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A Novel Approach to Understanding Perceptions of Race among Computing Undergraduates


This work-in-progress paper presents the design and testing of a quantitative and qualitative instrument for a mixed-methods approach that examines how undergraduate computing majors (i.e., computer science, engineering, and information systems) perceive and experience race. Computing is overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian men. Racial “othering” is amplified through not only biased technologies, but also university courses, departments, and cultures that negatively impact non-dominant identities. While numerous efforts exist to broaden the participation of Black, Native American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Latinx students, these approaches fail to address the systemic inequities and inequalities they face from faculty, staff, peers, and academic cultures. They also fail to capture how students perceive the impacts of race, racism, and white supremacy on their and others’ academic experiences.

This work builds upon the Detroit Area Study as well as an extended study of physics faculty to develop a 36-item quantitative survey that is organized into six constructs (home environment; college environment; belonging/comfort in computing courses and departments; perceptions of race; diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices; and definitions of race). A qualitative instrument was developed using the same constructs to guide one-on-one, semi-structured interviews of a sample of respondents completing the quantitative survey. The instruments were distributed to computing undergraduates during the fall 2022/spring 2023 semester. Results from both instruments, including open-ended feedback, were used for final revisions.

To the best of our knowledge, this work is the first of its kind to examine how computing undergraduates think about topics related to race in general, as well as in departments. We anticipate that the research resulting from these instruments will better inform the greater computing (and ultimately, STEM) community of how students from different identities (including race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status, and their intersections), institution types, and geographical locations perceive and experience race; what that can mean for students from historically excluded races in their programs; and how they can create more inclusive and equitable department cultures.


Citation: Fairfax, F. G., & McFalls, E., & Rogers, A., & Kwesi, J., & Washington, A. N., & Daily, S. B., & Peoples, C. E., & Xiao, H., & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2023, June), Work In Progress: A Novel Approach to Understanding Perceptions of Race among Computing Undergraduates Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore, Maryland.


Computer Science, Computing, Diversity, Equity, Identity, Inclusion, Publications, Research