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SIGCHI Equity Talks #10: Race & SIGCHI

Sketch mapping out conversation topics in Equity Talk #10 Race and SIGCHI

Adriana Alvarado, Angela Smith, Bryan Dosono, Cale Passmore, Ihudiya Finda Williams, Marisol Wong-Villacres, Neha Kumar

Previous Equity Talk Summary: Making SIGCHI Sustainable

All Equity Talks Available Here

Link to the Equity Talk recorded portion on Youtube. Cover image displays a slide on the left containing text “Race and SIGCHI: August 10, 2021” and a still of the ASL interpreter on the right.
Missed the talk? See the sketchnotes. Thank you, Miriam Sturdee, for sharing your talent with us!

This roundtable began with us hearing an introduction from Neha Kumar (current SIGCHI President) about the Equity Talks series. As lead of the Race in HCI Collective, Ihudiya Finda Williams introduced herself and set up a round of introductions to the organizing team, their research foci, and institutions: Adriana Alvarado, Marisol Wong-Villacres, Angela Smith, Bryan Dosono, and Cale Passmore. Cale provided a land acknowledgement and recognition of settler-colonial power structures complicating this talk and platforms. This led to a positionality statement for the entire organizing committee, making clear whose voices and experiences are present and whose are less represented by the talk (namely, Eastern hemisphere, Indigenous, non-English speakers, and voices excluded from academia). After making explicit the norms present for the talk and establishing the Code of Conduct, Marisol covered the agenda for the meeting, organized into challenges and recommendations.

*Sources, letters, calls, and notes are cited at the end of this summary.

Ihudiya Finda invited attendees to share experiences, thoughts, and reflections on topics related to race, ethnicity and culture in SIGCHI by speaking, chat, posting on, and adding to the Collaborative Meeting Notes document. Following a minute of reflection and review, the audience was asked to engage on the topic of:

1.What are the pressing problems or issues that people see as it relates to race and SIGCHI?

Referring to the collaborative notes Debora Leal started us off with a recognition of racism’s roots in colonialism. “Racism is very connected to colonization,” and what types of knowledge are valued or delegitimated. She pointed the audience toward trends in papers discussing rituals, healing processes, spirituality: these are framed as mythologies or folklore rather than indigenous forms of knowledge tested and refined over millennia. Research as Ceremony by Shawn Wilson was promoted as a key text in shifting these epistemological trends.

Ihudiya Finda brought attention to the collaborative notes, selecting: “awards and recognition,” “work to do rebuilding the contributions of marginalized people who have been erased from the history of our field,” “shine spotlights on pioneers of color,” “failures to consider consequences of work and need consequences,” “lack of shared understanding across SIGCHI…”

Amon Millner underscored the importance of who the work of anti-racism falls on, how we protect who does anti-racist work in our communities, and the complex issue of how anti-racist work is not only an additional burden taken up by already marginalized/burdened scholars and one that risks punishment rather than reward. How we have strategies for allies and accomplices to share the burden is a central aspect of SIGCHI’s ability to engage in HCI work around race. Cale added that without, “creating legacy and mentorship systems to interrupt cycles of work lost and labor ignored,” the burden placed on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) scholars is compounded.

Ihudiya Finda continued reading aloud comments from participants: “Privileged communities are over-represented as research participants. Their perspectives are highlighted in our findings,” followed by, “it can be difficult to distinguish global and race equity, but they are distinct and overlapping,” “and then, how do we protect the individuals who do the work internally? The people who bring care and concern to this work in these spaces are rewarded with more work, mental and emotional labor, which Amon just highlighted.”

Attendees were given a moment to expand on discussion topics to which Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy provided an overarching series of considerations, “I agree with the sentiment that talking about race can be scary. I suppose in my British way, it would be awkward, or it’s always an awkward conversation. […] A white male could still sit down there and say, hey, you need to do 50–50 and that’s just the standard we expect. But when it comes to race, I feel like a lot of allies, for instance, also find it difficult to kind of say what we are aiming for, what success looks like. And if you don’t have lived experiences talking about race, talking about what it is like to be Asian or Black or Indian, it’s all very tough and uncomfortable and awkward. And maybe we need to do some work to try and see how to normalize those conversations. Because I think a lot of this backward sort of rollback of work that we’ve progressed, is because someone new comes in and they just don’t know what to make of it either.”

Situating her perspective, Stacy Branham added, “I am a white, queer, disabled American woman, I’m also the Adjunct Chair for Accessibility for SIGCHI. But I just wanted to highlight here, that SIGCHI operates within many — and alongside, many — other institutional structures that themselves have racial systemic inequities. And the fact that there are no Black women in my department, for example, is very problematic. And I am excited to think about ways that SIGCHI can be more aware of those external — like the ecosystem we’re in — and try to reach out. And also provide support that can address those problems. Because if we just think of ourselves as insular and not having anything to do with that other problem, then I think our fields cannot truly make progress.”

