Interaction Designer and Co-Founder/CEO of Debias VR
Clorama is an Interaction Designer and Co-Founder/CEO of Debias VR. She’s a San Jose Native with a B.S. in Political Science from Santa Clara University. She started her career in the public sector as a community development organizer in Oakland, San Jose, and New York City. She later transitioned into tech and became a self-taught web developer, traveling to over 18 countries and freelancing for a broad range of clients including Issa Rae and HERA, a London based NGO that provides entrepreneurship training for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence.
In 2015, she received her MA in Interaction Design from the University of the Arts London and completed her MA thesis on exploring Virtual Reality games that reduce implicit bias. She continued anti-bias VR development as a side hustle, creating apps for University College of London and the London Neuropsychology Clinic. In 2017, she joined Code for America as a fellow and her VR prototype was selected as a winner for Oculus Launch Pad 2017, where she received funding and partnership to launch her start-up Debias VR in 2018.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced, and how did you get through it?
When I was a graduate student in my Interaction Design course, I was the only woman of color and found myself subjected to many insults and micro-aggressions from the assistant professor, who made it clear that he had no faith in my technical abilities. His behavior throughout the course made my experience extremely difficult, and my work was often either faced with more scrutiny — like being the only student asked to explain each line of my code in the class — or ignored and overlooked when I asked technical questions. I was subjected to overt declarations — “I don’t need to see your project, I already know what grade I’m going to give you,” or “I think this task will be too complicated for you” — despite him being unfamiliar with my work.
I tried reporting his behavior to the administration but was faced with disbelief or skepticism. The tables ultimately turned on me, as I became the source of trouble for having brought it up. When his behavior began escalating in retaliation to my attempted report, I seriously considered withdrawing from the course. However, with the support of my classmates who witnessed his unfair behavior, and with the fateful timing of the professor announcing our thesis was to create a technological solution for a social problem, I decided I would use this experience to research and design a solution for racism and sexism in professional environments.
This decision profoundly changed my life. It deepened my understanding of the experiences I was going through. I discovered there was terminology like microaggressions, implicit bias, and empathy gap, and that hundreds, if not thousands, of research articles were being done on them by research institutions like Harvard and Stanford.
I looked at empathy as a solution and came across Chris Milk’s TED Talk on empathy and virtual reality being a machine capable of delivering people’s experiences as your own. After I proposed creating a gamified VR training that would engage users while also employing subtle methods of bias-reduction, my capability was once again questioned by another technical assistant. He spent an hour advising me against wasting my time trying to learn how to develop for VR, which only made me want to try more. While most students went on vacation that summer, I was granted special access to the studio that would allow me to work morning to night on creating my first first-person virtual reality app for the Oculus Development Kit. (Consumer products were not available until 2016.) I was able to debut it to over 300 visitors for the post-grad project exhibit, earning me the highest grade of distinction in the class.
What’s something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
In 2017, after living overseas for a few years, I was offered a fellowship at Code for America as a UX Researcher and Designer. Partnered with a software engineer, I led and managed our product development, and we became one of the few fellowship teams to produce a viable product for a local government, one that helps local citizens access workforce services for the municipality of Anchorage. Within the first month of launching, the app received over 75 visits a day and has been receiving positive reviews from long-term unemployed job seekers and workforce practitioners alike. It has become an empowering tool for the community, helping them discover and access resources, and a source of relief for their job search. The website is called “StartHereAnchorage.org.” We’ve open-sourced it for other cities’ workforces to easily customize it with the cms provided.
What’s something that’s been on your mind this Black History Month?
I think we are in such an interesting time to finally have conversations around racism. It’s being discussed as a primary narrative of this country. With the election of Donald Trump and the rise of white supremacy, conversations around racism and implicit bias are taken more seriously by the majority population in ways that I have never felt it was prior to the election.
My hope is that with these issues coming to light for those who’ve been privileged to avoid it, they will no longer dismiss it. They will engage with previously unheard voices and help dismantle the systemic practices that promote second-class citizenry. And I hope that these conversations evolve into actionable practices that actually get implemented, that policy will be created to prevent and eradicate bigotry once and for all.