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Professor says academic 'rigor' results in 'dirty deeds' and 'white male heterosexual privilege

Academic "rigor accomplishes dirty deeds," according to the head of Purdue University's School of Engineering Education — among them "white male heterosexual privilege." (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Academic "rigor accomplishes dirty deeds," according to the head of Purdue University's School of Engineering Education — among them "white male heterosexual privilege."

"Understanding how rigor reproduces inequality, we cannot reinvent it but rather must relinquish it," Donna Riley wrote in the abstract to her article in the scholarly journal Engineering Studies.

Campus Reform looked deeper into Riley's argument, noting her declaration that rigor “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations — and links to masculinity in particular — are undeniable.”

That said, Riley's "visceral reaction in many conversations where I have seen rigor asserted has been to tell parties involved (regardless of gender) to whip them out and measure them already,” the outlet reported.

What else does Riley's article say?

  • Riley also stated that academic rigor reveals "how structural forces of power and privilege operate to exclude men of color and women, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, first-generation and low-income students, and non-traditionally aged students," Campus Reform added.
  • Rigor also can “reinforce gender, race, and class hierarchies in engineering, and maintain invisibility of queer, disabled, low-income, and other marginalized engineering students,” she wrote, the outlet said.
  • Research also shows "a climate of microaggressions and cultures of whiteness and masculinity in engineering," Riley noted, according to Campus Reform, adding that the discipline also harbors “inherent masculinist, white, and global North bias...all under a guise of neutrality.”
  • The professor also argued that “scientific knowledge" is "gendered, raced, and colonizing,” the outlet said.

What has Riley said in the past?

  • According to her faculty page at her previous position at Smith College, Riley said she wants to be "part of a paradigm shift" and move "diversity in science and engineering from superficial measures of equity as headcounts, to addressing justice and the genuine engagement of all students as core educational challenges."
  • Riley also noted that she wants to "revise engineering curricula" by "integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics and social responsibility ..."

What are others saying about Riley's positions?

  • Another engineer professor criticized Riley's point of view in an article for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.
  • "Riley’s purpose seems not to be how best to train new engineers but to let everyone know how bad engineers have been, how they continue to 'oppress' women and persons of color, how much we need 'diverse perspectives,' and how the 'struggle' continues to level all distinctions and differences in society," wrote Indrek Wichman, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State University.

Campus Reform asked Riley multiple times for comment, the outlet said, but didn't immediately receive a response.

One last thing…
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