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Shloka Kini '13
On October 21, 2010, WISP worked with ISTS to facilitate a fascinating cross cultural video conversation between Dartmouth and American University in Kuwait(AUK) undergraduate women in computer science. Dartmouth has an exchange program with AUK which is a co-ed institution where classes are segregated by sex and 40% of the computer science majors are women. In contrast, women make up from 0 to 14% of CS majors at Dartmouth (since 2007) and the underrepresentation of women in computer science is an ongoing national issue. The idea for this cross-cultural conversation came about when AUK Computer Science professor Amir Zeid was teaching at Dartmouth last summer and approached ISTS Director and Sociology Professor Denise Anthony about the possibility of setting up a conversation between our students. Shloka Kini '13 was one of six Dartmouth students who participated and offers her reflection on the experience.
During the Cross-Cultural Conversation, one saw an amazing thing happen: a connection. An undeniable connection found only through the medium of computer science had suddenly brought young women from different cultures, different upbringings, and different lifestyles together. It was amazing the variety of ways in which one major ultimately became the defining factor in the lives of so many women. One woman from Kuwait recounts being interested in films; finding them too hard, she opted for computer games and fell into computer science. Another girl graduating this year from Dartmouth expresses her deep-rooted background in computer science, coming from a community where many adults had careers in the field. Another girl was inspired by her mother and decided to follow in her footsteps. As for me, I decided to not choose a major by choosing computer science, which would become very applicable to all fields of study in the future.
In my mind, every field in the world can be as specialized as it wants to be; regardless, every field needs a webmaster, an IT technician, a go-to person for problems with a PC. The computer has been defined by society to be a “geek” tool. For people who are misanthropes, loners, and anti-social, social networking and distant communication in the form of blogs and Twitter become crutches for human interaction. But within this discussion, the walls of stereotypes were torn down, as students realized that computer science can never determine one’s lifestyle especially for women. Having single sex classes in Kuwait, the girls bonded in an unexpected way by being able to see more of each other in their classes. The one commonality in gender discrimination in the field was definitely apparent: the problem was not the gender, the problem was the experience. It seems that unanimously the girls felt inexperienced in the presence of males in their classes who could converse in the jargon, code in the language, and “walk the walk” of a computer “geek.” However, for a girl entering the field as a newbie, it becomes very difficult to relate to the men in the room. I personally encountered a huge experience gap with my first encounter with computer science in high school, when I found myself at a loss during the final project, which was recreating a Pokemon game all of the guys seemed very familiar with.
The remarkable vibe in the room was the incredible strength of the women I met. Each seemed to want to persist in the face of difficulty. Many, I have noticed, find that once a course becomes difficult, it means that it is “not the right field for you.” But for all of these women, difficulty was the perfect fuel to drive them to success in the field. Another interesting perspective was brought up by a girl from Kuwait, who noted that computer science girls in Kuwait were much like the secretary typists from the American 60s. This unique perspective I noticed, made the Dartmouth girls think more about their roles as not only girls but as Americans in the computer science field. In all, the experience was very rewarding and hopefully the discussion will continue; perhaps in the future, we will all have changed the world with this conversation about girls in computer science.
Last Updated: 11/22/10