Blog Post

Computer Science Absolutely Matters in Communities of Color

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending an event entitled Why CS Matters in Communities of Color, co-hosted by New York City Department of Education’s Computer Science for All NYC and NYC Men Teach teams; several days prior, I had the opportunity to lead a Twitter chat in preparation for the event. On a rainy day in NYC, educators, industry-related professionals, and community members gathered to discuss the importance of CS in communities of color.

Logo for Why CS Matters in Communities of Color event

In my three years of teaching CS, this is one of the few events that I’ve attended that solely focused on addressing what barriers exist that hinder efforts to expand CS into communities of color. Through thoughtful discussion, collaboration, and presentations, many of us in attendance were able to leave with several takeaways that can support us in continuing to expand CS opportunities for communities of color. Some of my takeaways are below:

CS Matters in Communities of Color Because of Our Rich History Within the World of CS: At this event I was honored to meet some of the children and family members of Katherine Johnson (the main protagonist in the Hidden Figures book and film) and Jerry Lawson, the pioneer behind the Fairchild Channel F video game console and the video game cartridge, which influenced most of the gaming consoles in use today. Hearing their stories through the lens of their children and how it inspired the work and opportunities they encountered was inspiring and motivating. Knowing about the obstacles such legendary pioneers had to overcome can surely support CS students of color and provide role models who look like them.

CS Matters in Communities of Color Because of New Leaders and Opportunities They Are Creating for Themselves: Some of the highlights from the event included hearing from two up-and-coming CS leaders who are creating new opportunities and conversations that impact communities of color.

Afrotectopia logoAri MeLenciano, who served as the A/V DJ for the event, is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, designer, creative technologist, researcher, educator, and activist who is passionate about exploring the relationships between various forms of design and the human experience. As the founder of Afrotectopia, Ari is creating new opportunities and events in the world of CS through her imaginative use of human-computer interaction technologies. Ari can inspire young students of color to further integrate their passions into a CS career.

 

Joy Buolamwini, the self-proclaimed “Poet of Code,” uses art and research to Logo for Algorithmic Justice Leagueilluminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to fight harmful bias in artificial intelligence. Her TED Talk on algorithmic bias has been viewed over 1 million times. After hearing her speak about her work and examples of algorithmic bias, I viewed a recording of her presentation with my students to show how Joy is using CS to address social issues that impact people like them and how they can play a role in tackling ethical issues within CS.

Both of these women and their particular paths in CS represent the endless opportunities for students of color to create new paths s and discussions integrating their passions. Communities of color need to recognize and celebrate individuals creating new narratives in the world of CS; the work of these individuals may inspire the next computational innovation or CS-related career opportunity for a student of color.

CS Matters in Communities of Color Because of Dedicated Teachers in Classrooms: At the event’s close, we were reminded by the organizers that CS not only matters in communities of color, but that we need to ensure that students of color are granted opportunities to explore CS in their schools. I personally never had the opportunity to take a CS class before I went to college; now as a CS educator, I’m fortunate enough to offer hundreds of students at my school at least one course opportunity before they graduate high school. It is imperative that we continue to work to address the thousands of schools across our nation that do not offer these courses through the Computer Science for All Initiative. Events such as this one help foster more conversations on what can be done to change the narrative and ensure schools currently without a CS course can identify supporting resources. For those schools that are offering CS opportunities to their students, it is imperative that they move beyond this first step and reflect on what the CS experiences look like in their classrooms and whether their students are benefiting from culturally responsive education. If not, then research and actionable steps should be taken to ensure that they rectify these issues. A lack of diversity and bias have been longtime issues facing the CS community; we must work together to address these so that we can truly embody the notion that Computer Science is truly for all.


Below are additional resources shared at the event and the Twitter chat that preceded it:

The Why CS Matters in Communities of Color event slide presentation can be found here.

An upcoming follow-up event: Register here for The Men of Color CS Lunch and Learn @ Cornell Tech with a Black male or Latino/Latinx educator, paraprofessional or administrator. No prior CS knowledge is required for participants to build bots, race drones or build community with us!

Men of Color Lunch & Learn Build Community event flyer

A similar event will take place in March geared towards women in computer science. Stay tuned for more details!

Expanding CS into communities of color resources:

Algorithmic Justice League affiliated resources:

What are some actionable next steps and/or resources that can be implemented to further support the expansion of CS into communities of color?

 

Donald Saint-Germain is a high school teacher at WINGS Academy in the Bronx, New York. Though he is new to teaching CS, he has gained experience from incorporating introductory units into other content areas and teaching CSP. In addition to attending professional development workshops, he has connected with various CS communities and educators (in-person and online) that have helped him to grow as a CS teacher. Donald is serving as a community ambassador for the second year.

 

Comments

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Submitted by Jennifer Vermillion on Tue, 02/12/2019 - 11:20

Lots of helpful information and resources, thank you!

 

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Submitted by Nicole Reitz-Larsen on Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:11

I appreciate all of the resources Donald.

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Submitted by Portia Morrell on Tue, 02/26/2019 - 08:35

Hi Donald,

For sure the best and enlightening article I've read on this site. Thank you for all the resources and information you provided. I look forward to parsing through the links and reading more from you in the future.