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A call to action for the ACM


Authors: Christina Harrington, Yolanda Rankin, Jasmine Jones, Robin Brewer, Sheena Erete, Tawanna Dillahunt, Quincy Brown
Posted: Mon, June 22, 2020 - 4:49:56

On June 8, 2020, several Black scholars, academic researchers, graduate students, practitioners, and other members and affiliates of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) gathered to write a letter to express concern for the ACM’s response to this current political moment. The letter, shown below, detailed the importance of solidarity needed from such a major association that is an academic home for many of us. We have chosen to amplify this letter on public platforms in hopes to engage the association in a conversation about issues of systemic racism and injustices that have arisen associated with special interest groups and an overall need to examine the ways in which solidarity is communicated across the organization. We hope to make more common the practice of having conversations that while uncomfortable, will push the computing world to being more equitable and just. Our call is not alone in this. We are joined by a larger community of Black individuals in computing who wish to create more welcoming experiences for all who engage across the world of computing.

While we acknowledge and appreciate the effort from ACM’s Diversity and Inclusion Council to engage our letter and revamp the public response on ACM’s behalf, we feel it is important to hear from the ACM Governance and Officers who are in leadership. Many of our original recommendations have been integrated into the newly posted response on acm.org, yet we have not heard directly from anyone in leadership. Our direct request is to engage in a conversation with the ACM Council Leadership. Although an improvement, a revised statement alone is not the solution. Nor should this be relegated as simply a minority issue, but an opportunity for our entire association to reflect on our practices and ways we can advance computing as a science, profession, and a catalyst for change in an ever-changing society.

As of the date of this publication, we have been contacted by ACM’s CEO and are scheduling to meet. We look forward to continuing to strive for progress. 

June 8, 2020 (we acknowledge the receipt of our original letter by the Diversity and Inclusion Council and a revised statement on the ACM website since that time)

Dear ACM Officers and Governing Body,

We are writing as a cohort of Black academic researchers, scholars, practitioners, designers, and students that are affiliated with ACM. Many of us are involved across several special interest groups and have served and engaged with the association from being contributing authors of technical papers, chairs of committees, SIG officers, conference paper reviewers, and conference organizers. While we acknowledge the recent statement that was shared on the ACM website, we are concerned with the vagueness and brevity of the ACM’s stance on the systemic racism and other social injustices that are currently causing civil unrest and being brought to the forefront across the world. These injustices gravely impact Black ACM members and students across the various disciplines. These injustices not only impact our ability to focus and produce at this time but our everyday survival. As researchers, scientists, and ethnographers, we understand the importance of specificity and transparency in how we discuss and address injustices that disproportionately impact marginalized communities. The current statement presented on the ACM website, while generally reaffirming the ACM’s commitment to inclusiveness, is woefully inadequate and warrants a more insightful actionable position from the ACM leadership.

There is a collective feeling among many Black researchers within the larger ACM community that the current statement fails to acknowledge our trauma and distress, and ultimately does not promote feelings of inclusivity and solidarity for many of us. Instead, the statement suggests a vague intention to foster equality and respect for all individuals across the ACM, without any mention of the direct impact on Black lives, which matter, that are in fact threatened by recent events, and historically. According to the ACM’s Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion website, ‘The ACM community encompasses everyone who works in computing or applies computing in another domain…Because its community is so broad, diversity and inclusion are central to ACM’s mission.’ Despite this statement, many of us within the ACM community feel compelled to draw attention to the systemic racism and exclusionary practices evident within the ACM leadership and the larger community. Descendants of the African diaspora have little representation within the larger ACM community, which claims to support diversity and inclusion of all its constituents while also highlighting and awarding the action of social impact among its members (According to a recent Taulbee Survey, Black faculty in CS and Information Sciences make up only 1.8%, while only 1.7% of new Ph.D. earners are Black). Because we are invested in the health and social impact of this community on its fellow researchers as well as the world at large, we feel compelled to express our concerns and to suggest both immediate and long-term actions as well as resources that the association might benefit from. There is a graveness and urgency to the current situation our country is experiencing — the acknowledgment of racism that runs rampant throughout the United States; the civil unrest and cries for social justice; the protests in the streets, on social media, in the news; and, in this instance, written communications to organizations, institutions, etc. This presents an important and opportune time for the ACM to recommit to a truly inclusive environment, particularly at a time when researchers are working tirelessly to meet publication deadlines and cultivate research projects that strengthen and enhance the computing discipline. We have aggregated a set of recommendations that can help not only to communicate ACM’s support of computing scholars who are currently struggling to focus amidst global civil protests against injustices but to also address some of the racial disparities among the association.

