A Visual Ethnographic Evaluation of Land Grant Construction Programs: Who is Valued in Construction Education?

Jared Burgoon, Erin Arneson, Ph.D., Vanna Hosanny, and Rodolfo Valdes-Vasquez, PhD.
Colorado State University
Fort Colins, Colorado

The benefits of a diverse management workforce are copious, yet a review of employment statistics for the United States (U.S.) construction management (CM) profession reveals low participation rates among Latinos, individuals of color, and women. Further, low participation rates among these (and other) minority groups are observed in four-year construction education programs. For construction education programs seeking to attract and retain a more diverse student body, one area that programs may wish to evaluate is the non-verbal messages that physical artifacts (art, signs, pictures, trophies, etc.) convey in terms of who is valued and belongs (or does not belong) in construction education.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the equity climate of construction education programs as communicated by physical artifacts. Specifically, this research is intended to identify who is valued and belongs (or does not belong) in construction education as communicated by physical artifacts.

This qualitative visual ethnographic study evaluated photographs of physical artifacts on display in construction education programs at three U.S. land grant universities. Utilizing a predefined equity taxonomy, a research team of three full-time construction educators and one undergraduate construction education student, collected, evaluated, and categorized photographs of physical artifacts (n = 140) based on the following criteria: 1) artifact type, 2) message content, 3) multicultural approach, and 4) equity approach. Additionally, individual and research team analysis identified recurring themes surrounding who is valued and belongs in construction education.

Results suggest that the non-verbal message communicated by physical artifacts in construction education is that White men are valued and belong in roles of recognition and power. Conversely, the non-verbal message potentially communicated to people of color and women is that they are not valued or belong in construction education. Furthermore, results suggest that a damaging message (microaggression) conveyed to individuals of color is that their value to the construction industry is in construction labor (not management) roles.  Additional individual and research team analysis surrounding who is valued in construction education also identified the following recurring themes: 1) the “named majority” (naming and acknowledging White men in positions of authority), 2) the “unnamed minority” (not naming women and individuals of color), and 3) tokenism (the appearance of diversity, but without inclusion).

Physical artifacts are a form of symbolic messages and non-verbal statements that can indicate the values and culture of their creators (e.g., construction educators and administrators), and whether intended or not, results suggest that the message communicated by physical artifacts is that White men belong and have greater value in construction education than other groups. Given these results, the hope is that this study could potentially have a positive impact on construction education in the following ways: 1) provide a guide for evaluating the equity message communicated by physical artifacts in construction education programs, 2) elicit for conversations between educators, administrators, students, and other stakeholders about the inclusive nature (or the lack thereof) of the physical artifacts portrayed in construction education programs, and 3) act as a catalyst for change resulting in a physical climate that relays a greater sense of belonging for all construction education students and stakeholders.

Keywords: Construction Education, Women, Latinos, Minority and Visual ethnography