ACM at UCLA
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ACM at UCLA

May the Force be with ACM at UCLA

How ACM at UCLA is Proactively Improving Inclusion

Fall 2020 was the inaugural quarter of a new initiative by ACM at UCLA: Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Or JEDI for short, because the former is a mouthful and the latter sounds cool 😎

Note: This blog post assumes that the reader is familiar with ACM at UCLA’s structure and committees. Please check out the ACM at UCLA website for more information about our work and committees if needed.

But first, about the JEDI team:

Arjun Subramonian and Sharvani Jha are supporters-in-progress of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in tech. We co-founded QWER Hacks, the first collegiate LGBTQIA+ hackathon in the nation, which increased the visibility of the queer and trans community in STEM. We have also advocated to make an AI education accessible to everyone through ACM AI at UCLA’s Outreach subcommittee, teaching machine learning and fairness at underserved schools in Los Angeles.

Back to JEDI!

JEDI marks an internal culture shift at ACM at UCLA to prioritize diversity and inclusion and create a welcoming environment for individuals from underrepresented and marginalized groups within Computer Science. We aim to accomplish this through intentional dialogue, tangible changes to internal processes, and increased committee involvement. We also actively and consistently work to identify and address areas where we can improve in including, welcoming, and amplifying all voices and experiences.

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

Why JEDI?

ACM at UCLA as a whole perpetually strives to take concrete actions towards improving diversity and inclusion within our organization. However, Sharvani and I realized that placing the bulk of diversity and inclusion work on the shoulders of only ACM-W (our diversity-focused committee) was limiting our inclusivity, as all committees interface with general members. Furthermore, while we would intermittently have conversations about diversity there was consistent difficulty in following through with the execution of efforts to improve our community. Motivated by this, we began brainstorming ways to decentralize diversity and inclusion efforts within ACM at UCLA, so that all committees contribute to uplifting all voices in engineering. Sharvani and I hoped that this would also inspire ACM at UCLA committees to form organic collaborations with other diversity-oriented student orgs on campus, like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists (SOLES), and Queer and Trans in STEM (QTSTEM). For example, through JEDI, ACM Teach LA could localize its website in Spanish to make its computer science educational content more accessible to ESL students in LA. Then, to validate and improve their translations, they could seek help from SOLES leadership.

How does JEDI work?

Each ACM at UCLA committee has its own JEDIs, who are passionate about leading diversity and inclusion efforts. Each quarter, committee presidents and JEDIs actively collaborate to:

  1. Create and achieve committee-specific diversity and inclusion objectives/goals; these objectives must be actionable and achievable, and have key indicators of success associated with them
  2. Advise the rest of their committee on improving inclusion
  3. Reflect on concrete JEDI progress, revising practices or objectives accordingly

More specifically, JEDIs and committee presidents follow this schedule:

  • Week 2 — Participate in brainstorming session to discuss and draft objectives for the quarter (using this form)
  • Week 3 — Present objectives to public and get feedback, work on achieving objectives
  • Week 4 — Work on achieving objectives
  • Week 5 — Work on achieving objectives
  • Week 6 — Reflect on progress towards objectives and and plan ahead/revise objectives accordingly (using this form)
  • Week 7 — Work on achieving objectives
  • Week 8 — Work on achieving objectives
  • Week 9 — Reflect on progress towards objectives, summarize achievements and areas of improvement, and brainstorm new or continued objectives for next quarter (using this form)

JEDI Goals and Successes

Our first iteration of the JEDI initiative ran during Fall 2020. Here are the JEDI objectives each committee worked on over the course of the quarter:

1) ACM AI

JEDIs: Maya Raman, Justin Yi, Jason Jewik
Committee President: John Dang

Goal: Get more students from non-traditional majors to come out to AI events!
Actions: Publicized events live in classes from Psychology to LGBTQ Studies
Successes: ⅓ of event feedback form respondents were non-Computer Science majors, and many individuals who officers had conversations with during events were non-CS majors
Next quarter: Will better reach out to and include transfer and graduate students, as well as reach out and collaborate with non-CS clubs

Goal: Encourage AI interns to prioritize diversity and inclusion
Actions: Asked intern candidates during their interview to discuss their experiences contributing to diversity and inclusion and how they would improve diversity and inclusion within AI
Successes: Holistically evaluated the fit of intern candidates with AI’s values
Next quarter: Include diversity and inclusion question in written application itself

Goal: Create a more friendly experience for individuals watching workshops in different time zones
Actions: Held Discord office hours at convenient times for international students and collected attendees’ feedback on the usefulness and convenience of the office hours, adjusting accordingly
Successes: Office hours took place, but did not garner as much interest as expected nor did they reach the intended audience (i.e. international students)
Next quarter:

  • Gather more data to inform office hours scheduling decisions
  • Choose a consistent time for office hours
  • Better publicize office hours during workshops

2) ACM Cyber

JEDIs: Alyssa Wang, Stephen Kelman
Committee Presidents: Disha Zambani, Ellie Cheng