ACM-Related Recommendations for Immediate and Long-term Action:

  • Revise the ACM’s official statement to specifically condemn acts of violence against Black people, systemic racism perpetuated in our professional community, and indifference. **
    Position (Representation and Leadership)

  • Nominate and recruit Black scholars from within the ACM community for leadership among ACM Boards and Committees. **

  • Include Black scholars and their scholarly contributions in computing or computing-related curriculum as an example of epistemic resistance — rejecting academic strategies that silence the scholarship and testimonial authority of Black scholars in computing.

  • Engage scholars, students, and departments from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in the larger ecosystem of the ACM to acknowledge the contribution of research coming from these institutions. This support may look like long-term scholarships for students or programs that support conference attendance. **

People (Publication Review Boards, Conferences)

  • Create a board of ethics to implement values and aims of ACM’s Code of Ethics, including a specific mandate to govern the way technological research is promoted among marginalized and vulnerable populations, especially those that have been proven to disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities.

  • Ensure that all panels feature representation of Black and Brown scholars who are knowledgeable in the topic discussed. This should be especially ensured for panels and workshops which focus on topics of race and technology, such as intersectionality or critical race theory. Black and Brown scholars should not be drowned out from these conversations, particularly Black women scholars who have contributed to the canon of intersectionality.

  • Further diversify conference organizing committees, persons serving in conference leadership roles, and scholars invited to serve as plenary/keynote speakers. **

  • Include sessions and activities at conferences and workshops focused on combating implicit bias and other forms of bias, particularly as applicable to technological development and impacts on creating a more inclusive society.

Practices

  • Publish annual reports from each Special Interest Group (SIG) about demographics of participation in their sponsored events and initiatives, to whom and where funds are being allocated.

  • Ensure that there is a diverse body of participants to inform and evaluate technology research and development that stands to exacerbate inequalities and inequities.

  • Set aside money directly to fund events that focus on amplifying the scholarship of Black+Brown scholars in computing, and funds to broaden the participation of Black+Brown aspiring scholars in computing — undergraduate and graduate students, and junior researchers and faculty. **

  • Create an equal opportunity accreditation committee for U.S. institutions to evaluate colleges and universities with respect to their inclusion of historically disadvantaged groups. This committee will ensure that federal funding of computing is in alignment with existing statues for equal opportunity, namely Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Remove structural power structures in the ACM review process which disadvantage Black scholars and other marginalized populations (e.g., either full transparency of reviewers and authors or double-blind process in which reviewers and authors are unknown). Reviewers should be encouraged to reflect on how identities inherently denote biases through an optional statement of positionality.

In addition to these ACM-related recommendations, we have aggregated a list of resources with which the ACM could benefit from engaging. This support could look like financial support, engaging with organizational principles and foundations in our own ethics, creating collaborations and partnerships, and including their leadership in events such as conferences, workshops, or panels.

** each of these statements now appear in the new ACM statement on acm.org

Academic-Related Resources:

Cite Black Women is a campaign that advocates for “people to engage in a radical praxis of citation that acknowledges and honors Black women’s transnational intellectual production.”

Scholars for Social Justice define themselves as “a new formation of progressive scholars committed to promoting and fighting for a political agenda that insists on justice for all, especially those most vulnerable.”

Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies is “a network of prominent, public scholars of color who produce research, distribute knowledge, and convene stakeholders at the intersections of race and technology.”

blackcomputeHer is dedicated to supporting computing+tech education and workforce development for black women and girls. Our aim is to create rich technical programming, lead empirical research, and disseminate information that addresses the lack of inclusive innovation in tech across education and industry.

Social Justice Organizations that Advocate for Racial Justice:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.

American Civil Liberties Union: The ACLU fights government abuse vigorously defends individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy, and much more.

Color of Change: “We design campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward. Until justice is real.”

The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund: The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund is a collaborative philanthropic initiative focused on catalyzing change.

