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Putting in the work for positive change: A message from the Allen School leadership team

To our extended Allen School community,

Traditionally, June marks a time of great joy and celebration at the Allen School, as we send off our graduates into the world to push the limits of innovation and apply computing for the benefit of humanity. If this were a normal year, we would be gathering with friends and families tomorrow in Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the University of Washington campus in Seattle to cheer on our bachelor’s and master’s recipients as they walked across the stage in their caps and gowns, and to honor our newly-minted Ph.D.s with a traditional hooding ceremony and hugs.

But at this particular moment, we are grappling not only with the scourge of COVID-19, but with another scourge that has taken its toll on members of our community and torn the very fabric of our society. We will find a way to celebrate with our graduates and families when it is safe to do so. But we also must recognize that, for Black families, COVID-19 is not the only public health threat that they need to worry about. And this fills us with sadness and with anger.

We are scientists, engineers, educators, administrators, managers, and counselors. We devote our professional lives to seeking answers and solving problems. It’s what we are trained to do, and what we are training the next generation to do. Usually, when we see a problem, we work out a solution and then we move on. But we can’t do that here. The problems we are aligned against — racism, police brutality, injustice — cannot be solved by an algorithm or an app. We can’t just fix it and move on.

In the face of these challenges, monumental in both scope and urgency, the most immediate thing in our power to do is to look within ourselves and within our own community. 

We acknowledge the pain and the trauma that people of color, individually and collectively, endure — and have endured for generations — at the UW and across the nation. As educational leaders and as human beings, we are outraged at the latest in a long list of examples of injustice and craven indifference toward members of the Black community. We will channel that outrage into our work to make our school, our discipline, and our society more compassionate and inclusive. We will seek out and amplify the voices of those in our community who need to be heard but are too often silenced or ignored. And as we make conditions immediately around our own community better, we believe those changes will spread more globally as persistent work and positive actions build upon each other.

We will take actionable steps to support our students of color and become better allies so that we can share in the burden and emotional labor of confronting racism while seeking to live up to our values around inclusiveness. The first of these will be a virtual community conversation event for Black students and/or students whose loved ones are part of the Black community this week, followed by a community-wide event on allyship over the summer. We wish to acknowledge the efforts of our undergraduate student leaders in moving these conversations forward and for supporting their peers and us as school leaders during this difficult time. They give us hope.

Over the medium and longer terms, we must turn our conviction — that computer science is a gateway to opportunity — into action that ensures that underrepresented minority students are fully exposed to its potential and given the resources and mentorship they need to excel in this field. As concrete steps in this direction, we will strengthen our efforts around recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and staff and increasing representation of undergraduate and graduate students of color. We will launch a new high school mentorship and pipeline program for underrepresented high school students in Washington to cultivate their academic potential and interest in computer science. We will build on our participation in the FLIP Alliance, a partnership of our nation’s top computer science doctoral programs to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who become future professors and leaders in our field. We will continue to pursue computer-science research agendas and educational content that are ethical and inclusive of everyone, not just those who look like us. 

Last but not least, we will say their names. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Manuel Ellis. There are more names — far too many more. To honor their memory, and because it is the right thing to do, we will call out racism and injustice when we see it. We will put in the work to help solve this problem and to bring about positive change. And we will start with ourselves.

–The Allen School Leadership Team

Magdalena Balazinska, Director

Dan Grossman, Vice Director

Paul Beame

Anna Karlin

Ed Lazowska

Jennifer Mankoff

Shwetak Patel