by Emma Catlin
There's a lot of talk about how introductory classes discourage minorities, and making classes more "friendly" to those with little prior experience in coding is trending at universities. In one of Brown's introductory computer science classes, CS015, I think a successful effort has been made to encourage women to continue coding. The class provides many women role models in the TAs, of whom about half are women. I also appreciated the fact that in the lecture on the history of computer science, just as many important women figures were included as male.
Talking to students in CS017, another introductory computer science class, I heard similar experiences. While women were outnumberd by men, one student told me that she didn't feel like she was at a disadvantage because there were enough other women in the class. Also, she shared that the professor and the TAs made everyone feel included. Perhaps it's necessary in these classes to reach a critical mass, along with other encouraging factors, to make sure minorities are not dissuaded. It seems like the critical mass has been achieved for women in these classes, but not necessarily for other minorities.
What is it like to be a minority in an introductory computer science class? When I reflect on my experience in CS015 last semester as someone who identifies as female, a minority among coders, I feel the class was welcoming. There was such a large number of students in the class that there was a diversity in backgrounds such as class year and coding experience (more than 50% had never coded before). But while the amount of women in introductory classes such as CS015 may have reached critical mass, the numbers of other minority groups are still not there yet. Introductory classes still have a way to go to make everyone feel included, but I didn't feel discouraged from coding because I was a woman in CS015.