Engaging to Serve: Fighting Systemic Oppression Through Systematic Community Engagement
Frederick Paige, Ph.D., E.L.T., A.M.ASCE, Assistant Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Yvette Pearson, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, University of Texas, Dallas
Joseph James, Virginia Polytechnic Institution and State University
By definition, and in alignment with the ASCE Code of Ethics, civil engineers are expected to serve society. “How” civil engineers protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public is dependent on “why” civil engineers engage communities. In this session, presenters will discuss how and why civil engineers should partner with the communities they serve. Appropriate engagement leads to an improved quality of life for all and better design. Inappropriate engagement leads to inequitable infrastructure systems and decreased productivity. Inequitable infrastructure systems are inefficient systems that underserve some and overserve others. A design that results in an imbalance will prematurely require a redesign and creates other issues such as mistrust.
Civil engineers design, develop, and construct socio-technical infrastructure systems and further guidance is needed to better serve communities that have been oppressed. While ethics are critical to consider, even a well-intentioned civil engineer can design infrastructure systems that reduce the human experience to a life plagued by environmental racism, economic instability, miseducation, famine, contaminated water, limited accessibility and other inequities. Civil engineers benefit from gaining competence in engagement practices and socio-technical theories to complement their technical expertise. Presenters in this session will share examples of effective engagement strategies using social innovation frameworks (e.g., active citizen continuum, asset based community development [ABCD], innovation spiral, and engagement quadrants).
By presenting social innovation frameworks in the context of infrastructure project case studies, participants will be provided guidance on how to appraise their current engagement protocols, reflect on previous engagements, and devise future engagements.