by Jane Stoyle Welch
Published August 10, 2022
How can technology be a part of the solution to addressing the immense and complex issue of racial inequality in the United States?
That is one of the fundamental questions that computer scientist Kenny Joseph is undertaking in his research, which is supported by a recent NSF CAREER award.
“The most prominent source of inequality in the United States today is race,” says Joseph, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “Racial inequality between Black people and White people exists at all stages of life; as children, parents, and elders, Black Americans are significantly more likely than White Americans to be poor, unemployed, and/or imprisoned. Scholars agree that racial inequality is caused almost exclusively by present-day and historical discrimination.”
However, despite the research, a significant proportion of Americans disagree on racism’s mere existence and underlying causes, which hinders addressing racial inequality in America. “My CAREER project aims to expand our understanding of who harbors which views on racial inequality, where those views might come from, and how they might be changed,” he says.
Joseph’s CAREER project has three overarching goals: developing new measures of Americans’ views on racial inequality; identifying and correlating these views in peoples’ identities, locations and social networks; and developing strategies to counter misinformed views and their implications.
“Methodologically, I hope to develop new ways to leverage and integrate the strengths of researchers in the humanities, social sciences and computer science,” says Joseph. “My work will integrate qualitative methods, survey data, machine learning and computer simulations to help us better understand ideologies of race in the United States and how they function to maintain and/or challenge racial inequality.”
“We are all very excited for Kenny for receiving this prestigious award,” says Jinhui Xu, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “His innovative project aims to develop computational and educational tools to promote equal opportunities for people from all backgrounds. This project is very timely and its outcomes will benefit not only UB but society as a whole.”
NSF CAREER Awards support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Joseph received the $574,710 award for his project, entitled “Promoting Equal Opportunities through Measurement, Simulation, and Education,” from NSF’s Division of Information and Intelligent Systems. .
As part of outreach associated with the award, Joseph is developing a new course for sophomores, entitled Race, Class, Gender, and Technology that helps students understand the role of computing in society.
He is also collaborating with Letitia Thomas, assistant dean for diversity for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to develop computational tools that use administrative data to help identify ways that the CSE undergraduate major can be made more inclusive for students of color, women and transfer students.
Joseph will also continue to make research opportunities available for first-generation undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing graduate school.
Joseph’s research focuses on obtaining a better understanding of the dynamics and cognitive representations of stereotypes and prejudice, their interrelationships with sociocultural structure and behavior and how we can enable change. In his work, he leverages a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, as well as a number of different theoretical approaches. His research and teaching have been supported in part by the National Science Foundation, Amazon, Mozilla and the Office of Naval Research.
A native of Buffalo, Joseph joined UB in 2018. Prior to that, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the LazerLab at the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University and was a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Joseph received his PhD in Societal Computing from Carnegie Mellon University 2016.