CSE Diversity & Climate Community Gathering — April 5, 2021
On April 5th, 2021, the Computer
Science and Engineering Division hosted a Community Gathering to
discuss concerns and feedback from the community.
(Notes on related events are available.)
All were welcome. The Community Gathering focused on issues related to
The primary goal of the Town Hall was to hear
community concerns and suggestions.
The Community Gathering was conducted via online teleconferencing,
lasted for 60 minutes, and involved 25 participants.
This report chronicles my personal recollection of the events
and should not be
considered the official department position. Questions, responses and
discussions are paraphrased and any mentions of specific individuals,
beyond the panelists, have been elided.
On March 30th, 2021, a collection of student groups and individual faculty
sent a message to the CSE community entitled Anti-Asian Racism: Context,
Gathering, and Hope. The message expressed outrage at recent instances
of violence and anti-Asian racism, introduced this Community Gathering,
provided historical context, and ended with an expression of hope an
A copy of the message is available.
The majority of the Community Gathering involved hearing and discussing
points raised by community members. Discussion points included those
referenced in the original message, those posed or voted on via an
anonymous question-and-answer application, and those raised directly during
the discussion. In general, participants were prompted to consider
"How can CSE help?" and "What are you experiencing?".
The discussion points below are presented in rough descending order of
votes in the anonymous application, but the discussion was fairly
- We should have more language appreciation events (e.g., practicing
non-English phrases for English speakers, low-stress English practice,
etc.) and more social events (e.g., gatherings, movie nights,
cultural events, etc.) to bring people together.
There was a consideration that CSE should feel more like a
"home away from home" or should provide a sense of home: since many
students cannot really go back home directly, it is important to feel
included. It was suggested that ECE had some well-received events before
COVID (e.g., celebrations of the Lunar New Year) from which CSE could
learn. There was support for the notion of hosting multiple events
together, instead of isolating particular demographics or cultures
separately. Particular suggestions (e.g., having a hotpot social event
after COVID) were imagined fondly, with a general notion that in-person
events featuring free food and held CSE-wide would be the most useful in
helping new students get to know people outside the lab.
- We should have more explanations of policies relevant to Asian,
Asian American and international students (e.g., in-person requirements,
residency, visa issues, etc.). There was a discussion that many
international Ph.D. students are here on a one-year Visa which is quite
inconvenient (but is beyond CSE's control). Some encouraged CSE to
publicly show support for students who cannot be here physically.
Students requested "what if?" guidance (e.g., "What if my Visa is
revoked?"). There was an acknowledgment that administrations dislike
hypotheticals and that each case may be different, but also an
acknowledgment that "students live in fear" of such situations and that
silence is not helping. The particular example of
thousands of Chinese
students being expelled or having Visas revoked because their
undergraduate institutions were deemed to have "close relations" with the
Chinese army was brought up.
This fear is very tangible and has become part of the daily life for many
international grad students, with implications for course attendance,
conference travel, and subsequent employment.
More than zero students anonymously confirmed that they
felt they had had their Visa status threatened, even informally, by an
advisor, and there was a general consensus that CSE should state more
explicitly that such behavior is prohibited. Regarding remote education,
students requested more online recordings for courses and encouraged
professors to use tablets and avoid whiteboard.
- The department should have more proactive ways of checking in
on students. There was a discussion that CSE should follow the
LSA undergraduate advising model for reaching out, which notably includes
repeated interactions. There was a perception that one needs to establish
a trusting relationship via repeated check-ins, and that students will
talk about things when they feel comfortable. At the graduate level,
there was discussion about the relative merits of speaking with one's
research advisor vs. speaking with staff. On the one hand, conversations
between students and advisors of different backgrounds were viewed as
particularly relevant. On the other hand, staff independence was viewed
as important for feeling safe to discuss some issues. There was an
acknowledgement of the efforts to reach out to graduate students, but a
desire for more or frequent check-ins.
- Can we ask instructors not to mention specific countries when
they want to use political events in their lecture (e.g., cyber attacks)?
It is uncomfortable for students coming from those countries.
There was a general consensus that we should avoid demonizing groups in
examples. There was a general acknowledgement that it makes sense to talk
about well-known, undisputed facts (e.g., the Chinese government employs
censorship) but that rumors (e.g., some say this attack came from country
XYZ) should be avoided, and that professors should avoid talking about
such situations with an obvious political agenda. However, it was
suggested that certain research areas (e.g., computer security) might
have strong opinions about how such topics should be discussed.
A point was made that faculty members should proactively examine their
attitude toward having large contingents of students from specific
countries and consciously work toward being more welcoming and inclusive,
instead of considering a particular population of our student body
to be burdensome.
- People might not know if
they are being discriminated against. How can we identify
discrimination? An example of how Housing or Maintenance might
respond to requests by different people was considered. There was a
discussion that this is an often-ignored effect of racism, and that it
can be difficult to tell if particular treatment was discrimination or
just chance. There was a suggestion that this may be difficult to imagine
if one has not experienced it, but that it is a very negative experience
if one is on the receiving end. There was a firm agreement that people
wanted to be treated equally, even if everyone is unique, as well as a
brief discussion on the relative merits of focusing on commonalities vs.
The heart of the Community Gathering was the discussion summarized above.
Some suggestions, such as cultural event hosting, may depend on COVID, but
others can be pursued in the near term:
- CSE Public Declaration of Sentiment for the Fall Semester. CSE
should make a public commitment of sentiment, support and potential
accommodation for students who cannot be here in the Fall, even if the
situation is still evolving. Students understand that policies may
change, but hearing that CSE cares about this issue would help. Even
possibilities (e.g., CSE may strongly encourage professors to offer
remote support in grad and undergrad courses but acknowledges that it is
up to individual professors; CSE may provide information or guidance to
students who need to file for exceptions but acknowledges that exception
rules are unknown; CSE leadership are meeting with
College- or UM-level leadership to make the concerns of our students
known and get information to us as quickly as possible; etc.) would
significantly add reassurance and communicate care.
- CSE Joint Event with the International Center. While students
can always ask the International Center directly, many concerns are
shared in common and much fear and uncertainty remain. A joint virtual
question-and-answer meeting with staff from the International Center, CSE
Undergraduate Advising, and CSE Graduate Advising, in which (anonymous)
questions about policies are considered would help quite a bit.
We acknowledge that many of these questions might officially be answered
somewhere on a webpage, and that many answers may be "we do not know
yet", but given the amount of fear and rumor, this would help
clearly communicate current policies and available support and reassure
students. Similarly, certain questions (such as the Visa revocation
issues mentioned above) may not be answerable now, but seeing significant
student interest in them may help International or Advising Office staff
prioritize gathering information about them for the future.
- CSE Faculty Discussion on the Use of "Country" or "Political"
Examples. CSE should formally discuss the use of particular
countries, cultures, or groups in classroom examples. The mechanism
(e.g., an agenda item at a CSE faculty meeting, a faculty mailing list
discussion, a faculty retreat agenda item, etc.) would be left to the CSE
Chair's discretion. There may be pedagogical merit in certain examples,
and we acknowledge that the ultimate decision rests with the faculty, but
we encourage the faculty to discuss what our shared values are in such
situations and how to achieve learning goals without making
particular groups or political views feel unwelcome.
The CSE DEI Chair will discuss these meeting notes in general — and
the suggestions above in particular — with CSE leadership.