University News

CS Dept. to hire student diversity, inclusion advocates

New hires will support students, plan inclusion activities, educate TAs on issues of diversity

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Department of Computer Science is hiring diversity and inclusion student advocates. The advocates will provide resources for students and will serve as members of the CS Diversity Committee.

The Department of Computer Science is seeking to hire student advocates for diversity and inclusion as part of its new action plan to increase diversity. The new hires are part of an administrative effort to address the department’s dearth of gender and racial diversity  — just 8.7 percent of concentrators identify as underrepresented minorities  and 26.8 percent identify as women, said Ugur Cetintemel, professor and chair of computer science.

The student advocates will join the CS Diversity Committee and function as a resource for students, Cetintemel said. In addition, the student advocates will help the department communicate with existing student groups that aim to promote diversity and inclusion, including Mosaic+, an organization that aims to make CS a more receptive space for underrepresented racial minorities, and Women in Computer Science, a group which aims to increase the participation of women in CS.

The student advocates’ responsibilities will include supporting students encountering problems, helping to plan diversity and inclusion activities, raising awareness of existing resources and training teaching assistants, faculty and staff, Cetintemel said. The position will be paid commensurate to the pay levels of current departmental positions, such as teaching assistants, and will be shaped by the students who are selected. “One of their first duties is to work with us to fully define this,” said Tom Doeppner, associate professor of computer science.

Other efforts to increase diversity in the department, such as the creation of a new administrative role to handle diversity and inclusion issues, are included in the CS department’s new action plan, which will be finalized in the next couple of months, Cetintemel said. The plan includes structural changes  separate from the University’s Diveristy and Inclusion Action Plan but will leverage the resources and structures the University’s plan provides, he added.

“I think it’s really important that departments create their own action plans that synergize with the University plans,” Cetintemel said, adding that each department has unique issues and problems regarding diversity and inclusion that must be addressed individually.

Applicants will be hired in the following weeks based on a CV and “a one-to-three-page statement on (their) qualifications for the position and what (they will) bring to the role,” Doeppner wrote in an email to The Herald. The statement was due Feb. 8.

“We’re well aware that our department is not as diverse as we’d like it to be. Our students have a lot of good ideas, and we’d like to hear their ideas and help them leverage energy to try to do what we can to become more diverse,” Doeppner said.

While the percentage of underrepresented minority students concentrating in CS increased from 3.6 percent to 8.7 percent from 2012 to 2014, according to statistics provided by the CS department, the department should be at least as diverse as the rest of campus, Doeppner said. Likewise, the percentage of female concentrators rose from 21.8 percent to 26.8 percent from 2012 to 2014, significantly higher than the national average for comparable university CS departments, which is around 18 percent, Cetintemel said.

The low representation of people of color and women in CS can be partially attributed to where students go to high school, Doeppner said. The students who were exposed to CS before coming to Brown are typically white males from high-achieving schools, and that demographic carries on to college and the field as a whole, he said. The new advocates are part of structural changes the department will enact in order to “do what we can” for students when they arrive on campus and to improve the computing industry, Doeppner said.

It is important that STEM fields are diverse for two main reasons, Cetintemel said. First, diverse backgrounds give the field greater creativity, he said. “If you’re only engaging these major groups who represent a fraction of our society, then you’re losing a lot of important, innovative and creative ideas” that could contribute to the greater good, he added.

Second, it is important that underrepresented minorities and women have equal access to the training and education necessary to qualify for desirable, high-paying jobs in the computer industry and other STEM fields, Cetintemel said.

Lucy Wei ’19, a member of WiCS who plans to concentrate in CS, said that though she has only taken introductory courses — where disparities in race and gender are less evident — there is a visible lack of diversity in the department.

“If you’re a minority and you don’t see your presence represented by TAs or professors, it’s a less welcoming experience,” Wei said. With student groups such as Mosaic+ and WiCS, “there is always someone to talk to,” she said, but she thinks new student advocates will be a more accessible resource for issues regarding diversity and inclusion.

  “As a department, we just want to make sure these groups feel comfortable here, feel productive here and are not disadvantaged in any way, shape or form. So that’s what we are trying to do,” Cetintemel said.