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The Stereotypes, Identity and Belonging Lab at the University of Washington is now a member of the blogging community! We will be using Decoded as a forum for disseminating our research on women and computer science and discussing current issues related to the field of computer science including: women's involvement and how computer science is changing the way we live. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on our posts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shortage of Black Computer Scientists?

Professors M. Brian Blake and Juan E. Gilbert wrote an article on the diversity in the realm of academics for the Chronicle of Higher Education, a newspaper whose target audience is college and university faculty and administers. Blake and Gilbert discuss and present the idea of Black Computer Science majors as gradually becoming extinct.  African-Americans represent roughly 13 percent of the our nation's populations, though only about 6 percent of all faculty members at American universities and colleges are American American. According to the Computing Research Association's widely used ‘Taulbee Survey Report’,

In the field of computer science, they make up only 1.3 percent of the faculty."

The numbers are not only small, they are decreasing as well, according statistic reports. 

“...1.6 percent of such degrees went to blacks in 2008-9, while federal data show that 3.7 percent, [of] doctorate recipients in computer and information sciences in 2008, were black U.S. citizens...”

Blake and Gilbert’s speculations are in agreement with SIBL’s interest in lack of women in Computer Science, as they question why African Americans lack prevalence in the Computer Science major when technological advances in our country (as well as the world) have heavily influenced and have prominently made its way into our everyday lives.  They wonder if the lack of positive exposure to the major, as well as a lack of Black successful role models, has deterred African Americans from gaining interest in the field. Their discussion involves various intervention ideas that could help promote more Computer Science appeal to African Americans through programs and close mentoring.  

Despite the statistics, it seems the small numbers have yet to illustrate the overall conflict of American-American shortage in universities and colleges. Have these two professors overlooked a major problem regarding underrepresented minorities in academia in general (i.e. shortage of African American representatives in majors across the board?) Or is lack of exposure to the field really the cause of shortage of Black Computer Science representatives in academia?

Posted by: Sarah T.


  1. I think this problem may stem from a little of both: blacks are underrepresented in universities in general, and are also not exposed to the field of computer science as much. I think many of the factors preventing blacks from full representation in CS are the same as those contributing to women's underrepresentation-such as lack of role models and stereotypes about math abilities. However, I think there may be other issues and stereotypes specific to blacks that may be discouraging their participation in CS. I think this is an important issue to study, just as important as studying why women are not as involved in CS.

  2. I agree with your stance that blacks are underrepresented in general, so it may not be so much that Blacks are just underrepresented in the Computer Science field. Although Blacks make up 13 percent of of our nations population, even a lesser amount is pursuing, or has pursued, a college education.

  3. African-American parents should preach to their kids how important education is, instead most blacks grow up wanting to be a rapper, basketball player or NFL star. Chances of them becoming any one of those are slim to none. Parents and the black community in general should teach kids how 'cool' computers and the endless possibilities they could have by learning them. I hope this trend reverses soon and start seeing more young blacks in this field.

    1. Sorry, but that's a bigoted statement to generalize and entire ethnicity like that. My parents always "preached" about getting an education and weren't shy on encouraging. My parents knew I liked computers when I was a kid, so she bought one for me to learn off of. Within a year of figuring out its capabilities as a child, word spread quick that I was the cost effective, original Geek Squad kid among friends and family to fix their computers.

      The problem with your statement is that Blacks will be stereotyped for anything they are good at. So replace rapper with politician, basketball player with golf and NFL star with doctor. We would still get looked down upon as "that's all they know" just like Asians get stereotyped as math/computer nerds, and Hispanics get stereotyped as landscapers, backend cooks and hotel maids.

  4. I'm a black 18 year old studying computer science in college and personally I think it's because of the overall black american culture. It typically isn't viewed as a positive thing to do well and be intelligent. I know family members that actually had to hide their good test scores from their peers so they wouldn't be bullied. Of course, this isn't always the case, but typically if you're intelligent and well educated it's viewed as "white". And if you're ghetto and ignorant, that's cool and "black". It's almost as if we're enforcing our own negative stereotype. And the stereotype is also being enforced by most of the rappers, the negative role models, etc... By the time they grow up and realize that it isn't "cool" to be broke with no job, it's too late.

  5. As a 52 year old black male, i have this to say: We have gone beyond the call in proving we can play sports. Now, let us show America we can become doctors, lawyers, dentists, scientists,architects and any other profession that does not have anything to do with sports. Let's face it, everybody is NOT going to the NBA or NFL. Just ain't happening. Think very seriously about real careers. All it takes is one major injury and you're done. Something to think about.

  6. I'm currently a Computer Science major at a local community college. After completing my low-level courses, I'm planning on transferring to UCSD. I've already learned to use C++, C#, Java, HTML/CSS and mobile app development (Android). From my classroom experience, this is my problem:

    I'm the only African American in a predominately White class. There is a lot of bigotry/under the tongue racism among others within the classes I've already took/taking. When it comes to group assignments, I get the dirty look of "why are you in this class?" The flip side is that once they learn I actually know a lot more than themselves (95% of the class), they try to sit back and use me as their work horse to get a free grade. But above all, I'm seen as a threat to their success/ego.

    I've addressed this problem to my professor, but she said there is nothing she can do. But even my professor sided with the majority by trying to embarrass me in front of the class. A White student brought up "file parsing." The professor said she doesn't know it, so I took the initiative to summarize how it works, since I've done it plenty of times on my own personal 3D projects using *.obj files. When I finished, she dismissed what I said with attitude. Another time, she was explaining about creating custom Exception Handling classes. The rest of the class couldn't understand her overly complex example, but I did. When I explained to the class what her example was doing, she dismissed my perfect, step by step explanation. I assume she felt offended that I possibly knew a bit more than she expected of me. But the funny thing is that whenever it was a White student, she praised them openly and even gave them gifts.

    In the end, this is what I've learned as to what may be the reason why so few African Americans choose Computer Science:

    1. By default in more ways than one, expect to always be the minority.

    2. When you walk into class, by default, nobody wants to work with you.

    3. When they learn that you are exceptionally good at the subject, expect them to try to have you do their work for you because you don't look like them.

    4. If you participate and understand difficult topics better than they the majority, they will have animosity towards you. The whole idea of an African American being better than them (White students) really hits them hard. This reminds me of when Blacks weren't suppose to know how to read.

    African Americans aren't given the same equal playing field as their White peers in college. African Americans are usually (like myself) alienated by default just for being who we are. In turn, we have added stress of still having to prove ourselves to the rest of society that we aren't the stereotypes long generated on top of trying to learn the material and get a good grade. Our academics have little to do with the access to education. The biggest factor is the day to day dynamics and politics socially within the classrooms.

  7. Poolu Luisu - good insight! Thanks for sharing! JB/WSU

  8. I agree with you poolu luisu. I also get that dirty look from people in my CS classes because I am an African American. Also the lessons you stated in your comment about why few African Americans choose computer science is true and out of those four, three out of four has actually happened to me on many occasions and to this day it is still happening, but I don't let stuff like that bother me because it distracts you mentally and makes you lose focus on what you are there for. Now that used to bother me at first, but as time went on it came to a point where it didn't matter to me what people think of me or how they felt about me. All that mattered to me, and still does to this day, is that I stay focus on the task ahead of me and not what is in front of me.