We also would like to highlight a larger effort put forth by the Black computing community here and an associated database of public response statements on racial justice and diversity.

Signed by members and affiliates of ACM,

  • Rediet Abebe, Ph.D.
  • Monica Anderson-Herzog, Ph.D.
  • Elodie Billionniere, Ph.D.
  • Robin N. Brewer, Ph.D.
  • Douglas A. Brooks, Ph.D.
  • Quincy Brown, Ph.D.
  • Vetria Byrd, Ph.D.
  • Curtis C. Cain, Ph.D.
  • Marietta Cameron, Ph.D.
  • Loretta Cheeks, Ph.D.
  • Shaundra B. Daily, Ph.D.
  • Tawanna R. Dillahunt, Ph.D.
  • Edward C. Dillon, Jr., Ph.D.
  • Brandon Dominique, Ph.D. Student
  • Alyssa Donawa, Ph.D. Student
  • Samuel J. Eaves, II, Ph.D.
  • Sheena Erete, Ph.D.
  • Denae Ford, Ph.D.
  • Christina Gardner-McCune, Ph.D.
  • Pamela Gibbs, Ph.D. Student
  • Shamika Goddard, Ph.D. Student
  • Siobahn Day Grady, Ph.D.
  • Xava Grooms, Ph.D. Student
  • Karen Hare, Ph.D.
  • Christina N. Harrington, Ph.D.
  • Leshell Hatley, Ph.D.
  • Raquell Holmes, Ph.D.
  • Earl W. Huff, Jr., Ph.D. Student
  • Corey Jackson, Ph.D.
  • Andrea E Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Brittany Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Jasmine Jones, Ph.D.
  • Russ Joseph, Ph.D.
  • Michel A. Kinsy, Ph.D., ACM Member
  • Krystal A. Maughan, Ph.D. Student
  • Aqueasha Martin-Hammond, Ph.D.
  • Marlon Mejias, Ph.D.
  • Ihudiya Finda Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, Ph.D. Student
  • Chinasa T. Okolo, Ph.D. Student
  • Imani Palmer, Ph.D.
  • Andrea G. Parker, Ph.D.
  • Timothy M. Pinkston, Ph.D., ACM Fellow
  • Yolanda A. Rankin, Ph.D.
  • Sekou L. Remy, Ph.D.
  • Gloire B. Rubambiza, Ph.D. Student
  • Angela D. R. Smith, Ph.D. Candidate
  • Amber Solomon, Ph.D. Student
  • Perry Sweeper, Sc.D.
  • Jakita O. Thomas, Ph.D.
  • Nicki Washington, Ph.D.
  • Bryant W. York, Ph.D., ACM Fellow

* While these concerns are expressed by many in the community, some did not feel comfortable signing their names transparently for fear of potential repercussions.


Posted in: on Mon, June 22, 2020 - 4:49:56

Christina Harrington

Christina N. Harrington is an assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. Her research focuses on how collectivism in design can support social change in areas such as health equity and digital access. She is the director of the Equity and Health Innovations Research Lab at DePaul and an Encore Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project. charri89@depaul.edu
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Yolanda Rankin

Yolanda A. Rankin is an assistant professor in the School of Information at Florida State University and the director of the DEsigning TechnOlogies for the UndeRserved (DETOUR) Research Lab which explores designing technologies with and for underserved populations. She is the recipient of the 2016 Woodrow Wilson Early Career Enhancement Fellowship.
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Jasmine Jones

Jasmine Jones is an assistant professor in computer and information science at Berea College.
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Robin Brewer

Robin Brewer is an assistant professor at University of Michigan in the School of Information. Her research is at the intersection of accessibility, HCI, and well-being. rnbrew@umich.edu
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Sheena Erete

Sheena Erete is an associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, where she co-directs the Technology for Social Good | Research and Design Lab.
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Tawanna Dillahunt

Tawanna Dillahunt is an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Working at the intersection of human-computer interaction; environmental, economic, and social sustainability; and equity, her research investigates and implements technologies to support the needs of marginalized people. tdillahu@umich.edu
View All Tawanna Dillahunt's Posts

Quincy Brown

Quincy Brown is the co-founder of blackcomputeHER.org and Director of Engagement and Research at AnitaB.org. She was previously a Program Director at AAAS and Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She has supported women and girls in computing for more than a decade. quincykbrown@gmail.com
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