so. Now if you’re volunteering to set up a 3rd-party HR that teams can use as a resource, I’m all ears (er, eyes, this being in written format).
Third, there may be a system in place. The Kwitcher system. “Kwticher complaining cause nothing gonna change” system, where the person in question is in position to block or ignore all complaints.


Oh my god no. My relationship status is no business of FIRST or any team my partner and I are connected with. Having that information shared makes it so that I am forced out of the closet in an environment that is hostile and potentially dangerous. I also don’t see why the relationship status of any member of FIRST is relevant to any conversation, as just because someone is in a relationship does not mean they are not capable of horrible things.


These examples are very, very different than simply dating another mentor…


This makes me appreciate external resources. I know there are several different resources within our school (Dean of students, counselors, etc) that students could go to if there was a problem on our team that they felt they couldn’t bring to us directly.


I have not done YPP so I may list something already covered. I think some information about how to report grooming and abuse to relevant authorities, how to handle in-team relationships and breakups, some templates for letting parents know about in-team incidents etc.

I have zero issue with mentor-mentor relationships, but I don’t think that filling out a brief “Yep we’re dating and it’s cool” form would be an impediment in any way. I think that anyone who has some degree of hesitancy in officially noting that relationship should wonder why they are hesitant about it.

If FIRST blocked recent graduates from signing up for a team on a dashboard… the only thing that would change is FIRST’s knowledge of those individuals mentoring teams. There is literally nothing that forces a mentor to sign up with FIRST before showing up to work with a team, other than the team itself. A team that needs mentors, or wants to welcome back recent graduates will do so.

Personally, I think there needs to be a gap between graduating and mentoring, and we tell any recent graduates from our team to come back in a few years after they’ve finished college, and then we’ll welcome them back as mentors.

We both agree about a gap being a good idea, and I believe that if FIRST had an official policy about it, it would at the very least reduce the number of mentors transitioning immediately.

Much of FIRST’s engagement is done with adults. FIRST had minimal surveying and interaction with me when I was a student, and I think that student’s could definitely be more open to it. I also think that even if the engagement is low, the entry cost of building an app is not ridiculous, and can have many more on-brand use cases as well.

This is actually very minimally based on IFI - a private company being toxic and abusive is not something I have as much personal experience with. This has much more to do with the individual teams described in some of these stories as I identified with those much more. Should FIRST enforce supplier responsibility? Sure, but they are not responsible for outside companies to anywhere near the same degree that they should be responsible for their teams behaviours.

Others have discussed the implications of disclosure, but also to this point… ever? Time is a huge factor here. There are counter-examples to every potential “rule” like this, and every case is unique. You’re saying a 35 year old dating a 29 year old (who they recently reconnected with) is a no-go just because they had a mentor-student interaction more than 10 years prior?


oh, so how FIRST already operates towards anyone who ever wants to work with them ever

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