By: Angelina Wei
I get it; you’re taking 4-5 classes a quarter, completely overloaded with the number of technical classes you have to take, stuck on campus trying to finish 4-hour labs, and scrambling to apply for internships every summer. You already have enough to tackle in 4 short years at UCLA, but I urge you to consider the benefits of taking a class relevant to race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
Every Fall, prospective software engineers flood large tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Uber to impress recruiters and secure an internship for the following summer. Engineers know that locking down a permanent position at the company of your dreams is by first obtaining an internship there. However, there has always been gossip about how these “dream companies” treat the people who work there: Amazon is hyper-competitive and merciless to its employees; Netflix pays a lot initially but fires older software engineers without severance packages; and Uber is the poster boy for discrimination and sexism. Without the proper tools to identify these inequities, it would be challenging to not only address these pressing issues, but also navigate spaces where you feel alienated, exploited, and devalued. Classes on diversity could potentially answer questions that plague employees of capitalistic tech companies that are more invested in the company’s growth rather than employees themselves.
- Why is everyone here Asian or White?
Getting to where you are right now as an engineer at UCLA is already challenging enough, but research has shown that different factors like race, religion, or national origin play important roles in inequalities that we see every day (Teranishi). From the ranking of social positions to the rewards that people receive, there is much more to reaching the goal of working at a tech company than just “it’s because I worked hard to get here.” Yes, you put in a lot of time and effort into succeeding in the industry, but the people you surround yourself with, the connections you have, the values you grow up with, and even the access to tutoring resources all play into your success. People who can use these resources tend to attain positions in the tech industry, which is why we are so used to seeing certain groups of people in “successful” positions of power.
- Why do women not work here? What happens to people who don’t identify with a certain gender?
On February 29th, a former Uber employee, Susan Fowler, published a blog post about the discrimination that she faced at work due to her gender. Later, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick revealed that only 15% of technical employees are women. This issue, however, is deeply rooted in the popular discourse of education, where teachers and staffulty encourage different students, based on their gender, race, culture, or sexuality, to pursue different careers or to ascribe a self-worth (Ochoa). This type of academic profiling promotes “deficit thinking,” which blames performance and advancement on individuals rather than social factors that may impede advancement in different fields. In addition, the wage gap between male and female tech workers and discrimination based on gender, further discourage people to pursue careers in tech.
- Why am I overworking myself?
When employees join large companies, they are asked to subscribe to “core values” of the company, which often encourage the idea of meritocracy (Buenavista). For example, Uber encourages its engineers to be “obsessed with the customer, and always be hustlin’,” but these ideals are based on the faulty belief that the most hard working and smart employees are rewarded with company advancement. Engineers are told that stepping on toes or overworking themselves in order to increase company’s stock value, is more important than their well-being.
Ethnic studies classes that are central to the diversity requirement allow us to understand the inequalities we see on a daily basis. The obstacles you may face as you pursue a career in engineering are can be easily identified by understanding the impact of social, economic, or racial backgrounds. Although we might not be personally affected by these injustices, it is important to understand the histories of others in order and fight alongside our peers, family, and friends who face these challenges.
Your north campus and south campus double major friend, a woman pursing a career in STEM.
Buenavista, Tracy Lachica, Uma M. Jayakumar, and Kimberly Misa‐Escalante. “Contextualizing Asian American education through critical race theory: An example of US Pilipino college student experiences.” New Directions for Institutional Research 2009.142 (2009): 69-81.
Ochoa, Gilda L. Academic Profiling. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
Teranishi, Robert T. Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education. Multicultural Education Series. Teachers College Press. 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, 2010.