Technology’s role in social justice
April 16, 2013
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Virginia Eubanks traveled to UIS to give a talk entitled “Can Technology Serve Social Justice?” This event was co-sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies Program and the Computer Science Department. The event was originally scheduled to take place on April 9, but complications in the speaker’s travel caused the talk to be postponed to the following day. Eubanks is an associate professor for the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Albany in New York. She has her Ph.D. in science and technology studies and has written a book titled Digital Dead End – Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age. Throughout her talk, Eubanks discussed her book, which includes personal experiences with an organization in Troy, New York named YWCA. According to the YWCA website, it is an organization that provides a safe place for women to become leaders, refine their skills and get back on their feet when times are hard. Its mission is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for everyone. Eubanks began working with the YWCA with the mindset that the women involved with this program did not have the skills or tools to obtain jobs in a high tech field. She planned on helping them gain the skills they needed in order to enter this field. However, Eubanks was not the only one who believed these women lacked the skills needed for this industry. Many scholars and other individuals shared this idea, as well. Shortly after beginning her work, she was proven wrong. The women within the program were working within high tech job fields, but not the best jobs. Many worked for call centers and were constantly watched by someone in a higher position. “If this was the reality of people on the ground,” said Eubanks, “how did scholars and people of authority get it so wrong?” The misconception of these women to scholars was because the scholars were so disconnected from the lower class of America. Eubanks continued her talk with a discussion about where women encounter technology the most. She came to find that many of the women she spoke with seemed to come into contact with technology mostly within social welfare offices. The first thing these women saw when they entered these offices was the back of the computer. This experience really impacted how they thought about the state, as well as technology. From there, Eubanks began to discuss how society cannot rely on the next big thing to solve all of the problems within the world. Because of this, she and a few others began an organization called Our Knowledge, Our Power (OKOP). OKOP is an organization that tries to fight for the rights of families that rely on public welfare within New York. This organization follows the framework of economic human rights. This means they believe everyone has the right to the basic human rights. Together with its members, as well as people within the community, the OKOP releases packets and videos that share the stories of individuals who have had their basic human rights violated in some way. By creating these packets and videos, Eubanks, as well as the individuals she worked with, used technology to serve social justice. These media devices help to show the power of narrative. Individual stories do help in the cause, but working together with other people in a movement context is what brings change in the long run. Following the talk, there was a reception for all who attended where Eubanks answered further questions and individuals could discuss with one another. “I thought the talk brought up some interesting points about the use of technology in our culture today, and I liked how she was trying to empower women by helping them learn computer and technological skills,” said Ashley Bowers, UIS chemistry major. For more information about Eubanks, visit digitaldeadend.com.