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Misogyny in the School of Computer Science & Engineering

The real question is: Why does it keep happening?

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UW students recognized by Computing Research Association

Only a minority of people in our community would contest that women have been historically excluded from STEM subjects like computer science and engineering. Even fewer people would contest that there are repercussions to excluding large groups of people from a subject of study. It is only sensible to argue that there being fewer women among STEM faculty at universities like UW, or fewer women being hired and receiving leadership positions in STEM is a reflection of historical exclusion.

At the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), which is known for its competitive nature, the number of women joining the program is increasing. Women accounted for 32% of the total undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021 and 24% of the total fifth-year master's enrollment in fall 2021. Yes, this statistic clearly depicts that the student body of the CSE program at UW is male-dominated. However, it also depicts that women's involvement is growing, considering that 10 years ago that number was at about 20%.

Don't get me wrong, though. Many people, myself included, would agree that this is not a sufficient amount of growth and that the rate of women studying STEM subjects should increase. In regard to the CSE department’s faculty, which is male-dominated as well, women currently account for 29% of the full-time faculty and 8% of the emeritus faculty.

The length of time it has taken for CSE and the student body to be inclusive of women isn’t the biggest issue at hand. We won't begin to see equal representation of women until women are offered an equal, early introduction to STEM like men, before they begin higher education. Here at UW, one of the biggest issues at hand is structural change being stalled, and individuals like Pedro Domingos and Stuart Reges are actively combating progress.

A soon-to-graduate CSE student who requested anonymity said that it was an introduction to coding in high school and direct admission to the CSE program that helped them continue with the major. They confirmed that there are clearly fewer women than men in all of their classes, but that they have had a good experience overall. 

“Coming in, there are just a lot of barriers to trying CS at the beginning as a girl,” the student said. “By the time girls, like my sorority sisters, have taken their first CS class, it's kind of impossible to get in if they wanted to do it.”

Can you be a misogynistic, racist conservative and not be smooth brained? Domingos’ and Reges’ energetic commitment to espousing hate suggests that those characteristics are inseparable. While Reges previously claimed there are fewer women in computer science because of personal choice, more recently Domingos posted a long tweet thread to prove that “Half of the female STEM faculty in the US were hired over more qualified men” and that women don’t experience discrimination in STEM.

Yes, it’s ironic that they don’t realize how they are contributing to the discrimination toward women that they think doesn’t exist, but it’s also sad. Their behavior is hurtful, disappointing, and frustrating — especially for those currently in CSE who are working toward more equitable practices. 

“The vast majority of people in the Allen School community work hard every day toward diversity, equity, inclusion and access [DEIA] and supporting students and any other community member who may feel harmed or marginalized,” Magdalena Balazinska, a professor and director at the Allen School, said.

In addition to distributing an annual climate survey, the Allen school has a five-year plan for DEIA.

“I also spend a significant amount of time in conversations with various members of our community,” Balazinska said. “I host quarterly meetings to which I invite the entire undergraduate student body.”

It’s unfortunate that Reges and Domingos have repeatedly caused this school and its students so much discomfort and repeatedly disregarded the reality of their field and their negative impact on our community. I worry most for the students who are continually in closer proximity to them.

Domingos revealed himself to have isolated women to affirm his biases in a tweet earlier this month. 

It’s embarrassing that anyone has to say this to a college professor, but Pedro: having a conversation with one woman in CSE where you alienated her to confirm your own bias does not serve as evidence that women haven’t been historically excluded from STEM. Like, come on, that’s just logic out of a basic statistics class.

Reges has become infamous for this behavior, but nothing appears to be changing. 

“As far as faculty goes, I do think it's really unfortunate,” another anonymous CSE student said. “I know for years and years and years we’ve been talking about Stuart Reges and all of his comments and nothing has ever really been done about it … We’ve known he's problematic well before I even came to UW, so the lack of anything happening there is disappointing, especially because students are speaking out.”