Goal: Better include members with zero Computer Science background
Actions: Adjusted workshop structure to accommodate varying levels of difficulty for challenge solving
Successes: Members felt that the adjusted workshop structure made it easier to commit to attending a series of workshop sessions
Next quarter:

  • Hold more office hours to accommodate individuals with zero Computer Science background living in international time zones
  • Prepare novices for CTF After Dark by pairing them with experienced mentors

Goal: Create a stronger community of cyber enthusiasts
Actions: Hosted various events like metaCTF, DTCC, and Naval Academy CTF
Successes: Psi Beta Rho teams were extremely involved and all placed in CTF After Dark

Goal: Better include members with disabilities
Actions: Take more time out of leadership meetings to discuss accessibility
Next quarter:

  • Create close-captioned videos and accessible slides
  • Improve accessibility of website

3) ACM Design

JEDI: Colleen Li
Committee Presidents: Hakan Alpay, Tomoki Fukazawa

Goal: Create graphics with diverse motifs, improving representation of minorities in CS, especially across genders and races
Actions:

  • Make sure to avoid yet another graphic of a white male typing on a computer
  • Ensure all races/ethnicities/backgrounds/ages/etc. are represented

Successes: Increased representation of minorities and diverse backgrounds in designs
Next quarter: Provide workshops for designers to learn how to better draw people in graphics

ACM Design increased representation of minorities and diverse backgrounds in designs

Goal: Champion inclusion of non-CS majors in recruitment
Actions: Advertise ACM Design as an avenue for non-CS majors to become involved with tech
Successes: Achieved diversity of majors in applicant pool: Design and Media Arts, Cognitive Science, Human Biology and Society, Sociology, Statistics, Linguistics and Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Political Science

Goal: Create graphics and user experiences (UX) with accessibility in mind
Actions:

  • Ensure those who are visually-impaired and/or colorblind can read text in graphics
  • Make sure that UX designs are screen-reader friendly and if translated, right-to-left text also works
  • Get feedback from several members in ACM at UCLA who are dyslexic/colorblind/etc. on ways to improve graphics and UX

Next quarter: Carry out actions!

4) ACM Hack

JEDIs: Eugene Lo, Kristie Lim
Committee Presidents: Raji Jadhav, Jody Lin

Goal: Promote accessibility as a software development skill
Actions:

Successes:

  • Activities and polls in workshops indicated attendees had learned important accessibility concepts
  • Accessibility content engaged workshop attendees

Next quarter: Perform an accessibility audit on ACM Hack website

Goal: Create a recruiting process that is more inclusive and retains a diverse set of applicants
Actions:

  • Keep data about demographics of recruits, including gender identity, year, major, and racial identity
  • Be more mindful about including transfers
  • Create standards about what is being looked for in an applicant, explicitly noting that different experiences are valuable.
  • Leaders will write out own interpretations of standards, for transparency
  • Determine common list of standards

Successes:

  • Have a more diverse intern class according to the ratios that make it past preliminary application screens across years
  • Added new interview questions that gauge applicants’ diverse backgrounds

5) ACM ICPC

JEDI: Ana Gu
Committee President: Nikil Selvam

Goal: Strive for higher diversity in leadership roles and ensure individuals from underrepresented backgrounds are given fair shot at joining leadership
Actions:

  • Hide personally identifying information (e.g. name) from application, while retaining fields like age, gender, and transfer status
  • Guarantee interviews to transfer students and people from underrepresented communities in tech/non-traditional backgrounds
  • Standardize interview process to minimize the impact of unconscious biases

Successes: While difficult to attribute result to JEDI goal, all three interns recruited identify as female, which was significant given that ACM ICPC leadership prior to recruitment was 13/14 male
Next quarter: Increase diversity of workshop and competition attendees

Goal: Hold office hours to allow students in Intro to Competitive Programming and Technical Interview tracks to reach out to respective track leads for help outside of workshops regarding covered material and/or extra-curricular help
Actions: Hold weekly office hours for Technical Interview and Intro to Competitive Programming tracks
Successes: Verbal confirmation from workshop attendees expressing acknowledgement of office hours
Next quarter: Improve advertising of office hours to ensure that workshop attendees are aware of their time, location, and purpose

6) ACM Teach LA

JEDIs: Ashley Ghodsian, Chloe Uy, Helia Woo, Sophie Schoenmeyer
Committee President: Matt Wang

Goal: Create a more close-knit community among members and focus on learning more about each other as people, rather than just as instructors or developers
Actions: Implement new ideas, such as “props” during curriculum meetings (shouting out impressive things others have done throughout the week), more socials, etc. to bring the team together and learn more about each other
Successes:

  • Successfully implemented props (giving shoutouts for successes throughout the week) at the beginning of curriculum meetings and the #small-victories channel on Slack, both of which are great for team building (Python Video Team especially is doing well with community building)
  • Had a couple of socials
ACM Teach LA held a couple of socials to bring the team together and learn more about each other

