Posted by Anita Debarlaben on Apr 12, 2023

Panel members at SIGCSE

What support do Black Computer Science (CS) educators need to succeed? In this panel, Black CS teachers shared their perspectives on what is needed to encourage Black teachers to teach CS.

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What support do Black Computer Science (CS) educators need to succeed? In this panel, Black CS teachers shared their perspectives on what is needed to encourage Black teachers to teach CS. We also discussed barriers to participation and what Black CS teachers need to feel supported and included in a field where they are severely underrepresented.

The elite CS educators on the panel included Allen Antoine,  Anita F. Debarlaben, Vanessa Jones, Donald Saint-Germain, and Leon Tynes.

The discussion was guided by a set of questions centered around 3 main topics: Identifying the Problem, Strategies Implemented, and Recommendations for Others.

Panel discussion

Identifying the Problem

Tynes stated, “There is no support and lack of equipment. There are CS classes in this country with no computers. I wrote grants to get equipment needed to teach CS classes, but not every teacher is equipped to do this.” Saint-Germaine stated, “Lack of knowledge of People of Color (POC) in CS fields.” He believes it would be beneficial to know the history of people who paved the way.

Antoine stated, “I believe that most Black educators experience biases either implicit or in your face. Systematic biases are when you run a STEM program, and no Black students are enrolled because they do not have transportation, or they are not enrolled at a school that is not engaging them in those areas.” Debarlaben stated, “The requirements for CS classes might block students of color from enrolling.” Dr. Thompson finished the discussion by summarizing and stating, “CS is becoming elitism. Parents with a less affluent background may not be aware of CS opportunities or programs that they need to introduce their kids to CS. So, when you have camps, it is important to have people who look like you because that representation is very important for the students to feel comfortable to want to join and for parents to want to advocate for their children to participate.” 

When asked the question, “What impact has the problem of underrepresentation of Black people in CS had on your career?,” Antoine stated, “A huge initiative that is done at the University of Texas is the Computing Educator Diversity Initiative. It is all about making efforts to increase black and brown teachers in computing.” Jones stated, “It comes down to the have and have nots. Parents who know the importance of CS advocate for their school or district, whereas parents who are not knowledgeable do not.”

The final discussion on this topic was focused on whether “you feel Black people have intentionally and/or systematically been excluded from the field of CS?” Jones responded, “How do you get students interested if they do not see anybody that they can connect to or who looks like them? They don’t have a sense of belonging, and they do not have a desire to get into the field.  Saint-Germaine stated, “CS has been predominantly represented by white and Asian males. Individuals who have paved the way, their history got lost and without that knowledge, how are we going to mold the next generation?”

Strategies Implemented

Next, the panel discussion moved on to what strategies were or should be implemented to address the problem. When asked the question “How have your experiences informed your practices as an educator in CS?” Antoine stated, “I am often asked ‘How do you get Black boys interested in CS?’ Well, all black boys are not interested in the same thing. Individualize strategies and know who is in your room.”

Debarlaben stated, “I was told I had a 0% chance of succeeding in high school and 10% at OSU. Became the only African American female to graduate in my cohort. Because of this, I Instill in my students more than book knowledge; help them to develop a growth mindset.” 

Tynes stated, “[The] first day in law school people told me ‘Oh you must be on a diversity scholarship’. Graduated with two law degrees. It is a resilience you must build.”

Recommendations for Others

Our final area of discussion was focused on recommendations. When asked “What role do professional organizations and/or universities play in increasing representation?” Antoine stated, “It goes back to the University of Texas Computing Educator Diversity Initiative, which is a program we are hoping to grow nationally.”  Tynes stated, “I am tired of seeing research and CS grants implemented when some of them never actually benefit the students. We need to do the actual work necessary.”  

Jones stated, “Building that sense of belonging and building that sense of community, creating affinity groups, are great for allowing people to feel like they belong. CSTA does a really good job of doing the work and being intentional about equity. Universities and organizations need to partner together so we can do the work together.”

When asked how do we increase interest in CS among Black educators? Debarlaben stated, “Exposure. Most students and people in general do not know what Engineers and CS people do as a job. Some students will need to ‘See One to Be One’. We need more CS professionals to take time and go back and give speeches to STEM classes.”  Tynes stated “We need to get more Black educators in order to increase the number of CS educators. Black Educators are only 7.1% of all educators. We need more professionals to switch to teaching.”

Finally, what support do Black CS educators need to effectively teach CS? Antoine stated, “CSTA comes to mind as the largest CS department. Oftentimess you are the only one on your campus teaching CS. You can join Affinity groups and meet with like-minded people that you can talk to, so you don’t feel like you are out on an island alone, so it is very important support in the form of a community.”  Dr. Thompson stated, “Non-Black CS educators need to advocate for your Black students and Black teachers to be able to teach culturally relevant pedagogy. You need to have faith and express faith in the students that they can do something that maybe historically they have not been a part of. That could look like verbally advocating or having pictures of black CS professionals.”

About the Author

Anita Debarlaben Headshot

Anita Debarlaben earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Computer Science. After writing software for over 18 years she changed her career to education. She truly believes that some students need to “see one to be one” so she was determined to reach, teach and encourage as many students as possible to enter STEM careers. She recently joined University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (UCLS) as a high school CS teacher where she teaches AI and Machine Learning and Introduction to Programming. Prior to joining UCLS, she taught Mathematics and Computer Science for over 10 years. Last year Anita earned the AP Computer Science Principles Female Diversity Award for increasing her female enrollment from less than 10% to almost 50%. Anita is also proud to be chosen as a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teachers (PAEMST) for 2021.