MY MEDIA LAB SUMMER OF INCLUSION
When you find yourself in a place with immense access, how can you use your position to promote inclusion? Sharing space, spotlighting intentionally, and collaborating locally are tangible stepping stones you can try in your community.
1. Share Space: Black Girls CODE Media Lab Tour
Arranging a tour of the Media Lab for the Black Girls CODE Boston chapter was easily one of the highlights of my summer. The enthusiasm of the girls and the willingness of my colleagues to share their work reminded me of the importance of sharing space.
On the tour, we saw demos given by:
Nicole L’Huillier — Opera of the Future
Emilie Reiser and Matt Carroll — Center for Civic Media
Daniel Fitzgerald — Tangible Media
Moran Tsur — Lifelong Kindergarten
Hildreth England and Doug Chambers — Open Agriculture
What if my work place is inaccessible?
Sharing space also included inviting speakers to visit the girls at the camp site located at O’Bryant High School. During the summer camp, I introduced the girls to:
Alexis Hope — Founder of Fold.cm
Katia Vega — Beauty Technology Pioneer
Nancy Schlater— Executive Director of local Citizenship and Immigration Commission
These women shared their work and inspirations with the girls. The impact of the talks went both ways as Katia shares in the image below.
”…being inspired by young teenagers that code “ — Katia Vega
How can you share space in a way that increases access and exposure? Can you provide a tour? Can you make a visit to a local outreach organization? Can you recruit speakers? Can you share your story?
2. Spotlight Intentionally: Instagram Takeover
During the summer, I was asked to take over the Media Lab Instagram for two weeks with utmost freedom. My main directive was to focus on what I found interesting…So of course, I had my share of selfies…
Beyond the selfies, I tried to highlight my Media Lab summer experience with a focus on diverse faces and inclusive spaces.
For example, I highlighted 10-year-old Chinmayi after meeting her at the annual the App Inventor Summit. She used App Inventor to build the Calamity Relief App to help support flood survivors in her community.
On the @mitmedialab Instagram feed, I featured a snippet of Cindy Bishop’s VR Doodler tool she built to democratize the creation of virtual reality spaces.
My goal in sharing their work is to inspire people from all backgrounds to make creative technology that resonates with their interests and experiences.
Being intentional about who we foreground in our media spheres contributes to populating the public imagination with an inclusive representation of the tech world.
Whose work can you highlight to increase visibility? Where can you find role models? How can you share the spotlight?
3. Collaborate Locally: Code4Rights Community Workshops
Before coming to the Media Lab, I started Code4Rights as a way to help individuals and organizations create meaningful technology for their communities. Now as a member of the Center for Civic Media , my research at the Media Lab explores ways to spark the civic imagination through mobile application development. I have enjoyed working with communities in Zambia, Ethiopia, and the United Kingdom, and this summer was a chance to focus on building local collaborations closer to my new home.
I worked with the Each 1 Teach 1 program at Prospect Hill Academy —local charter school, Black Girls CODE Boston Chapter, and the MIT Summer Research Program to pilot workshops, customize learning materials, and share my entrepreneurial journey.
I also used locally created tools. Our ideation workshop incorporated the Innovator’s Compass developed by Ela Ben-Ur, formerly of IDEO. The latest Code4Rights learning materials use App Inventor to explore social impact apps. Regular contact with the MIT App Inventor team enables me to share real-world learning experiences that inform the development of the platform.
Many of these opportunities came as a result of introducing myself and the Code4Rights mission to people I met at conferences, community events, and even on public transit.
The development of a recent Code4Rights impact project partnership demonstrates the benefits of continuously reaching out in your own neighborhood. When I went to register to vote in the state of Massachusetts, I noticed there was a sign for the Human Rights Commission in the same building. I went upstairs and introduce myself to the Executive Director for the Commission on Immigrant Rights & Citizenship.
We started a conversation to open an opportunity for girls at the Black Girls CODE Boston camp to contribute the creation of an impact app for new Bostonians.
Exploring local collaborations can easily be ignored when there is an orientation towards global impact and pressure to scale. Pause to consider how you can reach people both near and far.
Who are your neighbors? What opportunities exist to support each other’s efforts? Who currently benefits from the work you do?
My Media Lab Summer of Inclusion would not have happened without intentional partnerships. The Media Lab visits team welcomed the tour idea and gave approval. Still, it was largely up to me to recruit labs to set up demos and encourage speakers to visit O’Bryant High School. Monica Orta and Rickey Ishida of the Media Lab provided great support throughout the summer, and I look forward to strengthening local collaborations with their continued commitment. In addition, Code4Rights had a phenomenal group of volunteers who supported our ideation and build workshops. Caroline Meeks and Sarah Cortes openly welcomed Code4Rights to Prospect Hill Academy, and we are excited to explore next steps.
Recruitment vs Recommendation
Over the summer, I found sharing lists of interesting speakers, prospective volunteers, outreach ideas, and potential partners was not enough to spark collaborations. Recommendations without active recruitment seldom made it past initial courtesy emails. In-person requests, phones calls, and late night texts were necessary for me to encourage volunteers to participate in the summer inclusion activities detailed above. Ultimately, the personal touch was the most effective approach in gaining meaningful support. Make a commitment to promote inclusion and share your experiences!
Let’s continue the discussion.
Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code on a mission to show compassion through computation. She writes about incoding and creates learning experiences to develop social impact technology. Find her on twitter @jovialjoy and @ajlunited connect on LinkedIn or Facebook.