The lack of sufficient diversity is an important problem in computer science. In this course, we want to help improve the situation, not make it worse. Some of the responsibility for that lies with us, the course staff, but a lot of it ultimately rests with you, the students.
College is a great time, and for many of you might offer a sense of new-found liberation. (I sure remember how liberating college felt for me!) It’s a space for exploration and experimentation of various kinds (legal, no doubt). However, it also provides opportunities to cross various lines, and unfortunately some people do so in awful ways.
Every now and then I hear disturbing statements from students about
how they have been made to feel uncomfortable in class or in the
department. I don’t mean intellectual discomfort—
There’s a term for some of the behaviors I hear about. It’s called
harassment. And let there be absolutely no doubt about this:
harassment is against the law and it is completely against the
norms by which we want to run this course and this
department. (See Brown’s
Title IX Web site.)
Your reaction might be to laugh it off, or to make (or think) snide remarks about political correctness or jokes about consent or what have you. You might think people just need to grow a thicker skin or learn to take a joke.
However, the subject of your harassment (and that’s what your remarks and actions are, harassment, even if you decide you would classify them as jokes) is forced, by the nature of classes and campus life, to be around you. That can make them uncomfortable to the point of wanting to stay away, or focusing more on you than on what they are here to learn. That hurts their education. That is not okay at all: you have no right to steal their hard-won education away from them. And often the harm goes much deeper: it hurts them psychologically in subtle and long-standing ways. And that’s why these are not laughing matters.
In light of recent reports about such issues on campus, Brown is taking additional steps to reduce this form of harm. Therefore, if I cannot appeal to your decency, intelligence, and collegiality, let me at least appeal to your self-interest. Do not mess around on this matter. It will not go well for you.
However, I prefer that you think of this in positive terms. Your classmates are your colleagues. Someday you may be each others’ start-up partners or co-employees; one of you may even be the other’s interviewer or boss. So start treating one another like professionals, and I mean that in the best possible interpretation of that phrase.
In short: Be safe, be happy, and have fun without taking away anyone else’s.
Professionalism and respect for diversity are not just matters between students; they also apply to how the course staff treat the students. The staff of this course pledge to treat you in a way that respects our differences. However, despite our best efforts, we might slip up, hopefully inadvertently. When we do, please feel free to talk to us about it.
As a department, we will take all complaints about unprofessional or discriminatory behavior seriously.
In principle, I would like to say that you are always open to come talk to me if you are facing any such issues. Unfortunately, I have to warn you that on account of being the director of our PhD program, I’m what Title IX law calls a Responsible Employee. That means, if you report an incident to me, I am required to report it to the Title IX coordinator at Brown. This will likely launch an investigation.
Usually, an investigation is a good idea. However, I realize this may put you in an uncomfortable position, and that’s certainly not what I want. Therefore, I need to tell you that if you want to do things confidentially, you should talk to one of the many resources listed here.
If you would like to learn more about Brown’s policies and resources, please see the university’s Title IX site.