A Difficult End To Spring Quarter
Rewind to early June, the end of an online spring quarter at Stanford. In the wake of a COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests, a student-led campaign to provide grading accommodations for classes (mainly, cancelled final exams and assignments) began to surge throughout the school. While noble in its intention and successful in procuring those accommodations in many classes, the campaign ultimately led to a harassment of the teaching staff of the course I was a teaching assistant for. There were Piazza posts, Facebook posts, Twitter threads, and emails calling for the resignation of our professor, and in some extreme cases, slandering some of the TAs. Here’s an example of the kind of activity we were dealing with:
As a student myself, I empathized with the campaign’s aim of relieving stress on students, but that empathy eventually gave way to fear as the fervor began turning into outright harassment. My last week of the spring quarter was marked by late-night calls with the rest of the teaching assistants, trying to decide how best to proceed forward and stay sane. I confess: at certain points, it felt like I was losing my mind. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of the TAs personally named on public social media, nor was I the professor, who undoubtedly received the brunt of the backlash. I admire their resolve to persevere through it all.
Ultimately, this experience has led me to see cancel culture and mob justice in a new light. As the aims are lofty, the pitfalls are deep. At a certain point, demands for blood do nothing but serve self-righteousness and pride. Otherwise peaceful people are riled up to inflict pain on their perceived oppressors, whether or not the oppressors are guilty of their accusations.
I don’t think this couldn’t have happened without 2020’s perfect cocktail of isolation, gloom, and the resulting desire to do something about the mess of the world we find ourselves in. In that sense, I do not blame anyone. I myself could have participated in that same campaign had I walked in different shoes.
I’m very grateful for the teaching team banding together to support each other. I’m grateful for the emotional and logistical support the university admin provided to us over email and Zoom calls once they had caught wind of the situation. I’m also grateful to the many students of our class who later reached out privately, expressing that the campaign had gone too far and that they were afraid to speak up in case the mob came after them. And of course, I’m grateful for the counsel of those closest to me in that difficult time.
Updates to Previous Projects
In my last update, I talked about an open source project directory for students. We released it in mid-June, and here it is, live! https://contribute2opensource.herokuapp.com/. It’s the first step in a project to use metrics such as average commits per contributor to determine good open source repos for beginners to contribute to. I think my project partner and I want to move on to other things, so the project will stay in its current state for now.
Sadly, Leo and I decided not to finish the ergonomics classifier project. Our class made the project optional, and both of us were dealing with the fallout from being teaching assistants of the aforementioned course. I’m slightly regretful – we had done a lot of the work. Hopefully I can find time in the future to finish it up.
Present and Future
Summer is here! I’m currently working with https://cardinalkit.org/ as an RA. It’s an open source platform that streamlines the process of creating digital health applications (for example, HIPAA approval). My role is to promote and democratize their open source platform through creating online tutorials. Later, I’ll be building on that to eventually turn http://cs342.stanford.edu/ into a MOOC. Both the project and class are run by the same team, and I’m honored to be working with such amazing and talented people.
Looking ahead, I have one more quarter in the fall to finish up my master’s degree, which means I’m actively looking for full time roles that begin in January. While I’m open to the possibilities, I’m especially interested in smaller companies or smaller teams within larger companies focusing on robotics, hardware, and/or artificial intelligence. I hope to have interviewed and committed to a company by the end of summer. If any promising connection come to mind, I’d love to follow those leads.