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Terminology (#1198)

Topics/tags: Language

For all of my time at Grinnell, I’ve worked to broaden participation in computing. That is, I consider it part of my professional responsibilities [1] to help make CS welcoming to people who have not traditionally become computer scientists and to encourage such students to pursue CS. After all, computers are changing the world for better [2] and for worse [3]; all voices should play a role in developing the technology that’s having that impact. Plus, CS is fun [4], and, um, it generally pays well.

When I write about BPC [5] issues, I often need to refer to the groups I seek to support and attract. For a long time, I used students from groups traditionally underrepresented in computing. However, someone smarter than me pointed out that that phrase puts to onus on those students to represent, rather than on the discipline to welcome them.

More recently, I’ve been using students from groups traditionally underserved in CS education, or something similar. That phrase appropriately puts the onus on CS educators rather than the students. However, underserved is an odd word. I’ve also seen it get autocorrected to undeserved, which is not at all what I intend. So I’ve been looking for other alternatives.

The people who have not traditionally been computer scientists or CS majors is a new phrase I developed for this musing, mostly because I didn’t want to use either of those phrases. Maybe I should have stayed away from the topic altogether and focused on the groups that are served. I could have written people other than White and Asian males or the longer people other than those overrepresented in computing, such as White and Asian males. I’ll admit that I don’t particularly like any of the phrases. The one from above is a bit long and focuses on individuals rather than groups [7]. The latter two almost sound exclusionary. The last one is perhaps ambigiuous. Bleh.

A valued colleague uses students from groups historically excluded from computing. I struggle with that. The term excluded seems intentional and I would hope that much exclusion was unintentional, in that we don’t make the field welcoming, rather than intentional, in that we actively discourage students from such groups from pursuing computing. Unfortunately, while I believe that Grinnell CS faculty have always done their best to be inclusive, I’ve heard from too many women [8] who were explicitly discouraged from pursuing jobs in CS, engineering, or even science. If I recall correctly, at least one of the keynotes at the last SIGCSE told us of such an experience.

So maybe I should try it out.

As a computer science educator, I have a responsibility to develop structures and curricula that welcome and serve students from groups historically excluded from computing.

It feels better than I thought it would. Perhaps I’ll use that terminology, at least for the time being.

Now, I just have to continue to try to live up to that goal.

[1] Perhaps my professional role.

[2] I hope.

[3] Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence of computing making things worse.

[4] Amazingly fun! Computing is wicked neat!

[5] Broadening Participation in Computing, in case you didn’t understand the TLA [6].

[6] Three-Letter Acronym.

[7] Hmmm … Perhaps there is a value on focusing on individuals. I’ve been told that I should avoid racial essentialism. That is, a person is not who they are racialized as, and so we should not focus on such groups.

[8] Not at Grinnell.

Version 1.0 of 2022-08-25.