Survey Satisfaction

It’s that time of the year again: in the last few days of class, we fill out course evaluation surveys. This Wednesday, when taking the survey in my first-period computer science class, I was surprised by the addition of several new questions to the usual “How is the workload?” and “Is your teacher available during conference?” This year’s survey asked me to consider the extent to which issues related to race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual orientation had been explored in the class; according to the survey instructions, responses to this question will provide a baseline for measuring future growth in terms of these issues as a result of the 2014 Strategic Plan. Personally, I was pleased that the school was acknowledging this issue at all, let alone its relevance to all academic realms, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, like computer science. And yet the reactions from my fellow students in response to these questions included incredulity, laughter and anger, as if the idea of discussing race, class and gender in computer science was too absurd to even consider. These issues are pertinent to every subject, however, and all teachers and students should strive to discuss them in all of their classes. When it comes to programming, for example, there is a significant correlation between race and gender and those who are successful in related fields. Only 18 percent of all computer science graduates in the United States are female, 4.5 percent are black and 6.5 percent are Hispanic, according to recent NPR and “USA Today” articles. As I continued on with my day, filling out even more surveys, I was surrounded by snickers and groans as my peers reached the final two questions of their respective surveys. Students in my math class could not fathom how identity might play into the dynamics of the classroom or in the content of what we learn. They could not understand how disheartening or infuriating it might be for some of their classmates to hear the names of Pythagoras, Euclid and Descartes and feel rootless, reminded yet again of a sense of difference. While there may not be any inherent exclusivity in our classes, I was upset by the outrage that erupted from the mere suggestion that we challenge the lack of inclusivity in areas directly related to what we are studying. It is one thing that many of our studies already focus on the works of white, cisgendered, able-bodied, European males. It is an entirely different issue that we refuse to question why this is, and we refuse to problematize this narrative and instead simply accept it. Our education would be far more complete if we were to take the time to consider the social implications of what we are learning, rather than simply absorbing the material as it is given to us, as too many of us do. Race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual orientation, among other salient aspects of identity, permeate all spheres of our lives, whether or not we are conscious of the ways they manifest themselves. They drive history, shape our literature, inspire our art, determine who we recognize as great mathematicians and scientists and shape all that we learn, our perceptions of what we learn and how we will put that knowledge to use. Identity is never irrelevant. Let us enrich our educational experience. Let us embrace our diversity in all its forms, both inside the classroom and out.