Diversity and Professionalism
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. The responsibility to do that lies both with us, the course staff, and with you, the students.
1 Be An Adult
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, this freedom can also be abused.
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 many of these behaviors:
harassment. And let there be absolutely no doubt about this:
harassment is against the law and it is completely against the
norms of this course and this
department. (See Brown’s
Title IX Web site.)
Some people might think the recipient should laugh it off, or they may make (or think) snide remarks about political correctness or jokes about consent or what have you. They might think people just need to grow a thicker skin or learn to take a joke.
Unfortunately, the subject of harassment (and that’s what these 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 the harasser. That can make them uncomfortable to the point of wanting to stay away, or focusing more on the harasser than on what they are here to learn. That hurts their education. That is not okay at all: the harasser has 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 to think about 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.
2 About Pronouns
Since part of our goal in this course is to create better, less-buggy systems, we’ll apply the same philosophy to language too. Gender is complicated; pronouns are useful; and English’s lack of a gender-neutral pronoun can be viewed as a bug. Therefore, in this class, we will try to refer to all students as “they”. This is a matter of simple respect. It saves students from having to choose between two deeply unpleasant alternatives: being mis-gendered, or having to reveal personal information (such as that they are in transition) before they are ready to do so or to people to whom they don’t wish to reveal it.
3 About Course Staff
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.
Sometimes, you may not be comfortable bringing this up directly to us. If so, you are welcome to talk to Laura Dobler or to the department chair.
As a department, we will take all complaints about unprofessional or discriminatory behavior seriously.
4 Discussing Problems
If you are running into personal difficulties in the course (e.g., being made uncomfortable by a fellow student), by all means come talk to me at any time. If you are having difficulties in other contexts and would like to talk about that, you are welcome to do so. In short, you are always open to come talk to me if you are facing any such issues.
However, please note the following. Due to other positions I hold in the department and university, I am what Title IX calls a Responsible Employee. That means if you report a Title IX violation to me, I am required to report it to the university. This will result in you being contacted by a university official.
I realize that not everyone may want to involve university officials, at least not right away. If you want your conversation to be kept in complete confidence, you should instead talk to one of the many resources listed here. Note also Brown’s SHARE Advocates, who also offer confidentiality.
If you would like to learn more about Brown’s policies and resources, please see the university’s Title IX site.