ACTIVISM

Technology for Empowerment and Voice
One of the principal concerns that emerges in contemplation of technological 'progress' is that those whose stories have not been heard (girls, developing nations, under-represented populations of all sorts) risk being even less often heard as technological advances privilege the voices of those with access to technology. From my vantage point at MIT, the home of many of those technological advances, I first became interested in how we can use technology to empower and give voice to children in developing nations, to girls, to women in science, and to other marginalized populations.

With respect to that first population, I directed Junior Summit 1998, an opportunity to empower and give voice to the world's children through digital technology. This international project brought together 3000 children from 139 countries in a 6 month on-line forum that allowed children to communicate with each other across languages on topics of international concern. The forum culminated in a 6-day program at MIT (November, 1998) where 100 of the children met with world leaders. The technology and design of the program focused on bringing voices to the table that are not often heard, to help children reach beyond clichés to the areas in which they can make the most valuable contributions, and potentially increase their role on the world stage afterwards. Our current research on the children's interaction during the Junior Summit, and the effects of the Summit on their later development is demonstrating that these young people were launching a new kind of leadership style where strength was found through engagement with the community. Publications on these results can be found on my publication page.

With respect to girls, I co-edited a volume on gender and computer games with Henry Jenkins, published with MIT Press (1998), and entitled From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games (available from Amazon.com). Henry Jenkins and I invited contributions from researchers in education, psychology, cultural theory and technology, along with the foremost players in the industry of computer games for girls, on the topic of implications of the "girls' market" in computer games. My own chapter in the book argues that designing games specially for girls risks ghettoizing girls as a population that needs 'special help' in their relation to technology. Instead, I describe my own design work which has contributed games for both boys and girls that encourage them to express aspects of self-identity that transcend stereotyped gender categories. To my pleasure, a follow-up volume was recently published: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat (2008), to which Henry Jenkins and I wrote the forward. Other papers of mine addressing the "genderizing of IT" can be found on my publication page.

With respect to women in science, it was in the context of a National Science Foundation Visiting Professorship for Women at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1994-1995, that I designed and coordinated a series of workshops on survival skills for women in academia. I coordinated a similar series of workshops at the 1995 and 1997 LSA Summer Institutes in Linguistics. In the last decade, I have offered these workshops at other universities around the US. And I'm happy to say that others have taken up the mantle, and the survival skills workshops have become a staple offering at LSA Summer Institutes. The bibliography, listing many useful articles on pursuing a career in academia, with special attention to the challenges faced by women, can be found here. The response to these workshops led me to co-establish (with J.J. Jackson) the "ad-hoc committee on the quality of faculty life at MIT" -- a committee devoted to supporting women faculty, faculty of color, junior faculty, and GLBT faculty. Today, as the faculty advisor to Northwestern's FREECS (Female Researchers in EECS), I work with graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty to improve conditions for academic women in Engineering and related fields. I have sat on the advisory boards of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, and the National Center for Women in Technology. In 2008 I was awarded the Anita Borg Women of Vision Award for Leadership (slightly transgressive acceptance speech here).

More recently I have begun to examine the factors that play a role in African American children's participation in school-based literacy activities, and to use virtual peers to create environments that address some of the issues around language use and identity in the classroom for children who speak AAE (African American English). In 2002, 2005, and 2008 I received NSF grants to examine this topic, and resulting papers can be found on my publications page. This work has led to an increased interest in how culture, race, and ethnicity are represented in the field of Human-Computer Interaction.

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