Researchers cry 'fascism,' take time off to 'heal' after respondents to gender survey identify as ‘Apache attack helicopters’

Several students indicated various aircrafts as their gender of choice in an apparent reference to a popular meme.

One researcher experienced 'significant personal distress' as a result of managing the data and had to take time off of the project to 'heal from traumatic harm.'

Students have drawn the ire of gender researchers after submitting mocking responses to a survey.

The survey was intended to be sent to “transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) students in undergraduate engineering and computer science programs” and consisted of “numerical and open-ended text box questions probing students’ perceptions of gender, engineering education culture, and communities of support.”

The team of researchers, composed primarily of Oregon State University professors, sent a questionnaire link to over 3,000 “department chairs, program administrators, and faculty at accredited engineering bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.”

However, of the 349 completed responses, 50 were deemed “malicious” and included “slurs, hate speech, or direct targeting of the research team.”

[Related: Berkeley warns students about coronavirus ‘memes and GIFs’ that spread ‘xenophobia’]

In particular, 12 percent of the “malicious” respondents identified their gender as an “Apache attack helicopter” or similar aircraft, an apparent reference to a long-running meme meant to make light of individuals identifying as a broad range of “genders.”

Some students were more direct in their criticism of the survey. One wrote, “I believe that is what is wrong with higher education. Students should be taught to focus on their chosen field and not their gender.”

Another wrote, “While I of course do not condone bullying or discrimination, I wish people in universities (especially the faculty) would not focus so much on gender and identity. That doesn’t matter.”

The negative responses prompted the researchers to discuss the results of the survey in a paper entitled “Attack Helicopters and White Supremacy: Interpreting Malicious Responses to an Online Questionnaire about Transgender Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science Student Experiences.” 

The paper was published in the Summer 2023 issue of the Bulletin of Applied Transgender Studies, a publication of Northwestern University which claims to be “the leading venue for academic research addressing the social, cultural, and political issues facing transgender and gender minority communities across the globe.”

[Related: Students encouraged to pass ‘Q Cards’ to campus doctors to avoid ‘cultural homophobia’]

The researchers criticized the responses, saying, “The targeting of social justice research and marginalized academics fits into theories of fascism as a pathway the right-wing can use to exert power, one act within a larger effort.”

They compared their findings to the January 6 Capitol riot, saying, “This analysis is a rebuke of conspiracy theories and misinformation which not only barraged our research but also underpinned the fascist storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

One researcher, a “transgender woman who was already in therapy for anxiety and depression regarding online anti-trans rhetoric,” experienced “significant personal distress” as a result of managing the data and had to take time off of the project to “heal from traumatic harm.”

The paper also prescribed potential changes that could be made to engineering curricula, saying, “Engineering graduates in the U.S. frequently work in fields such as fossil fuels, defense, construction, and technology upon graduation, and could be taught about these field’s relationships with national and global racial capitalism and ongoing apartheid in Palestine.”

Campus Reform contacted Northwestern University, University of Oregon, and all authors of the research paper for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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