Establishing a positive community

Every student should feel safe and welcome to contribute in this course. As the instructor, I will try to establish this tone whenever possible, but ultimately the responsibility for cultivating a safe and welcoming community belongs to the students—that means you!

Fortunately, being part of a safe and welcoming community is not too hard. A good place to start is to recognize (and continually remind yourself) of the following facts:

  • Your classmates come from a variety of cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds. Something that is obvious to you may not be obvious to them.
  • Your classmates are human beings with intelligence and emotions. This applies even when one or the other of you is posting anonymously on Piazza.
  • Your classmates are here to learn. They have the right to pursue their education without being distracted by others’ disruptive behavior, or made uncomfortable by inappropriate jokes or unwanted sexual interest.

If each of us remembers these facts and act with corresponding decency, respect, and professionalism, the course will certainly be better for everyone.

Some students might be inclined to shrug this off and perhaps crack a joke about safe spaces or political correctness. If that’s you, please also know that if you make a fellow student uncomfortable by mocking them, making inappropriate jokes, or making unwanted advances, that is harassment and will be taken seriously. (If you are a victim of harassment, please see the brief list of resources at the bottom of this page.)

However, I hope that we can all approach this positively. Treat your classmates as respected colleagues, support each other when needed, have fun without spoiling it for anyone else, and everybody wins.

Zooming out: diversity and computer science

On a broader note, computer science suffers from a lack of diversity. This is a problem for the field since we miss out on ideas, perspectives, and contributions from underrepresented groups. It’s a problem for society since computer science jobs pay well and underrepresented groups correlate with historically economically disadvantaged groups, reducing opportunity for upward mobility. Part of this complicated problem is that underrepresented groups leave computer science programs at a higher rate, and evidence shows that this is a result of environmental conditions. I hope that our efforts in this course can help to improve this situation, in some small way, rather than make it worse.

Many open source projects, companies, and professional societies have recognized that the lack of diversity amongst contributors is a problem since they miss out on ideas, perspectives, and contributions from underrepresented groups. To address this, they have established community guidelines and codes of conduct to support communities that are more welcoming to new and diverse contributors. Here are a few examples that I recommend reading:

Note that promoting diversity is also a core value of Oregon State University and a goal of the College of Engineering.

What to do about harassment

If you are the victim of harassment in this class, there are several resources available to you:

You may also want to read OSU’s policies on bullying and on sexual harassment and misconduct.


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