No, I Am Not Lost

No, I Am Not Lost

A Black woman’s experience in the Stanford Computer Science Major

As a Black female CS major at Stanford, I hate walking around the halls of the Gates Computer Science Building.

It’s not because the Gates interior reminds me of 1970 even though it was built in the 1990s. It’s not because of the memories I have of CS107's Heap Allocator turning me into a nocturnal Gates inhabitant. It’s because inevitably, whenever I walk into Gates, I always get hit with the four words every non-tech minority thinks whenever they see an unfamiliar minority in a tech space:

“Hey, are you lost?”

I turn around. Today the culprit is an amicable looking Indian girl I’ve seen from class. Yesterday it was a very concerned white guy. “No, I am not lost.” I know exactly where I am going — to office hours.

Note to self, new start-up idea: sell t-shirts for black folk in tech with the words “No, I am not lost” in bold on the front.

But seriously, sometimes I make it a game for myself: count how many purposeful steps I can take towards my Gates destination before someone questions why I am there.

Elsewhere on campus, the feeling of tech exclusion pronounces itself in less overt but more disturbing ways. Stereotype threat and feelings of isolation are huge obstacles many students of color face in my major. There is still a palpable feeling in computer science here that minorities are inferior, and therefore finding lab and study partners in homogenous computer science classes proves difficult. To deflect against the constant micro-aggressions, my fellow Black female computer science friends and I have learned to align our class schedules so that we always have a lab partner or someone to study with, especially in the CS major's core courses.

These issues are further exacerbated by classes which do not yet understand that tech has a diversity problem. It is no secret that CS107, the introductory “weed out” class of the Stanford computer science major, hemorrhages out computer science hopefuls with abandon. Too often, however, this means that by week six in the ten week quarter system, the class enrollment makeup drops dramatically from being optimistically diverse to being exclusively male, white and Asian.

Being a woman of color who has graduated CS107 is almost like being a unicorn, and that’s pretty f'd up.

Stanford University Computer Science Major Demographics

credit: Jorge Cueto

All that said, I do enjoy being a computer scientist at Stanford. I love learning how to become self-sufficient when it comes to building out my ideas into actual products and apps. In addition, the race and gender demographic for computer science majors here appears to be slightly more balanced compared to peer institutions. And the Stanford name comes with a ridiculous amount of power. It is a luxury to be able to drop it in conversations whenever I need to immediately be taken seriously. It is my hope that, with some of the projects I am working on this summer, I can put that power to good use by creating more spaces for minorities in technology to thrive and feel welcome.

In the mean time though, if you see me in Gates, ask me about the newest javascript framework I'm building an app in or about what I'm teaching my students this week in my CS106a section.

Just don't ask me if I'm lost.

Cover Image Credit: Tumblr

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Weaponry.

We have a people problem, clearly and those troubled people are utilizing one tool time and time again. Why would we not make it even the slightest bit harder to walk into our schools and mass murder our children?

Social media is filled with children who just witnessed their classmates and teachers get shot in front of them, parents who just lost their children begging for a change to protect them.

One scroll down.

A photo of a gun lying against a wall “Still waiting for my gun to get up and kill someone”

Yep, that’s America. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of weaponry.

I know, I know guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Why is it that everyone just recites that without realizing that all we are trying to do is get the people who kill people factor away from the gun factor?

Yes, cars kill people. Yes, heart disease kills people. Yes, drugs kill people. Yes, knives kill people. I have passed a test, have a license, registration and insurance on my car as well as a plate that gives my identity attached to the back of it. Millions of dollars are spent in the health care industry to prevent heart disease and other diseases like it. “Ban forks” A person who eats foods that lead to health problems are doing it to themselves and they cannot go into a school and do it to 17 others, and to be fair half of them probably can’t make a living wage in this country to afford better food to begin with. I cannot go to the store and buy Sudafed without showing my ID and with that I can only buy a limited quantity. I have been turned away from prescribed and necessary medications because of controlled substance laws and the next time that someone kills and injures over 900 people from a hotel bedroom, goes through a nightclub and murders over 50 people or puts our country through this repeated torture time and time again with a knife, I will consider sensible knife control too!

