Columns, Opinions

Johnson ’20: We need a more diverse CS faculty

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, March 15, 2018

In late February, the computer science department announced that Seny Kamara will be promoted to Associate Professor with tenure as of July 1, 2018. This is an amazing achievement, especially for Kamara, since there is currently only one other professor in the computer science department who is from an underrepresented minority group, a term used for the purposes of this piece on diversity in computer science to refer to black people, Latinos and Native Americans. As of 2015, black people “represent only 1.7 percent of tenured and non-tenured faculty in computer science and related departments” in the United States, according to a Computing Research Association report. This underrepresentation of minorities in computer science faculty can impact the experience of minorities currently pursuing that degree. An increase in minority representation among faculty members in the computer science department can improve the engagement of underrepresented minority students in the field, and Brown should work toward this goal.

For one, research has shown that black students are more likely to succeed in a STEM major if they are taught by a black professor. Furthermore, for every additional course taught by a black professor, the likelihood that a black student persists in a STEM field increases. A possible reason for this could be that it can be affirming to minority students when they see someone who is also an underrepresented minority in a leadership role. Some may say that minority students can still succeed when being taught by a white professor in these STEM fields, which is true. However, underrepresented minority professors can motivate underrepresented minority students to thrive in their course and related field, since these professors faced significant challenges in order to be successful and obtain a high-ranking role, providing a model to which their students can aspire.

In addition, increasing minority representation in faculty can strengthen mentorships for minority students. The faculty in the computer science department help guide students to complete their degrees. A good academic advisor not only needs to be knowledgeable and helpful, but they also should be aware of the academic challenges students can face, including the role that negative stereotypes can play in student achievement. The underrepresentation of minorities in the faculty can impose an additional barrier for underrepresented minority students to potentially building close mentor relationships with their professors. “Prior research has shown that same-race (and same-gender) mentorship can provide more psychological support than cross-race (and cross-gender) relationships,” according to aforementioned report. Underrepresented minority professors can relate more to minority students since these professors have been in their shoes before. They have faced the same academic stresses and challenges that minorities face on a daily basis in the computer science field, and therefore they can provide advice to help guide students though these challenges in order to succeed.

With an increase in minority representation within the faculty of the computer science department, underrepresented minorities can be further motivated to pursue the field. As there is still underrepresentation of minorities within the faculty, students and faculty can provoke action in order to have an environment that welcomes different perspectives. Minority professors in the sciences note that they are more motivated to pursue a job at a university with a strong minority presence in their departments. In order to motivate potential new hires to join the computer science department, the current faculty could hire more than one minority faculty member at a time in order to create an inclusive community and decrease isolation for these professors. The University could also recruit from minority-serving institutions like historically black colleges and universities and offer special summer sessions and mentoring groups in order to attract minority professors to Brown. If these two options aren’t feasible, our university can consult minority-serving institutions that already have a diverse faculty and learn more alternative options for how they can recruit a similarly diverse faculty. Students can talk to a member of the computer science department’s Student Advocates for Diversity and Inclusion about bringing awareness to the lack of diversity within the department and about how to create a more inclusive community.

Chanel Johnson ’20 is intending to concentrate in computer science and can be reached at chanel_johnson@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.