Syllabus: Diversity and Technology, NYU Tandon STS

STS-UY 3904 B, Spring 2019
Prof. Arlene Ducao, arlduc [at]
Mondays and Wednesdays, 4:30-6:20 PM
5 Metrotech Center, Rogers Hall, Room 204


What does diversity mean in the context of technology? Do we need diversity in technology? Why?

Especially in the midst of technologically-influenced movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, these questions become important as technology increasingly drives rapid sociopolitical change, and as demographic shifts increasingly impact the notion of diversity in our local, regional, national, global societies.

Through historical surveys, case studies, site visits, and even some hands-on experiments with new technologies, this course will explore the relationships between many kinds of technology and many kinds of diversity. Students will be required to write weekly reflections, build a small technology project, write a short paper, and develop a final project that examines not only how diversity has and hasn’t impacted technology, but also how technology has and hasn’t impacted social movements toward diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion.

Recommended preparation: students are recommended (but not required) to have some experience in tinkering with digital technology. This includes (but is not limited to) web page coding, mobile app development, hardware prototyping, and/or CAD-based fabrication.

Learning Goals

  1. Discuss various definitions of “technology” in the context of diversity, and various definitions of “diversity” in the context of technology;
  2. Examine and critique modes of technological production in a socio-historical setting. Discuss both diversity and technology in the U.S. and International context.
  3. Deploy one or more modes of technology production to understand the experiential context of technology and diversity.
  4. Combine goals 1, 2, and 3 to explore, via your own personal history and culture, what diversity and technology means to you.


This is an approximate plan; guests, site visits, assignments, and readings are subject to change.

Phase 1: Looking Backward 
  • Week 1: Introduction
  • Week 2: Medical Tech.
    • Historical topics include Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Henrietta Lacks, Nazi studies, Gynecological discrimination 
    • Contemporary topics include Assistive reproductive technologies, Gene editing and ableism, Race-based medicine, Opiod crisis and bias, Epidemics and bias: influenza and malaria, Work by Barbara Ehrenreich
    • Assignment 1: Pick a piece of pop culture that you think propagates the biases that derived from historical medical discrimination. (Hint: Medical dramas and superhero stories can be a good place to start.) We will have a viewing and discussion party. 
    • Assignment 2: How do practitioners avoid medical discrimination today? Does it work?
    • Reading: Excerpt from Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology
  • Week 3: Work Tech, Ed Tech. 
  • Week 4: Social Tech & Home Tech. 
  • Week 5: Political Tech, Prison Tech. 
    • Topics include, Facebook/Twitter (part 2), Aramark, Taser, Stanford Prison Experiment 
    • Assignment 1: Determine the closest prison or political office in or to your home town. Try to determine 1-2 technologies it uses, and which vendors are used to acquire those technologies. Document this process. 
    • Assignment 2: Research a prototyping machine in advance of Week 6. 
    • Reading: excerpt from Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor
  • Week 6: Prototyping Week
    • Topics include Makerspace field trip (an observational) study; Makerspace field trip (an engineering excursion).
    • Assignment 1: use a makerspace machine to make something physical. You don’t have to design it—downloading a design from the internet is okay. 
    • Assignment 2: Expand on one of the previous assignments in preparation for Mid-Term week. 
    • Reading:
  • Week 7: Mid-Term
    • Prototype Considerations.  Be prepared to present an expanded prototype and self-reflection. What did you expand upon? Why? What in your life experience made it a compelling project? What about other peoples’ life experiences might make it less compelling? 
    • Context Considerations: Be prepared to lead a discussion on the context of your prototype, including a one-page reading assignment for the class to read before your presentation. Prepare a 1200 word essay about your prototype and its context.
    • Reading: more excerpts from Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary and Keywords for American Cultural Studies
Phase 2: Going Forward
  • Week 8: Revisiting Key Concepts and Goals 
    • Documenting practices and accountability: what do we do in our daily lives? How do we hold technical institutions accountable? What kind of technology do we use?
    • What are the movements and who are the people that keep us accountable? What/who are some examples of this from Part One of this class?
    • Assignment 1: List the axes of diversity with which you identify. List the axes of identity in which you may be privileged. Do any patterns emerge?
    • Assignment 2: Reflect on the CMEP training. Write out one accountability goal for the rest of the semester. 
    • Assignment 3: Name additional prototyping technologies you’d like to explore in the second half of the semester. 
  • Week 9. Case Studies: U.S. Contexts
    • Topics include CSforAll, CodeNext, LibrePlanet, FAT, Grace Hopper, NSBE, Tapia, Bushwick VR. 
    • Assignment 1: Write a profile of a person or group working on diversity and technology issues in the U.S. context. Explain why you chose this person/group. 
    • Assignment 2: Write a profile of one person/group working on diversity and technology in the context of New York City. How does the New York context differ from the larger U.S. context?
    • Readings: Excerpt from The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist
  • Week 10. Case Studies: Non-U.S. Contexts. 
    • Topics include Non-English Technologies, Global Computation & Craft, Global Action Project: the Immigrant and Undocumented, Why We Rise, NYU Data Visualization for Human Rights
    • Assignment 1: Write a profile of one person/group working on diversity and technology in the context beyond the U.S.. How does the non-U.S. context differ from the U.S. context?
    • Assignment 2: Discuss how your work and interests, either inside or outside of class, might serve one of the persons/groups you’ve learned about. Be as specific as you can. 
    • Reading: Latino or other non-English programming language.
  • Week 11. Targeted Prototyping Workshops, Part 2
    • Topics include additional tutorials based on student requests
    • Assignment 1: Draft a plan for how your prototype(s) might be refined to serve the person(s) or group(s) you wrote about last week. 
    • Assignment 2: Start to prepare for your final deliverable. Iterate on your prototype(s) and/or research writing toward this goal. 
    • Readings: Parable of the Polygons
  • Week 12. Speculative Week.
    • Topics include Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Octavia’s Brood, Zombies, Ken Liu, Black Mirror, Jorge Luis Borges, Cory Doctorow
    • Assignment 1: Find a piece of speculative that depicts some of the ways your prototype may be used for either/both utopian and dystopian purposes. Write a reflection on this. 
    • Assignment 2: Continue preparing for your final deliverable. Iterate on your prototype(s) and/or research writing toward this goal. 
    • Readings: See above; and The Weird Events That Make Machines Hallucinate
  • Week 13. Critical Consciousness and Self-Work
    • Topics include: Workshop time, Final reflections, Mindfulness walk
    • Assignment 1: Reflect on the mindfulness walk through any kind of medium (writing, an audiovisual recording, etc.). How can mindfulness be a tool of accountability?
    • Assignment 2: Prepare for your final deliverable. Iterate on your prototype(s) and/or research writing toward this goal. 
    • Reading: How Mindfulness Helped a Workplace Diversity Exercise
  • Week 14. Final Roundtables. Feel free to invite guests. Dumplings included. 
    • You will be expected to lead a 15-minute roundtable discussion on your final project, including 1-2 discussion questions that you will facilitate. You will also be graded on your participation in all of your classmates’ roundtable discussions.