Of course, mass shooters don’t become mass shooters without other factors such as a troubled past, bullying, lack of parental guidance, lack of respect, mental illness and a multitude of other things. I am the first person to agree that raising children with respect is a step in the right direction toward creating more a compassionate, empathetic and less hate filled tomorrow. I am also the first person to agree that we need to implement changes to our mental health care system and the social, economic and emotional resources surrounding these troubled individuals, and I truly think these things will lessen the amount of violence our society is enduring. We need accessible and affordable healthcare and lawmakers that support it! However, people are dying right now.

Children are dying right now.

I don’t know about you, but I am not okay with waiting for the next generation of children to somehow be raised in a way to prevent this even if I hope so much that they will. I am not okay with waiting for every troubled person out there who needs help to gain the resources they need when people are dying right now. Getting help for these people is ultimately the solution but clearly there are already people out there who are mentally ill, hate-filled, fallen through the cracks however you want to put it who are going into places and killing our children. Clearly if this is the sole solution we are failing, and I am not okay with waiting for us to succeed. One common denominator that comes after the mental illness, after the troubled past, that is there regardless of the race, is the gun. No, it is not the gun’s fault but if we could stop one person from giving a bad name to responsible gun owners everywhere why wouldn’t we? If a mandatory comprehensive back ground check stopped even one mass shooting isn’t it worth the wait time until you can go to the range? If closing the gun show loop hole stops one of these troubled people with ill intentions from being the person behind that weapon isn’t it worth it? We have a people problem, clearly and those troubled people are utilizing one tool time and time again. Why would we not make it even the slightest bit harder to walk into our schools and mass murder our children?
I am not saying that sensible gun control will stop every one of these tragedies from happening but if we can save as many lives as possible until we fix the people problem why would we not?

I hope that the next time something like this happens there is a “good guy”, someone responsibly armed and skilled enough around to prevent such tragedy and I also believe that responsibly armed person could still be there if sensible gun control were in place but maybe just maybe, they wouldn’t even have cause to draw their weapon. So yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people and it is the people I want mandatory background checks on, it is the people I want safety courses for, it is the ill-intentioned people using the gun show loophole that I want it closed for and it is the people I want to hold responsible, not the gun. No one that I have seen arguing for gun control wishes to take away a responsible gun owner’s right to defend their family, hunt or shoot for sport we want to keep them from people with much colder intentions, intentions the majority of people, good people don’t even want to imagine possible and if a responsible gun owner is what you are I see no reason to be afraid.

#GunReformNow #PolicyNotPrayer #NotOneMore

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Let's Talk About The N-Word.

If you're still confused on why this is an issue, this should clear things up.

A few days ago, I watched a white male call a black female the N-word. He not only called her that, but he also used the word as the caption to his Snapchat. This boy, who attends my university, then continued to post the snap and share this moment of pure racism to all of his friends and followers. That’s a problem.

The N-word is not some slang or trendy language that can be tossed in and out of conversations like “bae” or “lit” or “fleek”. This is a word that has been used derogatorily for centuries to oppress and dehumanize people of African-American descent. People like me.

Q: So why do “people like me” use the word if it’s so derogatory and triggering?

A: Great question. It’s because, when we say it (with an -a ending), to each other, the context is completely different. The word is no longer oppressing. When “people like me” say the N-word, we’re reclaiming a title that was created to make us feel as “different” as we looked and using it in a way that connects us. African-Americans and our ancestors have endured years centuries of racism, bigotry, clutched purses, sideways glances, crossed streets, back of the bus, random drug-tests, stereotypes (the list goes on) to say that word. The word has a sense of camaraderie, not hate, when people like me use it.

Q: But can we use it in a song? “N*** in Paris” is a bop, and I swear I don't even really use the word.

A: It totally is a bop, and you can listen to that song as many times as your heart desires. But just don’t sing that part of the song. It’s not as hard as you think. It’s one word out of an entire song. If you think the beat doesn’t “flow as hard” without it then it might be time to find a new song and check yourself.

Q: But when I use it, I swear I’m not using it in a derogative manner. It’s like saying “What’s good, dude?”, it’s friendly.

A: That’s cool, but did you know that there’s are at least 20 other words that can be used to convey the word “friend”? I’ll even link it.

In today's society, tensions are high, not only with people of color, but with those of other ethnicities, religious beliefs, sexuality, gender orientation and so on. There are people who feel that those who are "triggered" by derogatory statements need to get a thicker skin. Words are just words, and words can't hurt you; but they can. Words, like the N-word, have been taken back by those who have used them to oppress others so that people, like the boy from my university, can't use them.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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