Domingos has claimed that “Women are trained to believe that everything bad that happens to them is caused by sexism. And therefore sexism is rampant.” But without fallacies and misogyny, you can’t justify the underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects, and among the emeritus alone, the historical exclusion of women is painstakingly apparent. Can you just be honest with yourself?

Climate surveys are not sufficient enough to measure if students are receiving the support they need after professors in their own school create an unwelcoming environment and repeatedly express prejudice, especially when that prejudice is directed toward them. However, I hope the five-year plan for DEIA brings progress and a truly safe and inclusive environment.

Reach writer Alena Alvarez-Saldivar at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @alenaasaladbar

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(11) comments

More Inclusive than Thou

Misogyny in the School of Computer Science & Engineering

The real question is: Why does it keep happening?

I think a more genuine question or questions would be if mysogyny is happening and if so, in what proportion to anti man bias?

Why not focus on gender bias and gender discrimination?

philosophylover123

It is silly to label this a "more genuine question", not only is there already evidence establishing that misogyny occurs at a higher rate than "anti-man bias", but measuring misogyny in proportion to "anti-man bias" would be extremely skewed, and not in the way that you would prefer for it to be to confirm your own bias. If you can't perceive requests for women to equally have access to pursue a field of study without rebutting "what about men?", you do not care to prevent gender-based discrimination.

Thebeerishere

"Can you be a misogynistic, racist conservative and not be smooth brained? Domingos’ and Reges’ energetic commitment to espousing hate suggests that those characteristics are inseparable." This is straight up libel, no ifs, ands, or buts. My political beliefs aside, as well as my personal opinions about the two professors in question, but I really hope the author of this article is sued for damages. To paint half of America as misogynistic, racist and smooth brained due to their political beliefs is extremely ignorant and immature, to then call out these professors by name and label them such, is criminal. As a student and veteran, I speak directly to the author when I say this, you do not speak for us and I hope you bear legal responsibility for your thoughtless words. This commentary is so disappointing.

philosophylover123

I think you should re-read the sentence that triggered you. Grammer has a purpose, and it seems you're the only one who is calling half of the country "smooth brained". Way to expose yourself though, in more ways than one. Lastly, thanks for your service, but the fact you're a veteran has absolutely no relevance to why anyone should listen to you in this circumstance, but go off I guess.

More Inclusive than Thou

Senator McCarthy needed Communist infiltrators to the point that he usually just made them up.

I also think that all those killed by the Puritans as witches weren't actually witches.

The whole Igamy/ogamy/isimy/phobia business is just our generation doing what has never really not been done.

rousseausaidgo

Thank you for writing this. The discrepancy between action and statement coming from various voices associated with UW’s Allen school has been disheartening, to say the least.

To SushiDeliveryGuy, take ENGR 401 if you want actual research based information from peer reviewed sources that shows why talking about the “differences between men and women” is really just talking about the cultural conditioning and gendered socialization that starts before a child is even born. If women just aren’t interested in CS due to some intrinsic and mysterious quality rooted in their biology, then explain Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Margaret Hamilton. I could go on but the point is that there are countless examples throughout history where labor largely performed by women was deemed not valuable until its value became apparent and unmistakeable, at which point the labor became unfit for women, shifting to male dominance in the field. The entire point of promoting any type of equality, equity, or diversity measure is to improve the lives of everyone. Anyone who feels like they’re having something taken away from them when diversity increases is someone who is comfortable with this insidious type of gate keeping in the interest of protecting their own privileges, which comes at the expense of those who are different in some way. I encourage you to research gender socialization and the myths of meritocracy.

SushiDeliveryGuy

rousseausaidgo,

The sources that Domingos were provided were peer reviewed. While Reges mostly had magazine publications, his observations still hold weight because he did design the intro courses and is in a position to document impacts on women.

The examples that you provided were people that were interested in computer science, and society was lucky to have them. Women certainly can code, but the majority choose not to. Nobody wants to keep women out of CS either; It is hard to think of an academic institution or company that hasn't allocated large amounts of money to female-oriented initiatives.

