Category: Academics

Photo Courtesy of Color Code

On Thursday, the ColorCode committee learned that Columbia University Computer Science professor Satyen Kale assigned to his Machine Language (COMS 4117) class a competition “to produce the eponymous cyborg law enforcer.” Drawing on data from the NYPD’s “Stop, Question and Frisk” records, students have been asked to create a machine learning algorithm to “decide when a suspect it has stopped should be arrested” based on characteristics ranging from “sex” and “race” to “suspect was wearing unseasonable attire”, “suspicious bulge”, and “change direction at sight of officer”. Stop­ and ­Frisk is a violently racist program that allows police to stop, question, and frisk any pedestrian who arouses “reasonable suspicion.” Numerous studies and investigations of the NYPD’s own data have shown that Stop­ and ­Frisk disproportionately targets Black people. It has torn apart Black communities in the city and contributes to a system of mass incarceration and policing that brutalizes, incarcerates, and kills Black people across the nation. The program has even been deemed unconstitutional by federal courts.

That a Columbia professor would ask students to implement a program that reproduces and aids Stop­ and Frisk policing with zero acknowledgement of the violence and harm inflicted by the actual program­­–and in fact suggest that machine learning algorithms like this constitute “the future” of machine learning applications— is an egregious example of racist, ahistorical, and irresponsible pedagogy. Data are not apolitical. Algorithms are not objective. To teach technical skills without also teaching anti­racist, anti­oppression developing principles is unforgivable, despicable, and dangerous. For us, as students of color who also are coders, entrepreneurs, and engineers, assignments like this confirm feelings of exclusion and isolation accumulated over many semesters here–­­­being one in a only handful of Black students in a lecture hall, for example, or graduating from SEAS not having had even a single Black professor. It confirms the department and university’s disregard for our wellbeing as students of color, which always is intertwined with the wellbeing of our communities.

Moving forward, ColorCode demands that this Machine Learning assignment be revoked, and that the professor issue an apology addressing the concerns above. We demand that students in the class be provided with alternate ways to receive credit. We demand that the professor and the department acknowledge these concerns, apologize, and make significant, structural changes to ensure this does not happen again. Finally, we support the demands of Mobilized African Diaspora/BCSN and in particular add our voices to demand that the School of Engineering commit to hiring more Black professors and underrepresented professors of color.

ColorCode is a group focused on getting people of color into the technology sector. To respond to this op-ed or submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

As of yesterday, the University Registrar has made course evaluations pubic on Vergil. Vergil, the University’s official course planner, has offered a “Course Evaluations” tab since it’s launch, but this is the first time it has actually had course evaluations available for viewing.

Continue Reading..

Starting on Monday, first-year students in Columbia College and Columbia Engineering will have the ability to “shadow” declare majors. While this will not officially place students in a major, it will allow students to be automatically enrolled into department listservs to gain access to department updates.

In a Facebook post from CCSC 2019 President, Josh Schenk:

This Monday, Dean Plaa from advising will be sending us all an email with the tool to shadow declare, or “fake” declare, your major! It will take you no more than 20 seconds. Doing this will give you access to all of the same opportunities current declared majors have. You are not held to any major you select; you will just be added to the major list serves to learn about faculty, events, recommended classes, and opportunities in your given interest categories. The tool will close on February 29th, the last day of the month.

We have reached out to Dean Plaa and the Center for Student Advising for more information.

I need help.

When combined, these three simple words create one powerful phrase. Yet, one could count the number of times they have heard Columbia students say this phrase on one hand. And that’s a problem.

Continue Reading..