Women and non-binary students embrace robotics in Berkelium

“You just have to learn how to operate in the robotics team,” said Jazelle Harrison, a sophomore at Berkeley High School who recently joined Berkelium, BHS’s robotics team.


“You just have to learn how to operate in the robotics team,” said Jazelle Harrison, a sophomore at Berkeley High School who recently joined Berkelium, BHS’s robotics team. “Like you have to learn that you need to volunteer for things, take every opportunity…, raise your hand and be like, ‘I can do this like. I can.’”

There is a stereotypical expectation for a robotics team to be dominated by white males. However, this is not the case within Berkelium. Berkelium stands as a beacon of diversity, consisting largely of underrepresented people who collaborate to achieve success. Despite this diversity, males do still make up the majority of the team and marginalized groups may have to work harder to find their place. Yet, as the team grows with more inclusivity, Berkelium is able to break old stereotypes and build more representation throughout all parts of the team.

Berkelium works together through sub-teams to overcome initial challenges of inclusivity and promote greater representation amongst the team. Initially, the team had a divide, specifically affecting newcomers from underrepresented communities. The newcomers had struggled to find their place, as 

 inclusivity was lacking. “You had to be able to advocate for yourself to be able to do something or be included. When you could have actually done something is when someone had asked you to do a certain task. Other than that, I’d say it was up to your initiative of asking to help if you wanted to do something,” Harrison said. 

It has been known for the space to be alienating for members who are not white men, as they have been dominating the team for a very long time.

 “It hasn’t always been as inclusive,” Moss Vorobyeva, a BHS sophomore, said. “I’ve heard, before I joined, that it felt very separating to be in a community full of straight white men.” 

The electrical sub-team feels the least inclusive to Vorobyeva. “I don’t feel as comfortable trying to join the electrical team because of it being male dominated, not because it is impossible for me to try and work in that field,” Vorobyeva said. 

Nevertheless, Berkelium’s leadership team has been working to improve inclusivity. With most of the leadership consisting of people who are female or non-binary, they actively address concerns through resources like an incident report form where they read any reports of people feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome on the team. Additionally, they are working to rectify past issues of excluding newcomers, ensuring everyone contributes during the build season. 

“Leadership has been making sure everyone has hands on deck all the time. It’s really nice to be able to have because it’s not all the work being assigned to only a few people,” Cassian Evans, a sophomore on Berkelium leadership, said.

In contrast, the broader organization overseeing robotic competitions, First Robotics, is perceived as unwelcoming to underrepresented groups. “Everything we work on as a robotics team of being inclusive is very different from the rest of First Robotics, unfortunately,” Evans said.

Competitions pose challenges, especially for transgender or nonbinary students facing unwelcoming restroom environments. 

“There are issues with the bathrooms at the competitions. If you are not cisgender male, it’s uncomfortable,” Vorobyeva said. 

Additionally, it is harder for female students in First Robotic competitions to have any resource of menstrual products in their bathroom. “Menstrual products in bathrooms aren’t really a concern in First Robotics bathrooms,” Sadie Burris, a sophomore in Berkelium, said. To fix First Robotics’ shortage problem of menstrual products, Berkelium’s leadership team has partnered up with MEfirst. “MEfirst is a program that Berkelium is collaborating with that supports free menstrual products in First Robotics,” Evans said. 

Berkelium continues to work on diversity and resilience in face of stereotypes and exclusionary practices. 

“There is no present stereotype of ‘only boys should do robotics,’” Burris said. “There are lots of female and non-binary teammates who work hard on their robot, getting sponsors and overall running the team so it can be successful.” 

While challenges persist, the team’s commitment to inclusivity and representation fosters a more welcoming environment, not only within the team, but also within the robotics community.