Reading from newly added collaborative notes, Ihudiya Finda read: “it’s challenging to bring nuanced conversations about race topics into workplace discussions when keywords such as critical race theory are weaponized and introduce backlash that can set the intended work backwards.” This was echoed in comments around fear of backlash when discussing race as norms vary around the world: “I think for everyone, speaking as a minority or as a WEIRD or whatever, it is very easy to say the wrong thing, and challenging to challenge people.”

An anonymous comment spoke to the importance of an issue that resonated with many:

“Other ways of knowing, or other ways of doing research — not as myth or folklore. Academics have done research in every corner of the planet. It is time for the object to become a researcher. It is time for the object to become a researcher and supported by Western academics like us. To build further, being able to communicate lived experiences can also be triggering, traumatizing, etc. It is very nuanced both to empathize as well as explain.”

Bringing the audience into the second phase of the talk, Ihudiya Finda passed moderation to Bryan. He provided us with the second guiding question:

2. How can SIGCHI proactively support racially and ethnically marginalized communities?

Additional questions of interest added to the collaborative board were, “How can SIGCHI develop leadership pipelines? How can the community distribute awards equitably? What are recommendations or ways for SIGCHI to identify more diverse candidates outside of networks without overburdening individuals, et cetera? Open calls: do the positions for which there are open calls make their work visible? Is there enough training or opportunities to train before open calls are disseminated so that people can know what they’re signing up for? Is there trust that the open calls will really be open for which there needs to be transparency beforehand? How should SIGCHI think about policies against discrimination, bias, and racism? Aside from Interactions, which is the magazine blog, SIGCHI’s Medium, what channels could be used for diverse visibility? And how can SIGCHI diversify its language without people feeling that their language is not represented or included? With that, I will now open the floor for any verbal comments, and then I will reference the collaborative notes throughout this part of the discussion.”

Ihudiya Finda re-centered us, stating, “I just also wanted to reiterate that SIGCHI is a largely volunteer-based organization, and so I want to encourage everyone to feel empowered. We’re all a part of this community that has a responsibility to improve upon it. To support SIGCHI in thinking of ways, which we have done, to further create policies and recommendations that can be used within SIGCHI and across SIGCHI, as they are responsible for conferences, awards, and beyond.”

Bryan took a moment to read aloud comments left on the collaborative board detailing things SIGCHI and the SIGCHI community at large can do to work toward racial and ethnic equity with an emphasis around conferences:

  • Greater emphasis on intersectional studies and methodologies. This includes recognition of the greater time and effort and cost required for sampling, analysis, and design.
  • Create safe spaces for engagement and conversation like these equity talks.
  • Normalize a greater diversity of methodological approaches.
  • Hire translators for everything taking place in conferences.
  • Invite local vendors to conferences and consider who is providing the food, is there an equitable representation of women and ethnically minority-owned businesses, who have benefited locally, who might be disadvantaged from our presence, especially students who experience some form of marginalization.
  • Make digital libraries available to all, especially underrepresented minorities.
  • Create tracks that publish on WhatsApp and Facebook, so that we can reach those who only have access to these tools.
  • Constantly run people through workshops that discuss reviewing for ACM and funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation.
  • Develop equitable and transparent processes for awards development and awardee selection that can be supported for especially early career SIGCHI community members.
  • And support of more diverse pipelines to the highest echelons of the community.
  • Cite Black scholars in your syllabus and readings, and acknowledge the contribution of their work. Cite African, Asian, Lat. Am, Arab scholars too.
  • Recognize that the more marginalized a person is, the greater amplification of voice is required. And recognize our role in racialized systems connected to the HCI community.

Marisol Wong-Villacres brought us to dwell on some of the harder questions around citational justice:

“When we’re talking about increasing citation numbers for people with different race, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, are we talking about continuing the same? Is just like changing a little bit the game, maybe not even changing the game, just changing the output of the game but continuing with the same game. Are we talking about just promoting the same problems, but being more inclusive in the way we promote them? So that question, I don’t know what people think, I keep thinking about that one. We’re talking about citing more other people. Is it citing because we want to add representation or because we appreciate their knowledge, or because we want to change parts of the system? What is it?”

Debora Leal expanded,

“I agree with Marisol. […] Because if we do not have Indigenous, Black people, or whatever, in the universities, how can we say that we’re going to promote them to the conference? Like I think it’s a step before. I don’t understand how we can make them come to conferences or get funds if they are not even joining up for PhDs. That’s how I feel. Like in Brazil we have been trying to get names of people, like Indigenous doing PhDs. It’s so rare to find. And what can we do to support those who want to be in academia.” Looking to the larger epistemological issues feeding into who is and isn’t gate-kept from academia due to its norms, Debora added: “there are some examples, like hospitals being built in the Amazon rainforest, where you have knowledge of Indigenous and Western knowledge combined. […] Why do we speak English? We speak English, the language of the colonizer, because we want them to listen to us. It’s not because I want to be involved, it’s like we want to be heard.”

