Directors' Message (Fall 2021)

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Equity and Justice in Data and Computing

Our modern world is driven by data and the intelligent systems that collect and analyze those data in support of decisions that influence everything from entertainment to education to distribution of resources. As an Interdisciplinary Research Institute, I-DISC was founded with the mission of “incubating and growing successful interdisciplinary teams that will be able to realize dramatic impact” in the areas of data, intelligent systems, and computation. The leadership of I-DISC believes one of the places where dramatic impact is needed is in the area of equity and justice in data and computing. 

We recognize that our collective fields of study are built on scientific tools and practices that are at once mechanisms for amplifying bias and inequalities in society, and also a means to detect and mitigate those biases and to disrupt the structural and systemic forces that promote inequality. During the first part of 2021, the I-DISC leadership, along with a volunteer group of I-DISC members, has explored questions of what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) looks like for our institute. The directors would like to thank the I-DISC members on the working group: Josh Agar, Chinedu Ekuma, Roberto Palmieri, and Yue Yu. Here, we share with you the working group’s vision for equity and justice in data and computing. 

First, we wanted to be sure that our approach to DEI reflected the unique role that our IRI plays at Lehigh. The primary role of I-DISC is to support the scholarship and research of our members. As such, we believe that an important contribution that I-DISC can make to the university’s broader DEI efforts is to consider how issues of bias, inequity, and oppressive outcomes might be found in our scholarship involving data, intelligent systems and computation. I-DISC is committed to building understanding of these issues among our members and the broader Lehigh community, providing expert support for assessing and confronting bias in data and algorithms, and promoting scholarship in areas such as data bias and machine learning fairness. 

Second, I-DISC is not only the scholarship and research we support, but also a community of faculty members drawn from across the five colleges at Lehigh. As such, the working group considered the need for I-DISC to create an environment that welcomes diversity, to support all members of the community equitably, to identify and work to counter inequities, and to embrace the principles of fairness and justice in our policies and practices. We considered a series of opportunities for I-DISC to build into the structure of our institute these principles that we affirm through words and actions.

Building on these core themes, the working group continues its activities this fall to develop the draft of the institute’s statement. The current version is largely a vision statement and it will require the work of all I-DISC members to realize the dramatic impact of this vision.  As we move forward from these early stages, I-DISC encourages its members  to continue to educate themselves and others to the broader issues of justice and equity in data and computing, to the development of and adherence to practices and policies that promote a diverse and equitable workplace, and to live out the vision of justice in our scholarly work and in our workplace.  

I-DISC Leadership Team
Larry Snyder, ISE, I-DISC Director
Kate Arrington, Psychology, I-DISC Associate Director
Brian D. Davison, CSE, I-DISC Associate Director