Informatics Seminar Series
Spring Quarter 2023

Friday, April 28, 2023

“DeBugging Black Death in the Digital: How Black Youth Survive, Resist and Redesign Anti-Black Technologies Towards Collective Change”

Tiera Tanksley
Assistant Professor of Equity, Diversity & Justice in Education
University of Colorado Boulder

This presentation will highlight the experiences of 2 cohorts (n=40) of Black high school students who participated in a 5 week course, called “Race, Resistance and Technology,” that was taught in the midst of COVID-19 and the 2020 global demonstration for Black Lives. The goal of the course was to foster students’ ability to critically examine the ubiquity of anti-Black racism within socio-technical architectures (e.g., code, data, algorithms, etc.) of popular platforms and internet technologies. In addition to discussing material and discursive consequences of algorithmic anti-blackness, the course also examined ways Communities of Color transformatively resist - or “debug” - algorithmic anti-blackness through the design of abolitionist technologies. Consequently, the course culminated in a design project where Black youth worked collaboratively to dream up and design race-conscious and algorithmically-just technologies that could help - rather than harm - historically marginalized communities.

This presentation will center the voices, experiences and techno-social inventions of the youth, and take a closer look at how they used these technology projects to construct new worlds and Black digital futures that center life, joy and communal healing. It simultaneously examines Black life, joy and joyous learning as an invaluable approach to STEM+CS education, and showcases how Black joy was not only physically enacted through the collaborative design process (e.g., students laughed, played, and “acted up” while designing) but also algorithmically encoded into the sociotechnical infrastructures of the final projects (e.g., content moderation algorithms that would flag and delete micro-aggressive content, but hyper-circulate Black joy and wellness content).

Dr. Tiera Tanksley is an Assistant professor of Equity, Diversity and Justice in Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her scholarship, which theorizes a critical race technology theory (CRTT) in education, extends conventional education research to include sociotechnical and techno-structural analyses of artificially intelligent technologies. Specifically, Dr. Tanksley’s research examines anti-Blackness as “the default setting” of digital technology and examines the socioemotional and academic consequences of algorithmic racism in the lives and schooling experiences of Black youth. Her work simultaneously recognizes Black youth as digital activists and civic agitators, and examines the complex ways they subvert, resist and rewrite racially biased technologies to produce more just and joyous digital experiences for Communities of Color across the diaspora.

Dr. Tanksley’s scholarship has been awarded several competitive grants in computer science andengineering, including an NSF grant to support her work on race, technology and decolonial engineering in a global context, and an Engineering and AI-Augmented Learning grant for her work on building race-conscious and justice-oriented AI systems with Black youth. In 2022, Dr. Tanksley received the Emerging Leader in Critical Race Technology Studies Fellowship from UCLA.

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