Next quarter:

  • Work more closely with social chairs to plan more frequent socials
  • Familiarize members with Discord
  • Make socials an even more enjoyable experience for everyone who attends

Goal: Include more members with disabilities and make classes, curriculum, and development more accessible for teachers and students alike (with a focus on visual perception accessibility)
Actions:

  • Recruit more members with disabilities and make them feel welcome once they have joined Teach LA by educating leadership and members about a variety of topics
  • Attend allyship spaces and other events related to accessibility (e.g. color blind-friendly design), to make teaching more effective to students with disabilities

Successes:

  • JEDIs hosted a “Creating Accessible Content” presentation and Kahoot at Week 9 curriculum meeting
  • Video and dev teams are heavily incorporating accessibility through Spanish subtitles and training, respectively
  • Gave ACM Design some feedback on accessibility of slide typography and colors
  • Many members hosted allyship spaces
  • Measured success by surveying members and students, especially those with disabilities, about accessibility improvements

Next quarter:

  • Attend more accessibility workshops and find more accessibility resources (e.g. consult CAE), especially to learn about disabilities beyond visual perception
  • Work more closely with ACM Design on accessibility of slide typography and colors
ACM Teach LA hosted a “Creating Accessible Content” presentation

BONUS: bucket list of future goals:

  • Actively recruit instructors outside STEM and Computer Science
  • Hold impostor syndrome-specific events
  • Set up automatic accessibility audits for dev team pull requests
  • Create a written document of Teach LA’s accessibility best-practices
  • Spotlight more members through blog posts, on social media, etc.
  • Integrate diversity-focused topics into instruction at schools

7) ACM-W

JEDI: Michelle Kim
Committee President: Julia Baylon

Goal: Collaborate with other ACM at UCLA committees more frequently so diversity-oriented events aren’t confined to ACM-W
Actions:

  • Reach out to other committees and talk about potential collaborations, putting on more events in future quarters
  • Key indicators of success would include engagement, as measured by observation and surveys (e.g. frequency of audience questions at panel-style events, post-event Google forms, etc.)

Successes: Reached out to other committees and have discussed events, e.g. Queer in AI panel with ACM AI, Day of Code with ACM Teach LA, Intersecting the Humanities and Tech with ACM Game Studio, etc.
Next quarter: Put on aforementioned events!

Allyship Spaces

Another important aspect of JEDI is weekly allyship spaces, in which JEDIs present and lead discussions about important topics like Including Individuals with OCD and ADHD and Impostor Syndrome. These allyship spaces supplement JEDIs’ knowledge of experiences and backgrounds different from their own, which enables improved objectives and inclusion. Furthermore, the spaces are open to all UCLA students, and we centralize related resources (like slides, further reading, etc.) in a growing spreadsheet that can be referenced by anyone in the future.

In Fall 2020, we held the following allyship spaces:
1) (Dis)Ability and Accessibility (led by Ashley Ghodsian)
2) OCD and ADHD (led by Arjun Subramonian and Sophie Schoenmeyer)
3) Healthy Living (led by Eugene Lo and Matt Wang)
4) Positivity in Education (led by Maya Raman, Vaishnavi Tipireddy, and Jason Jewik)

We hope to focus on the experiences of queer and trans individuals in tech and impostor syndrome during Winter 2021. Furthermore, we aim to incorporate more discussion and sharing of relevant personal experiences into our allyship spaces.

Maya Raman, Vaishnavi Tipireddy, and Jason Jewik led an allyship space on Positivity in Education
Matt Wang and Eugene Lo led an allyship space on Healthy Living

What’s it like to be a JEDI?

Now that you’ve seen what a JEDI does, you might be curious how it feels to be a JEDI! Here are some awesome quotes from our outstanding JEDIs:

1) “I found it such a reassuring feeling to be able to look out into the org population (especially during voluntary and vulnerable allyship spaces) and see others that are committed to making and reaching actionable goals to drive the mission of JEDI forward.” — Justin Yi

2) “I always looked forward to JEDI meetings because it was so nice to just be in the presence of a bunch of other people who all care about and want to discuss equity/inclusivity. Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s already making an impact!!” — Helia Woo

3) “I was really stressed, then I attended Maya+Vaishnavi+Jason’s allyship space and having everyone’s presence and overall positivity calmed me down considerably.” — Julia Baylon

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank ACM at UCLA’s Moonshots initiative (led by the amazing Sharvani Jha and Megha Ilango) for providing a space and the resources for the JEDI initiative to come to life and thrive.

I’d also like to shout out every single JEDI and committee president for prioritizing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and investing extra time and energy into making ACM at UCLA a more welcoming environment.

Footnote

If you have more questions about the JEDI initiative, suggestions for how to improve it, or want to implement JEDI within your student organization, please feel free to reach out to Arjun: arjun.subramonian@gmail.com.

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