Canadian engineers call for change to their private ‘iron ring’ ceremony steeped in colonialism
For pretty much a century, iron rings worn by Canadian engineers have been shrouded in mystery — at the very least for outsiders like me, an English professor and director of the Essential Media Lab at College of Waterloo, who teaches ethics to engineers.
The younger engineering learners I face are pretty much universally accepting of a “tech for good” ethos. This will make it in particular astonishing that a capstone ritual celebrating their job is steeped in traditions that fly in the confront of equity, range and inclusion (EDI).
The rings are dispersed at the “Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer,” which is overseen by the ominously named 7 Wardens.
In a push launch on Nov. 21, the wardens stated they fashioned a committee “to initiate a evaluate of the Ritual and the organization to make the Ritual far more significant and inclusive for all candidates.”
Steeped in dangerous worldviews
The announcement comes soon after a lately formed team called for a a great deal-wanted retooling of the ceremony.
The group incorporates engineers and engineering educators, college students, college administrators, iron ring wardens as properly as businesses like Engineers Canada, a non-revenue group that “works on behalf of the provincial and territorial associations that control engineering apply and license the country’s 300,000 users of the engineering occupation.”
As the group’s Sept. 8 “Retool the Ring” statement notes, the “ceremony is steeped in outdated and dangerous worldviews, including colonialism, racism and sexism.” In addition, “it consists of readings from Christian texts, as properly as language and symbolism that is explicitly spiritual and/or patriarchal.”
I have composed about this topic presently, noting that the ring ceremony was made by Rudyard Kipling, a British creator who championed colonial power.
Most famously, Kipling wrote The Jungle Reserve. But he also penned “The White Man’s Stress.” As Charles McGrath put it in a New Yorker guide evaluation, “Kipling has been variously labelled a colonialist, a jingoist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, a proper-wing imperialist warmonger.”
Authors of the Retool the Ring doc suggest that further than getting steeped in dangerous entire world views, concepts of engineering ethics championed in the ritual are out-of-date and small-sighted. For 1, the ceremony “locates ‘bad workmanship’ in product failure, monetary misconduct, and ‘professional jealousy’ — all vital illustrations of weak engineering get the job done — but does not point out engineers’ roles in systemic environmental or social concerns, nor the importance of creating and maintaining rely on with communities.”
The assertion notes Canadian engineers have played sizeable roles in colonization and “changing the Iron Ring ceremony is just one proper response to the Truth of the matter and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Motion, notably those people directed at the corporate sector and put up-secondary establishments.”
Analyzing the dilemma
Pursuing the assistance of style thinker Donald Schön, this is a excellent time for essential “problem setting” instead than solutionist “problem resolving.”
The position in asking important structure issues is to create place in the style process to take into account issues like EDI, and social and environmental impacts. Equivalent reflection is named for below.
For case in point:
How does this ritual replicate other values embedded in the engineering profession?
What does the exceptional mother nature of the ceremony say about the engineer’s connection to the broader community?
Have to have for transparency, inclusion
The Retool the Ring statement emphasizes transparency and inclusion as essential values for the engineering local community to uphold. The statement notes:
“The current procedures also exclude associates of the public from knowledge the moral obligations of a exercise that profoundly impacts their life and worlds.”
In September 2022 I interviewed several organizers of Retool the Ring, including Robyn Mae Paul, a PhD scholar at the University of Calgary.
Paul stated that mainly because of the secrecy, by the time learners “realize how damaged the iron ring ceremony is, they are commencing their careers as engineers and it’s a strange blip in their previous. I imagine this is why pupils have hardly ever advocated for transform.”
Nonetheless, the so-known as personal but not top secret ritual persists as a supply of disgrace for quite a few conscientious engineers. This incorporates Kyle Monkman, a PhD college student at the College of Manitoba who identifies as Métis.
Monkman attended the ring ceremony with hesitation, only to uncover its destructive colonial angle. When he expressed his concern to other engineers, he claims they were dismissive, and he felt pressured to uphold the solution.
“I want people today who truly feel awkward about the ceremony to have their inner thoughts acknowledged,” he told me.
Have to have for revisioning
The ceremony’s problematic previous is not a new discovery. As writer Pierre Dwelling-Douglas puts it in an post posted by the American Culture for Engineering Instruction, Kipling’s colonialism is “one of the difficulties to present and upcoming wardens.”
Ted Nolan, who teaches interaction to first-calendar year engineering pupils at the University of Toronto, sums up the condition more bluntly:
“We start off their education with a land acknowledgement, and we conclusion it with a ceremony created by a white supremacist.”
Evidently, the ceremony puts contemporary values at odds with these purporting to signify the job. And this puts young engineers in a tough placement.
Professor of engineering Kari Zacharias expresses that conflict in basic words and phrases: “I would like to start out putting on my ring yet again.” She attended the meeting where Retool the Ring was born and is a essential organizer of the initiative.
A new cemermony?
Some camps have presently commenced revising the ritual, which includes Camp 5 in B.C..
Zacharias is inspired by this, but she can also picture a reconciliatory ceremony built for all those who have felt alienated by the Ritual of the Contacting of the Engineer.
If Momkman had his way, a revised ritual need to acknowledge the harms performed by preceding ceremonies, to guarantee that the problems is not simply just swept beneath the rug.
The organizers of Retool the Ring are hopeful that the keepers of the ritual can learn to see themselves as stewards somewhat than wardens, which will make the retooling an chance for mentorship.
Stewardship is a expression advocated by the Engineering Change Lab, a Canadian non-income collaborative platform that provides the Tech Stewardship Observe Program. This plan, like Retool the Ring, addresses “systemic challenges keeping again the profession’s comprehensive prospective.”
Issues linger for Retool the Ring organizers following the 7 Wardens’ the latest announcement.
As Zacharias asks: “How significantly will they go in their revisions? Who will be integrated in the procedure? And how several far more probably harmful ceremonies will acquire spot just before the revisions are last but not least carried out?”
Paul would like to make it obvious that “removing a number of religious references and including some ‘she’ pronouns is not plenty of.”