Bracing for Impact; Introducing VOICES

June 17, 2020
Director of Educational Innovation and Leadership

Like many of you, I’ve been following the latest updates on the consequences of the novel coronavirus and bracing myself for the impact that we will all be witness to in the coming weeks and months. We’ve also been afflicted with profound despair with the recent cruel murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many other Black men and women — a reflection of the rampant racism that still flourishes across America. These are distressing times and I grieve a little more every day.

Over the last several months the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing at Georgia Tech (Constellations) has experienced a barrage of new policies often changing from one day to the next and pivoting quickly on many fronts, including being physically distant and adjusting our implementation to support teachers with online tools. Covid-19 did not create the economic injustices that exist for educators and students in low-income communities, but it has exposed the depths of inequities caused by our failure to proactively secure quality educational experiences for them.

Then we have the ongoing killings — the lynching — of hundreds of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) every year. Most recently, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Ahmaud Arbery. Undoubtedly, the protests and the call for justice across America have sounded the alarm once again for change in policies and actions that endow systemic racism in our nation. The bleak outcomes of the global pandemic and crimes against BIPOC are not unrelated. This is a time of historic crisis in America and we cannot hide from the structural inequalities in jobs, housing, healthcare, and the biased justice system that affects people of color the most.

How do we justify focusing on equity in computer science (CS) without acknowledging the injustices that are happening around us?

Collectively, the computer science education community has an opportunity to rally behind strong actions for change. The voices who have been shouting loudly about income disparity among women and people of color but have been ignored for too long must be lifted higher. The mindsets that separate the haves and the have-nots and the privileged and the disadvantaged must be challenged further. The actions required to dismantle structural racism and sexism must be fought with stronger policies to change beliefs and behavior.

Let me be clear, this opportune time is in no way a stage to negate those who have suffered or fallen from Covid-19 or have been killed because of the color of their skin. There are two pandemics that have ravaged communities of color: Covid-19 and racism. The losses are immense: loved ones, sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents — young and wise, strong and vulnerable.

Forward Thinking with VOICES

Could it be possible that the outcomes of these pandemics are capable of launching us into a technological and futuristic way of changing society and the way we educate our youth? Now more than ever, we are faced with having to solve societal problems with greater challenges. I have high hopes the CS education community will come together to start innovating solutions, but we still have a lot to learn.

In an effort to give these voices a platform and to learn together, Constellations is forming VOICES for Social Justice - Voices of Innovative Compassionate Experts in Society, an alliance of forward thinking, transformational and compassionate experts. Our goal is to lay out a rigorous agenda to shine a brighter spotlight on the negligence of lifting our poor communities, the broken justice system that does not serve or protect BIPOC, and the lack of equitable access to upward mobility and quality education and healthcare for minority groups. In this time of crisis, it is clear that computer science education is only part of the solution.

We are all experiencing this crisis differently and not everyone understands the difficulties in the same way. By difficulties, I mean the disparities in education and income inequality that runs across all minority races and ethnicities. We can expand on a blueprint for conversations aimed at reaching a deeper level of understanding, especially with decision makers at all levels:

  • How are we developing structures/policy that truly drive out racism?
  • How can we have conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion if there is no diversity and inclusion with invited participants? This is important because we need to cultivate a diverse and inclusive group that is representative of the minority groups that must be included in these conversations.
  • How can you really understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck if you’ve never experienced that?

I think about all of this and more as we continue to move forward with our work at Constellations. Education is important. Upward mobility is important. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are all important. But staying safe and healthy, saving lives, and Black lives matter – all take priority.

I am extremely sensitive to what’s happening in our nation. As I watch the national coverage of both Covid-19 data and the reactions to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and George Floyd, I am increasingly concerned about the health of our communities, medically, and spiritually. I am concerned about the health of our education and economic systems — the health of the American way of life. What we do now in this moment will define who we are as a nation. I know we’ll get through this and I also know we’ll have to get through it together-but-apart for a while. Still, we can work together to lift our collective VOICES and brace ourselves for the impacts we want to see.

We will explore these questions and the impact of their answers through video interviews, guest blog posts, live Twitter chats and more. We are thrilled to launch this new initiative with the first two episodes, Ep 1: Stephanie Rodriguez Discusses the Challenges Women and Minorities Face in STEM Careers and Ep 2: How Can We Better Support Latinx Communities in CS Education? A Conversation with Art Lopez. We hope you will join us for future episodes and opportunities to lift many more voices and create real, sustainable change.

Become a VOICE for Social Justice

Constellations is calling for diverse subject matter experts, researchers, industry volunteers, and any educator interested in participating. Sign up here.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for VOICES updates and to see the first two episodes.