Another White Man in Academia

Like many people these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about race, gender, and privilege over the last few months.

It will come as no surprise to those of you that know me that... I’m a white male. In fact, even if you didn’t know me at all, being told that I’m a professor of Computer Science would allow you to make a pretty good guess that I’m a white male.

I find our current situation fairly appalling. The roots of our culture’s racism go really really deep, and it’s incredibly hard to put a dent in it, or to feel like we’re even moving forward.

For those of you that haven’t seen it, I would definitely recommend reading Amy J. Ko’s piece, Why our academic major is racist.

In essence, and at the risk of boiling a huge topic down to a few bullet points, our schools are racist because we’re not working hard enough to combat the systemic racism that surrounds us.

What can I do about it? Well, I could quit; that could help, if I was replaced by someone that could contribute more than I can to making our department less racist and more diverse.

Sadly, I do like my job, and I do like getting paid for doing my job, and I’m not willing to throw that all away. Ugh.

So, what else can I do? Well, I can start by taking many of the steps that Amy Ko suggests; discussing racism explicitly in my courses, and working harder to identify qualified applicants that are Black, both at the undergraduate and faculty level.

Additionally, I can discard the classic "purity" notion that makes discussing race and diversity somehow thought of as inappropriate in engineering courses. My courses are one hundred percent about finding solutions that allow people to get jobs done, and discussing how different kinds of people can use those solutions is manifestly part of the discussion.

What else should we be doing? I’d be happy to discuss it.

Humbly yours,

John Clements