Course Books (to be discussed in Class 1)

Supplemental And Possibly Recommended Books

Office Hours

Monday and Wednesday by appointment, preferably before class. E-mail arlduc [at] to make an appointment.


  • 30% Midterm Project:
    • Demonstration of prototype & 1000-word write-up.
  • 35% Final Project: EITHER
    • Final prototype, 1100-word write-up, & MLA-formatted bibliography OR
    • 2100-word research article & MLA-formatted bibliography.
  • 20% Class participation.
  • 15% Blog posts based on class discussion and project development. At least twenty short posts are required for the semester (ten posts per class phase), not including your Midterm and Final projects.
    • Please label each post with the Phase Number and Post Number, e.g. “Phase 1, Post 4: My Fourth Blog Post.”
    • Please label your Midterm Project Post “Midterm Project” and your Final Project Post “Final Project.”

Encouraged Extra Credit Options

    • Expanded blogging (at least 1200 words/post)
    • Video documentation
    • Final project web site
    • Conference paper
    • Other options: to be discussed in class. 


Attendance to all class sessions is mandatory. Class starts at 4:30 sharp, with a 15-minute grace period for late entry. Excused absence requests, i.e. for a religious holiday or a conference, must be made at least 3 business days ahead of the scheduled absence. Emergency absences must be accompanied by official documentation, i.e. a doctor’s note or MTA notice. One letter grade drop will occur for every four unexcused late arrivals (-2.5 points per unexcused lateness) or two unexcused absences (-5 points per unexcused absence). For additional NYU School of Engineering Academic Policies and Requirements, please consult this link.

Technology Use in the Classroom: Participation, Engagement, Respect!

  • General Policy: Laptop computers and other mobile devices are invaluable tools when used responsibly. However, this technology can also be incredibly distracting, especially in the classroom. When in class, you may use your laptops and other devices for any activities pertaining to the course: taking notes, researching material relevant to our readings and discussions, working on projects, making class presentations, etc. However, if I sense that technology use is occurring at the expense of participation, engagement, and respect, I will require that all laptops and phones be stowed away. Also, during class screenings, discussions, and presentations, your electronic devices should not be used.
  • Grading Policy: One (1) point will be deducted from the final grade for electronic devices that are not stowed away during “Device-Free Periods.” This includes
    • Screenings, discussions, and presentations (unless you are the presenter at the podium)
    • Any other time that your professor announces a “Device-Free Period.”

Academic Honesty

All work for this class must be your own and specific to this semester. Any work recycled from other classes or from another, non-original source will be rejected with serious implications for the student. Plagiarism, knowingly representing the words or ideas of another as one’s own work in any academic exercise, is absolutely unacceptable. Any student who commits plagiarism must re-do the assignment for a grade no higher than a D. In fact, a D is the highest possible course grade for any student who commits plagiarism. Please use the MLA style for citing and documenting source material.

Moses Statement

If you are student with a disability who is requesting accommodations, please contact New York University’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-4980 or  You must be registered with CSD to receive accommodations.  Information about the Moses Center can be found at The Moses Center is located at 726 Broadway on the 2nd floor.