Reading 00. Critical Race Theory for Human-Computer Interaction


In this assignment, you are tasked with reading and reflecting on an award winning computer science paper (choosen to be in the top 1% out of the 3,126 papers submitted in 2020) from SIGCHI, the premier academic community focused on Human-Computer Interaction.

The SIGCHI community in comprised of professors, students, and professionals who “create and shape how people interact with technology and understand how technologies have an impact on people’s lives.” Many commercial innovations you rely upon day-to-day, such as the multi-finger touch-based gestures popularized by the iPhone, were first invented, researched, and published in SIGCHI. For a broad look at current research in the field, consider perusing the list of best paper award winners in 2020.

Why are we reading academic papers in a programming class?

Computer and Data Scientists invented, and continue to innovate on, many tools and platforms that directly impact the lived experiences of humans in our society. Our work is central to the development of computer programs, such as apps, web sites, data dashboards, machine learning algorithms, and so on, and related technologies including phones, laptops, smart devices, and distant computers running the services we depend on in data centers, commonly referred to as the “cloud”. As a field, we must be aware of, engage with, and actively improve the effects of our work for all members of our society.

You, like many of your peers in the course, may not be on a professional path toward becoming a computer or data scientist. The ethical and societal concerns we read about were chosen because of their relevance and importance in many other fields, including medicine, sociology, law, neuroscience, business, journalism, academia, and more broadly. While these papers will be based in the concerns of computer and data science, you should seek to find connections with your field and area of interest.

Who are the paper’s primary authors?

Each of the primary authors contributed equally to the paper.

Ihudiya Ogbonnaya-Ogburu

I am a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan School of Information, advised by Kentaro Toyama. My research interests span human-computer interaction (HCI) and information and communication technologies and development (ICTD). I am interested in understanding the impact of technology on low-income African Americans across the United States. I recognize the great diversity of this community, and I enjoy researching the intersection of race, class, and technology. Link to Ihudiya Ogbonnaya-Ogburu’s Homepage.

Angela D.R. Smith

I am a PhD candidate at Northwestern University in Technology and Social Behavior, a joint program in Computer Science and Communications. I am a designer and qualitative researcher who focuses on understanding and conceptualizing technology experiences that meet the information needs of homeless emerging adults. My research is interested in finding ways to employ design as a catalyst to combat information poverty and socially responsible technology experiences. Link to Angela D.R. Smith’s Homepage.

Alexandra To, Ph.D.

I am an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the College of Arts, Media & Design in the Art + Design (Games) department and the Khoury College of Computer Science at Northeastern University. I use human-computer interaction research methods, storytelling, and design to illuminate patterns of racial oppression in technology. I received my Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University in 2020. Link to Alexandra To’s Homepage.

Why was this paper chosen?

Many key terms and concerns you will see in readings later in the semester are well defined and expounded upon in this paper, such as intersectional identity, bias in technology, allyship, and more. Compared with many other scholarly papers, this paper is very approachable and does not require deep technical training and expertise to engage with. Its emphasis on storytelling and the stories it includes are concrete and relatable, not overly conceptual and vague. Additionally, the paper was chosen as one of the Best Papers (top 1%) in the most selective Human-Computer Interaction peer-reviewed venue (out of 3,126 submitted papers) in 2020.

Tips for Reading Academic Papers

Although this paper is relatively approachable, it is still a scholarly work written primarily for the SIGCHI community. You, as a student in a Computer Science course, are not the primary audience. There is a high likelihood there will be some domain-specific jargon you are not familiar with. This is not only OK, it’s to be expected in this paper and in most academic works you will read. Try not to get discouraged by obscure details and to take multiple passes through the paper. A common strategy is to read the abstract, read the section headings, and any figures (less useful in this specific paper, as there are not figures), to try to understand the direction the paper is heading in, before diving in. Reading academic papers is a developed skill. Some percentage of any peer-reviewed research paper is challenging to fully appreciate without being an active researcher in the paper’s subfield.

Where should you ask questions on readings?

Is there a term or concept used in the paper that you’re confused by? Please direct your questions to this form and we will respond to you, either directly or via a running Frequently Asked Questions page that responds to questions that arise multiple times.

Any questions asked on readings in office hours, oustide of logistical questions, will be redirected to the form above.

Read the Paper, Reflect, and Respond

You can find a PDF copy of the paper to read from the author’s home page here:

You will find the assignment “Reading 00 - Critical Race Theory in HCI” on Gradescope. There are 9 possible prompts and you are asked to respond to any 2 prompts that you would prefer. Your responses should be short essays with a minimum word count of 200 words. For the prompts, rubrics, and other instructions please refer to the assignment on Gradescope.

Want to learn more?

We will only scratch the surface of responsible computing and ethical concerns in COMP110. You are encouraged to seek out additional courses at UNC-CH which devote more of their time and focus to this area if you are interested in learning more and engaging further. The following courses, many of which are more intimately sized discussion courses or have recitation sections, offer more depth on these subjects:

  • COMP380 - Introduction to Digital Culture
  • AAAD333 - Race and Public Policy in the US
  • AAAD491 - Class, Race, and Inequality in America
  • ANTH427 - Race
  • ENGL265 - Literature and Race
  • HIST585 - Race, Basketball, and the American Dream
  • MEJO141 - Media Ethics
  • PHIL160 - Introduction to Ethics
  • PHIL163 - Practical Ethics: Moral Reasoning and How We Live
  • PHIL165 - Bioethics
  • PHIL274 - Race, Racism, and Social Justice: African-American Political Philosophy
  • POLI206 - Race and the Right to Vote in the US
  • POLI333 - Race and Public Policy in the US
  • RELI423 - Ethnicity, Race, and Religion in America
  • SOCI122 - Race and Ethnicity
  • WGST442 - Gender, Class, Race, and Mass Media
  • WGST444 - Race, Class, and Gender
  • APPLES Service-Learning Courses