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Amplifying Resources for Inclusiveness in Computing: What Can CS Departments Do?

CRA is dedicated to creating an environment that is more welcoming, just, and equitable to all. Many want to take action in this area but are not sure how. Manuel A. Pérez-Quiñones wrote an article, “What Can CS Departments Do?” detailing a set of recommendations for computing departments to improve inclusiveness:

Some of my recommendations (in brief) are below. Over the next few days/weeks, I will expand on each one of these as a separate writeup. As I write my opinion on these, I might have more to suggest. We’ll see (together) how far this project takes us.

  1. Create student organizations to support members of underrepresented and marginalized groups. Specifically create them in your CS department.
  2. Collect data to help identify the problem but do not use data to say “mission accomplished.” When it comes to justice, the work is never done. To paraphrase Dijkstra, “Data collection about diversity can be used to show the presence of discrimination/unfairness/racism, but never to show the absence!”
  3. Don’t discount data because of a small sample size (small n)— by definition, your data will always have a small N. Learn from social scientists on how to do qualitative research with small Ns.
  4. Students are not like you (the professor)— stop assuming that “when I was a student” applies to your students. You (a college professor) are the equivalent of the NBA professional. Our students learning how to dribble or dunk can’t be expected to be like Michael Jordan. We need to find a way to help them learn the discipline without expecting them to be a future ACM Turing Award winner.
  5. Same Struggle, Different Differences— yeah, should be obvious but it is not. Different groups face similar struggles of inclusion, promotion, acceptance, etc. But the reasons why they face these struggles are different (e.g., race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, language barriers, disability). The solutions are different, so don’t attempt to, for example, address the underrepresentation of women first and then “apply what we learn to other groups.”
  6. To parents and students: ask the difficult questions when you visit campus. To the university administrators: be ready to answer the difficult questions. Don’t be dismissive (“we don’t have racism in our campus”) — yeah, right.
  7. Unconscious bias is real— we all suffer from it, education is the cure.
  8. Rethink your curriculum— curriculum created by systems that have ignored racism and discrimination might (surprise, surprise) end up reinforcing racism and discrimination. The solution is not adding one module or course to your curriculum.
  9. Rethink your assessment metrics— lots has been written about how different tests have biases towards particular groups. In particular, rethink high-stakes tests, as they favor particular groups in unfair ways.
  10. Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion must be actively managed, not wished away with a task force or committee. Lack of JEDI (like the acronym?) is not a one off problem, is not a temporary problem, and it is not even a problem to be solved. This must be a part of your organization with people to manage it day to day, just like you manage your curriculum or your finances.

Pérez-Quiñones has had much success leading diversity efforts in computing and was honored by CRA in 2018 with the A. Nico Habermann award. Click here to read his full article. We encourage you consider some of these actions for your department.

Amplifying Resources for Inclusiveness in Computing: What Can CS Departments Do?