Why the UW Computer Science department can do better than Stuart Reges
On the 3rd of May, the UW College Republicans (UWCR), held an “Affirmative Action Bake Sale.” The sale was a form of protest against the passing of initiative 1000. Also known as affirmative action, this initiative allowed “public institutions to consider race, gender, disability, and veteran status when hiring employees, awarding contracts, or giving students admission.” Supporters of the legislature state that people from various backgrounds have different forms of upbringing and opportunities and affirmative action is a form of leveling the playing field to give people from underrepresented minorities a chance. Opponents of the motion argue that I-1000 is a form of structured racism towards white people.
The organization priced the cookies on the basis of a person’s gender and race, ranging from $1.50 for Asians to $0 for Native Americans. Moreover, women got 25c off. The sale led to a lot of uproar and unrest from the vast community of UW, who saw it as derogatory and racist.
In the middle of the chaos, a familiar face was seen. On further probing, it turned out to be none other than Computer Science veteran and principal lecturer for the CS department Stuart Reges. At first, he looked like an onlooker whose interest is piqued by the huge crowds drawn to this event. However, for some time, the focus shifted from the bake sale to Reges. He was surrounded by the people protesting against the sale, mostly women. Reges said “I do not see rampant racism.” This infuriated the protesters who were already fighting against an event which was deemed as racist, and for the right reasons. Among the protesters was Abigael Mbaulaka(pictured), a third-year student who continually debated with Reges over the authenticity of his allegations.
This was not the first time Reges had landed in trouble. He was fired from Stanford University back in 1991 for violating the institution’s drug and alcohol policy. Reges had paid for alcoholic beverages for underage students and even advised a student to try a drug which produced a sense of euphoria. The LA times on his firing:
“The action came less than two months after Reges, who has admitted using “speed,” cocaine and MDA, wrote a letter to federal drug czar Bob Martinez daring him to take action. “In brief I disagree with the government’s anti-drug campaign and I am doing everything I can to make fools of you,” Reges wrote. “I still carry illegal drugs in my backpack while on campus. I do not fear any of you, I have not changed my behavior, and nothing has happened to me.”
He later said that the statement was and should not have been used as evidence for his firing. He also claimed that the institution had become an “agent in the war on drugs.” Later, he was managing director for the libertarian party for a year in 1993. Later, he worked as a job as senior lecturer at the University of Arizona in 1996 and eventually to the University of Washington in 2004 as a principal lecturer.
At UW, Reges made some groundbreaking changes to the introductory classes at the university. He has also taught these classes and is known as the first person of authority to introduce computer science to the over two thousand students who take the course each year.
However, the instructor said that the Allen School will not be able to increase the number of women in the tech industry to more than 20 percent. This is mentioned in the essay which he wrote in June 2018. The essay, titled “Why Women Don’t Code”, talks about why the percentage of women in computer science is unlikely to increase. The essay starts with James Damore, who was fired for writing Google’s memo, which was based on cultural and diversity policies of the company. Damore was accused of being sexist for the memo. Reges defends him and talks about how his firing had led to an uneasy culture in the university’s department and being extra cautious of what to say and what not to say.
Then, Reges mentioned how often he would be a part of controversies which got him fired, specifically the Stanford firing. After a brief introduction, Reges states his main argument for his essay:
“So let me go once more unto the breach by stating publicly that I believe that women are less likely than men to want to major in computer science and less likely to pursue a career as a software engineer and that this difference between men and women accounts for most of the gender gap we see in computer science degree programs and in Silicon Valley companies.”
The statement and the words that would follow sent shockwaves around the department. One which had a professor with different values than what the department was holding. The Allen School has made continuous efforts to make diversity and inclusion their number one priority in an effort to include more people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The school also has a diversity committee which works in cooperation with the student advisory council. Different sorts of training to the faculty, anonymous feedback, outreach programs, STARS program, celebrating representation, and discussing other ways to cut on the gender gap in the field are just some of the ways the Allen School has been acknowledging the situation and acting on it. The school also has policies and procedures to prevent discrimination against minorities and other communities. Lastly, the Allen School is also making changes to the K-12 school system to integrate computer science in the education for everyone.
