Reflections on Computer Science Education Week: If CS is for Social Justice Then We’ve Got Work To Do

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

2020 was filled with urgent reminders that actively dismantling unjust and inequitable systems requires all of us to dive deeper into the headlines and take actions beyond yard signs, self learning, and hashtags. With CSEdWeek 2020 recently coming to a close, it is important to continue to grapple with the implications of CS for Social Justice and consider where we are as both individuals and a collective movement to address the historic marginalization and bias which has resulted in the longstanding underrepresentation of Black, Latinx, women, LGBTQI, indigenous students, and students with disabilities in CS. 

Our work to achieve CS for All is not theoretical. It is not enough to build out efforts around a future workforce, or funding and policy opportunities that may come to fruition. Our work is happening right now, in classrooms and in the headlines unfolding in newspapers and exploding on social media. Our work is bigger than an hour of code, although inspiring youth is vital to increasing diversity in CS. Our work is understanding what Dr. Timnit Gebru and Rebekah Jones have found, why they were fired, and how these relate to the systems their findings stand  to disrupt. 

Dr. Timnit Gebru and Ms. Jones are CS for all. Their work highlights the power of CS, the need to look at systems critically, and the importance of diverse voices in the conversation. Dr. Gebru’s work on AI and the work of Ms. Jones in data science reflect everything that CS can do to support or harm our lives. AI can be a game changer, but not if it is developed in a vacuum creating biased systems. Data science can inform, but not if the numbers are being manipulated by a select few in positions of power. And now they are both being threatened, forced from their positions and actively harassed for raising the right questions and concerns. 

Dr. Timnit Gebru and Ms. Jones are computer science professionals, actively working on issues with serious implications for social justice, and as such represent the true spirit of #CSforSocialJustice embodied in the theme of CS Education Week. This work is not without risk, and they are paying a high price for their actions. As advocates for broadening participation in computing, and CS for all,  the ECEP Alliance is working on actions, interventions, and policies that support more diversity in CS education, while also acknowledging that significant action is required to change the systems beyond our educational institutions. Thank you to everyone who brought your knowledge, expertise, experience, and data to the table for CSEdWeek 2020. We move forward with you in our collective effort to address the many layers of systemic change with you everyday, and every week until we really have a system where CS is built by, and in-service to, a diverse society.