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Black computer scientists, including U-M professors, call to dismantle racism in the field

Signers raise the alarm on interpersonal and institutional racism as well as racial bias occurring from improper development and use of computing technology.

A coalition of black computer scientists has drafted an open letter to the computing community, calling for action to address systemic and structural inequities. They ask for equal partnership in the leadership of the field and the development of systemic fairness—in alignment with the ideal of equal opportunity, one of the nation’s core values.

Odest Chadwicke Jenkins, a professor of computer science and engineering at U-M, and Tawanna Dillahunt, an associate professor of information, contributed to the letter.

In addition to naming the many forms of interpersonal and institutional discrimination experienced by black computer scientists, the writers and signers raise the alarm about racial bias occurring from improper development and use of computing technology:

“The structural and institutional racism that has brought the nation to this point, is also rooted in our discipline. We see AI and big data being used to target the historically disadvantaged. The technologies we help create to benefit society are also disrupting Black communities through the proliferation of racial profiling. We see machine learning systems that routinely identify Black people as animals and criminals. Algorithms we develop are used by others to further intergenerational inequality by systematizing segregation into housing, lending, admissions, and hiring practices,” the letter states.

As of June 12, the letter had 158 signatures, including students in computer science and engineering and the school of information at U-M. It had also been signed by 259 allies.

Jenkins is also the associate director of the Robotics Institute. Dillahunt is also an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science.


If you want to alert Michigan Engineering about similar letters drafted for engineering disciplines and supported by members of the Michigan Engineering community, please contact Kate McAlpine at kmca@umich.edu.

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