For the discussion accompanying this assignment, you should focus on the concept of intersectionality. This discussion discussed intersectionality in the context of being systemic, not personal. The supreme court has argued that in cases of discrimination and hate crimes, you can only claim protection under one protected status. For example, if black women are discriminated against by a company, they cannot sue the company for discriminatory practices towards them for being “black women”. They can sue for discrimination based on race or gender, but not both. The supreme court rule in the GM lawsuit that it was “unfair” to allow people protection under more than one protected characteristic at a time.
The history of America’s immigration system should be discussed for context. Up until the late 1800s, immigration to the United States was mostly open. In the late 1800s, immigration laws were passed to restrict the number of people that could enter the United States from each country. This was largely the result of a movement to keep Chinese immigrants out of the United States.
Students should then be prompted to try to track the possible logical progression of thought that the Admittors could have used when making their decisions to send people to poorhouses, hospitals, or psychiatric wards. The idea was to try to track, assuming that the Admittors’ decisions were not fueled by nationalism and sexism, the possible logic that could have lead to the decisions that were made, like classifying pregnant Irish immigrants as being diseased and sending them to poorhouses or psychiatric wards. As an example, the logic that students came up with was that pregnant women need medical care, which means they need medical staff, and medical staff are at hospitals, psychiatric wards, and poorhouses. These are all logical steps when considered individually, but the jump from the beginning to the end is illogical. By studying this example, students were able to see how seemingly logical inferences and steps can quickly spiral out of control.
This idea should then be extrapolated and applied to the example in the chapter entitled “The Alleghany Algorithm” by Virginia Eubanks that they were assigned to read. This chapter discusses an algorithm that was designed to try to determine how likely each child was to be abused. Despite all of the work and research that was done in the community to ensure that this algorithm would be accurate and reflective, it failed. The program created a feedback loop that perpetually gave certain children from certain areas or families higher scores than others, based on subjective decisions. For example, if a parent had been abused as a child, the program stated that their children were likely to be abused. This raised the scores of children that could otherwise have had lower scores. The program also stated that the more kids played outside, the more neglectful their parents were, and that an area’s violence rate could be tracked by the number of police calls, regardless of the reason or outcomes. Students should be asked to find parallels between their programs and this algorithm.
While all of the aforementioned assumptions are rooted in a logical thought process, the issues arise with the implementation of the algorithms. For example, if an area has police calls, the police would have more police officers on the streets in that area. This would subsequently cause the number of reports filed to go up, and the cycle would continue. Essentially, the discussion should teach students to consider the ramifications of their program, and map out the logic carefully to avoid unintentionally creating programs with self-feedback loops.