Bryan read aloud several comments by attendees:

  • What are the racialized systems connected to our community and our roles in them?
  • Mentors should strive to educate themselves about race on a continual basis and create safe, brave spaces in which racial equity can be discussed within their realms of influence, like committees or chapters.
  • When serving on tenure and review committees, stress the importance of equitable diversity service leadership work, and that it should be considered a major contribution. Because this work is often done by BIPOC, by our Black, Indigenous, people of color.
  • How is promoting racial equity different from promoting equity?

Vinoba brought us back to Debora’s point: “I take the point Debora was making about there being a pipeline. […] We don’t have enough racial diversity coming into organizations in the UK or the USA. And so getting a Sri Lankan scholar from — I’m just using Sri Lankan because my heritage happens to be in Sri Lanka. And I grew up in Nigeria, so I’ll use Nigerian universities. But finding a Sri Lankan scholar from the UK, it’s tough. However, Sri Lanka has universities, Nigeria has universities, they have students, they have scholars, presumably they do computer science work over there as well. So is there something SIGCHI can do, for instance, working with chapters, working with the communities there. How can we reach out and get people from there perhaps involved in bringing knowledge to us over here. And maybe, over time, that pipeline issue gets inspiration and you have parallel work happening there as well. But I do wonder if we should just look further afield and how can SIGCHI raise the awareness of these people, who are very difficult to find, even on Google, right, just because of the way metadata and things like that works. And also what are the ways we can work together and also value the type of work they’re doing in the very different conditions that they’re doing it under.”

With 5 minutes left, Ihudiya Finda provided a closing thought:

“One thing I do hope everyone takes away who is passionate about this is to continue to act, or to act, and to use their own realm of influence or power to create a more equitable and just world. And going along that, there was a question of, how is promoting racial equity different from promoting equity. That’s a great question. And so I’ll just answer in that promoting racial equity is promoting equity but there are different frames and lenses that we can use to address issues and challenges of equity. And so I thank SIGCHI for doing an equity talk on disability, I thank SIGCHI for doing an equity talk on gender, and I thank SIGCHI for this talk that specifically focuses on race and ethnicity. And it’s not to say that one is important than the other. We all sit in different intersectional places in our lives but sometimes it takes us focusing on just one. I’m sure a lot of us can’t multitask that well, but sometimes it helps to focus on just one for us to unpack the injustices that are going on with it. And, on that, I do thank the question, but I also want to be centered on the core question of this discussion of our recommendations for policy changes as it relates to race in SIGCHI. And I do hope that SIGCHI does provide more educational opportunities for all of us to learn and grow and have these great conversations.”

Melissa Densmore clarified one of her earlier questions posed, reminded us that because we are working on equity does not mean we’re exempt from self-work and that we have to work on the axes of identity and oppression with which we are less familiar.

Marisol asked us to think of the changes we want:

“In terms of where we want to go to, like, what is the end goal? The end goal is to increase participation, it seems to me. I’m not saying that should be the end goal, but that seems to be the end goal that we are talking about: Increased participation of more people of different backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, races. But why are we assuming that is an end goal? Why aren’t we — I think this goes, and maybe I’m bringing Debora in too much, but this goes back to what she was saying. Like let’s think about the history of why we are where we are at right now, and why are we thinking of continuing through the same path or aiming at the same goals, and just changing how many more people participate. Then, going back, how can we think about policy changes at a SIGCHI level, exactly when there are so many problems behind — not even behind — in other levels that are not allowing for people to have the freedom to choose. Maybe people don’t want to go, SIGCHI didn’t want to be, and HCI didn’t want to, but they don’t have enough freedom to choose because of all these issues of inequities that we’ve talked about. It doesn’t bring any policy changes into my mind, but I just wanted to share that.”

Bryan read off the final comments added in chat, including: “if there is a pipeline issue in the USA, UK, or EU, can we bring inspiration from elsewhere, and how do we build those bridges?” and, “related to that comment about tenure committees, perhaps SIGCHI can provide resources, such as citations or arguments, that can be used to support advocacy within these academic and also industry promotional processes.” Related to this, Bryan read, “So if we believe that subcommittees lack diversity, then consider alternatives to the award process. Can we seek input from the larger community? There was a response to that, when someone said, I think it’s almost the opposite, people often don’t respond to broadcast calls when they will respond one-to-one. But unfortunately, one-to-one outreaches have a tendency to be less representative, because we as committee members, leverage our personal networks.”

Out of time, we shifted to the off-the-record section and concluded with Cale handing it over to Neha for a closing statement.

See the Collaborative Meeting Notes for more!

The SIGCHI Executive Committee is grateful to the organizers for planning and leading this Equity Talk, and co-authoring this blog summary. We hope that this will lead to many more fruitful discussions around race, ethnicity, and SIGCHI.

Do you have any questions? Contact the organizers at or learn more about the Race in HCI Collective!

Calls & Statements Informing our Topics and Foci