WoAA Board Member
The Georgia Tech chapter of the Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics (WoAA) is seeking to increase its membership. But the student-run group is not looking for just anyone. They are looking for students with a big-picture concept of equality, inclusion, and diversity.
And they are not recruiting women only.
The Fall 2020 WoAA Membership Drive is actively recruiting a diverse crew of male allies, non-binary students, and female students to move the group forward in its bid to make the Aerospace Engineering School campus safe and equitable for all under-represented groups.
The invitation to all signifies the group's decision that a unified approach to fighting discrimination will benefit all under-represented groups-- including, but not limited to, women.
WoAA board member Harshini Sivakumar says the time was right for the Georgia Tech chapter to open its doors to a wider array of members.
"The last six months have really brought issues of inequality and systemic racism into sharper focus for everyone. And the result is that we are seeing how much we all need to work to make our world safer and more inclusive for everyone," she said.
That message is not lost on men, says third-year undergraduate Carson Coursey, one of the first male allies recruited to the organization.
"I just thought it was important for people like me - white, cis-gender males - to acknowledge the privilege we have, and, then to help tear down the barriers that prevent others from gaining access," he said.
"You see the problem sometimes when you are in a lab or on a design team and one of the female engineers brings something up and is overlooked or ignored by the guys. That's got to stop."
WoAA Board Member
A lack of inclusivity for one group hurts all groups, added Sivakumar.
"I was talking to a recent grad last week who told me that their decision to not identify as male or female on applications was hurting their job search," she said. "We are the generation that can do something about that."
Preethi Mysore predicted that WoAA's expansion will send a strong message about equality to incoming AE students, whose experience in high school may not have been very empowering.
"When I was in high school, I was president of the robotics club, but I was still stuck in the engineering notebook, taking notes, and maybe I got to do a little CAD. But I was not working on the design, where all of the exciting work was being done," she said.
"At the time I was told I needed to have sharper elbows, to be pushier. Being smart was not enough. But we all know that being pushy is how you end up being called 'bossy' or 'unfeminine.'"
Graduate student Shireen Datta said the group's bid for greater acceptance of different perspectives is a practical one.
"At the two universities that I attended before I got to Tech the design teams and lab teams that were more diverse always did better. You could almost predict the composition of those teams by looking at my transcripts now. The teams that did well were always diverse."
Graduate student Rukmini Roy said she thinks WoAA's expansion can set a more inclusive tone for the future.
"We want to create an environment where everyone feels safe about showing up as they are. That's a place where everyone will develop to their fullest potential. And that's the education we paid to get," she said. "Personally, when I look around at the people who've built this discipline, I see I'm one gender and two skin tones off the mark. No one looks like me."