Here are a few peer-reviewed sources that document differences:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289610000346 - performed meta analysis of standardized test scores.

https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0017364 - performed meta analysis of a few inventories. Most important difference was in people-things metric.

Socialization is a factor, but it is not the only factor that makes people choose a certain career path.

rousseausaidgo

Just because Domingos sourced articles doesn't mean that he accurately interpreted or applied the findings of the studies he referenced.

I agree that there are many factors beyond just socialization affecting the steady state of homogeneity in CSE careers. However, I think that the main point here is based on the interpretation of differences between men and women. Are there data proven differences? Yes. Are those differences intrinsic to gender? That’s impossible to prove. Would a group of cis men and cis women who grew up in a theoretical culture vacuum, where socialization on gender was absent, see all the men as better suited for CSE and the women for biology (sticking with the STEM based gender disparities, as is covered in this article https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/can-we-declare-victory-for-women-in-their-participation-in-science-not-yet/)? Based on the studies I’ve read, I don’t believe these differences are biologically intrinsic.

A more individual, anecdotal example of an approximation of that socialized gender vacuum test is included in The Hidden by Shankar Vedantam where individuals who transitioned genders during their careers in academia speak about their experiences: https://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/the-situation-of-sexism/

If we look singularly at test scores we cannot ignore the cultural factors that play into how well people perform on tests depending on their identities. This goes beyond gender based issues but is discussed in this article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7473032/

This article on unconscious bias in academia and hiring relates pretty well to what Domingos has been talking about a lot: https://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474

There are many ways to consider this issue, it's a true gordian knot, but we cannot say that by spending large amounts of money, a problem has been adequately addressed. Within the last five years, Google and Uber had spent vast sums of money to tackle these issues and were still found wanting. https://medium.com/@debrahcharatan/heres-how-big-tech-companies-can-end-the-gender-pay-gap-9caea44ca011

SushiDeliveryGuy

Across 16 states and 20 years, environmental characteristics like stereotype threat should be controlled for. The meta-analysis had large enough datasets that it is reasonable to assume that students had various external pressures. The test score analysis also shows a dip in the male-female ratio for math and science scores. Authors attribute to this greater encouragement for women. Remaining gap is due to biology.

Your scientific american blog briefly touches upon interest. Large gains for women in the life sciences, but physics doesn't budge over 50 years. Despite attempts to encourage more girls to pursue physics, there simply isn't a big enough push. This is what Domingos was saying - physical sciences efforts are not effective. Is there anything that you would try that hasn't been tried before?

The transgender cases and differences in hiring are interesting. Sexism does exist, but attitudes have changed since the 1970s. Domingos was talking about reviews for tenure and hiring for professors, not lab manager positions. But sure, implicit bias is relevant. How large of an impact will addressing implicit bias have on reducing any gender gaps? The large amounts of money point was brought up in response to gatekeeping. A pay gap is related, but the original topic was centering around participation.

SushiDeliveryGuy

Nice article, Alena.

I wouldn't call Domingos and Reges misogynistic. They are only given these labels because they disagree with the fashionable view and what is dictated by their departments. If they were so misogynistic as claimed, they probably would not encourage female graduate and undergraduate students to pursue computer science.

If you read Domingos' tweet and the resources that he provides, you would see that universities overcompensate for gender differences in math while a different case was happening in the life sciences. The point Domingos was trying to make was that current methods to get more women into computer science may not be working, but it was unclear how he got the 50% number.

I understand why Reges is lumped in here, but his position is not explained well in this article. If you navigate to his website and find his interviews with king5 and article for quillete, he states that we are probably approaching a cap of women in computer science. He gives several resources in the quillete piece to support his point.

Stating that there are differences between men and women shouldn't be controversial.

rousseausaidgo

Commenting here because there wasn't an option to reply to you in the previous thread. This is my last comment.

I'm not interested or invested in countering all the facets of every single statement that Reges or Domingos has made. I'm just glad you read the articles, that was the whole point of my sharing them.

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