Design as a Tool to Counter Structural Oppression

Research that focuses on co-designing socio-cultural technologies, practices, and policies

Design Publication Award Winner

Sheena Erete
Associate Professor, School of Design
College of Computing and Digital Media
DePaul University

Natasha Smith-Walker – Project Exploration
Caitlin Martin

There has been a recent push in technology design to consider social implications of technology design — both historical, current, and future. In resource-constrained communities, there have been historical policies and practices (e.g., redlining, over-policing) that have created concentrated poverty, increased unemployment, and a lack of adequate and equitable educational, housing, and health opportunities. However, several local community-based organizations have taken the initiative to address their communities’ challenges regarding issues such as safety and education. In my work, I have focused on several projects in this vein, where I co-design technologies, practices, and policies with community residents and organizations to support their efforts to counter social issues that are a result of long-term structural oppression. Specifically, two projects that demonstrate my commitment are (1) our co-design and evaluation process of a mobile application to support violence prevention efforts by street outreach workers and (2) the evolution of Digital Youth Divas, our program that encourages middle school Black and Latina girls to engage and participate in STEAM experiences, to a community-wide program that focuses on the transformation of informal learning environments using design practices and data. The first project is an example of how to design with organizations that intentionally attempt to counter traditional policing practices by law enforcement by taking a community-led approach to public safety in neighborhoods that experience high violence. The second project illustrates how we can address policies and infrastructure that create barriers for Black and Latina girls and their families to engage in informal learning opportunities. Insights lead to a discussion regarding how we as designers and researchers can intentionally support community-based counter structures to make a long-term, sustainable impact on communities that have historically faced systemic oppression.

Erete, S., Thomas, K., Nacu, D., Thompson, N., Dickinson, J., Pinkard, N. (2021). “Applying a Transformative Justice Approach to Encourage the Participation of Black and Latina Girls in Computing.” ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE).

Dr. Sheena Erete is a designer, researcher, educator, and community advocate, whose research focuses on co-designing socio-cultural technologies, practices, and policies with community residents to amplify their local efforts in addressing issues such as violence, education, civic engagement and health. The objective of her work is to create more just and equitable outcomes and futures for those who have historically and who currently face structural oppression. Her research has won several best paper awards in top venues such as ACM CHI, CSCW, and SIGCSE as well a diversity and inclusion award for her collaborative work dissecting oppression that exists in the field of computing, HCI, and design. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, and several philanthropic foundations including the Polk Bros. Foundation, Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, and McCormick Foundation. She is currently an associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she also co-directs the Technology for Social Good Research and Design Lab. Dr. Erete received Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from Spelman College. She received a Masters in Computer Science from Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in Technology & Social Behavior from Northwestern University.