This is a guest post by Chris Martens, a programming languages researcher who recently got her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University; she research-blogs at lambdamaphone.blogspot.com.
STEM academia falls behind the broader “women in tech” movements in several respects, most notably in the sense that we don’t have many spaces (i.e. backchannels) to discuss, organize, and seek advice in situations that are unique to academia, while still arising from the usual structural oppression systems. In recent years, the Lambda Ladies group for women in functional programming has been a great example of a group that serves this purpose for participation in industry and open source, which opened my eyes to what academia has been sorely missing.
Meanwhile, from where I stand within programming languages (PL) research, I am seeing more and more women showing up (though usually white, cis women), more trans people coming out, other queer people speaking up, and people of color (who sometimes inhabit several of those identities) struggling for a voice. While each of these groups and intersections faces their own challenges to integrating with a largely white/cishet/male academic community, I believe the time is ripe for us to organize and talk to each other about those challenges, to build a space of our own for social as well as research discussions.
As a starting point for our field, I started a mailing list back in May of this year, called Intersectional Types.
Currently, the mailing list traffic is very light (averaging less than one message per day), and thread topics have been things like approaching organizers of conferences about diversity issues, calls for participation and service on committees, dependently-typed programming, and favorite female role models.
In general, the list has the following purpose, as summarized at the above link:
In some ways, this list should be considered just another research list, such as the TYPES forum. This space can be used for research questions, literature guidance, starting collaborative efforts, introductions and updates to current research projects, open-ended philosophical questions about grand research visions, links to blog posts/papers, announcement of CFPs and job postings, announcements of achievements and breakthroughs.
In addition, this list is a response to a problem: that PL research communities have a really hard time attracting, retaining, and especially *valuing* people who are marginalized in society. This problem is in no way unique to PL, but the purpose of this list is to bring together folks with similar enough research interests that we can provide each other support that’s meaningful within the context of our specific field.
Some specific examples of activity we encourage, but don’t see on traditional research fora, are: requests for career mentorship and advice (especially along an academic career track); requests for feedback on papers and blog posts; giving (remote) practice talks; organizing local meetups and events; posting about mentorship programs, fellowships, summer schools, and other opportunities; venting about the ways our environments are unwelcoming and dysfunctional; and discussing how we ourselves can create more welcoming and supportive environments when we are in positions of leadership.
Other details, such as who’s welcome to join, moderator contact information, and the code of conduct, can be found on the list description page. In particular, we encourage new members who have some degree of experience with PL as a topic (e.g. a course or self-instruction) but may not work formally within the academic system, whether that’s a “not yet” situation or a “probably never” situation, especially if structural oppression systems influence that situation.
Finally, I want to add a call to other academic feminists to consider searching for and starting explicitly political backchannels like this one within your field. There may be more people out there who are like you, frustrated in the ways you are frustrated, or merely different in the ways that you are different. The first step toward change is often feeling less alone in wanting it.