He then continues to talk about his accomplishments with computer science and introductory courses at Stanford, Arizona, and Washington. He then plays the “I have friends who are…(Asian, Black, Gay, etc.) card in a different variation saying that he has taught a lot of students and introduced them to CS, with more women than men. He states that companies often diversify the workplace with an intent of preventing the criticism from media. Reges fails to understand the struggle of being a woman/transgender person or a person of color in industries which are dominated by white men. Reges also says the following:
“By contrast, working with the LGBTQ+ community is important because of the historical oppression they have experienced even though there is no evidence that LGBTQ+ individuals are currently discriminated against in the field.”
Here’s an example. On Alan Turing’s(who was gay) 100th birth anniversary, Jon Hall, executive director of the famous Linux operating system, came out as gay. He stated two reasons on why he decided to reveal his orientation at the age of 61 years old:
· I did not want my Mother and Father to find out
· I did not want my sexuality in any way to hurt Linux and Free Software
The second reason is justified in how it would affect both his work and his product and serves as an example of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace and outside world. Not only is this resilient community discriminated against in CS but other fields as well. The transgender military plan proposed by Donald Trump bans all transgender people from serving in the military. There is no other evidence as compelling as the first citizen of the nation discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community.
Then Reges moves on to the section titled, “Why So Much Anger”, and talks about why people get offended over “minor” issues, unaware of the fact that these communities have been marginalized for centuries and been part of constant outcries to be included in humanity’s biggest accomplishments. Further, the professor talks about how priorities of men and women are different thereby conforming to traditional ideas such as the “men at work, women at home” ideology. Reges then misinterprets a study conducted by Jacquelynne Eccles, which serves as the evidence for his main argument. A pattern in the study leads to him concluding that the best subject for males was science and for female, “reading.” However, the gender inequality in the technology sector wasn’t that bad in 1984 and both, the study and Reges, fail to look at the real issues on why women’s involvement in the field has decreased. The lack of opportunities and the intimidating nature of the industry cannot determine a women’s desire to not code(or to code).
However, Lenore Blum from Carnegie Mellon University(CMU) would argue otherwise, whose institution has made tremendous strides in making computer science a navigable major for women. CMU’s women freshman student body in the major increased from 8% in 1990 to 48% in 2016. Blum states:
“The minority in any community does not have the same access to the critical academic and professional opportunities and advantages that the majority has, and these are critical for success,” Blum said. For example, male computer science majors have easy access to role models who look like them, in both their professors and people in the workforce, and are more likely to have roommates or people living in their dorm who are also studying computer science and can help with homework.”
The issue with the wide gap is not woman’s inability to participate in STEM fields but factors like these, where they feel excluded and out of place. Despite all those factors, many women still overcome these challenges whilst constantly proving themselves in their daily lives.
There are countless examples of women being better than ‘just reading”. The African-American women who worked as “human computers” for NASA back in 1960s helped put man on the moon. A month ago, a woman named Katie Bouman, figured the Python coding algorithm to give us the first picture of the black hole, one of the biggest mysteries known to humankind. Some other achievers in STEM fields are Marie Curie(the first person to win two Nobel Prizes), Ada Lovelace, and Allison Hegal.
Reges’ ideals and beliefs are part of the very problem which lead to sexism/racism in the tech industry. Most importantly, a change is needed as more and more students consider computer science as their first major of choice. Reges is usually the first person to introduce computer science to students at UW. The department is in dire need of a better role model, especially for women and minorities, one who upholds values similar to those of university: those of acceptance and diversity. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, or they support affirmative action or oppose it, being misogynist, racist, or homophobic(anti-LGBTQ+) puts them in the wrong.
Being part of the vibrant, active, and occasionally rebellious UW community, we have the passion and energy to know and make others realize what is best for us, our faculty, and our departments. As Abigael told me herself, these issues are a part of our daily lives and need to be addressed and fought for as well as integrated in classroom experiences. We, as a community, can do that by spreading the message of acceptance, awareness, and love.
Lastly, if the CS department were to come across this article, I’d request them to take the right action as deemed necessary in order to make the department a friendly space where everyone is welcome so that we, as a diverse community, can progress and make major strides without a fear of being oppressed or unheard.