• Make gendered labor more desirable or socially acceptable to other gender(s)?
  • View unequal gender ratio as a positive thing?
  • Remove association of gender with gendered labor?
  • Shape conversation about gender & discrimination to be thoughtful, respectful, and natural, instead of contentious, annoying, and aggressive?
  • Bring in people currently outside the conversation?
  • Place gender in intersection with other aspects (e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, social class)?
  • Make perception/awareness of daily and social work more like professional work?


Addressing HMW…

  • Build support network for people in and working to be in fields of heavily-gendered labor
  • When describing work, separate out and describe skills to separate traits from associated gender
  • Establish community guideline (e.g. online community, physical space) for mutual-respect among members
  • Make a community/forum/blog for sharing personal stories and experiences instead of overgeneralized arguments
  • Create an online community without any gender indication and observe whether people’s interactions differ
  • (Campus-specific) During orientation week, include a module/workshop on communication and conflict management
  • Prompt conversation within existing, more homogenous groups (e.g. fraternity, sorority, support groups), and combine/expand conversation by merging groups, to compare similarities and differences across intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, etc.
  • For existing groups, host open-events that invite friends, family, and colleagues of members to share conversation
  • Hold appreciation week campaign at work, home, social life, etc. respectively to reflect on and thank people who reach out to you first and have helped in overlooked ways

The Plan that Goes Wrong

An organization called Male@MIT is founded to provide support for male-identifying students in professional, academic, and social settings. The executive board of the organization aims to host numerous workshops and events for males of different ethnicity and cultures, males from LGBTQ+ community, and males from traditionally masculine or feminine sports. As they try to cater events to numerous subgroups, Male@MIT applies for substantial funding from MIT. This causes a backlash from students and organizations who argue it is not fair to reduce budget for other student groups to provide funding for a group—male—that already benefits much as a social class and experiences many systematic advantages.

The members of the organization tries to defend the purpose of the organization by emphasizing how different subgroups of male gender students have different experience regarding their gender identity, masculinity, social expectations, etc. However, many students continue to argue that such issues can be addressed within cultural and social groups already present on campus. For example, a Hispanic cultural group can host an event regarding how they deal with masculinity in the context of their own culture, norms in American society and on campus, instead of relying on an external event hosted by external board members of another organization who do not fully understand what issues are the most relevant and prevalent to Hispanic male students.

As the debate grows and spreads throughout the campus, there are further objection and hostility from around the campus. Students label Male@MIT as “epitome of first world problem.” Publicity emails are followed by long threads of hate mails and event locations are sabotaged. The members of the organization and students who attend the events are accused of whining about smallest inconveniences while being completely ignorant of many privileges they hold, and their names are called out in public.

Quickly, male students from minor communities, such as minor ethnicity and LGBTQ+, stop being involved in the organization and its events. The organization does not provide strong enough of a support, and it is not worth facing the general hatred associated with the organization. This decrease in diversity further perpetuates criticism against the organization failing to truly embrace and support oppressed and underprivileged male students.

Most active voices from both sides—advocating the existence of Male@MIT and protesting it—are strongly emotional and come from personal and vulnerable experiences. Both sides are unwilling to listen to the other side, and every opposition and disagreement is taken harshly and as a personal attack.

Moreover, the tension spreads to outside the context of Male@MIT and to general student body. Every action and conflict is framed in gender binary context and gender discrimination. Different gender identities are overlooked. More importantly, complex intersection and relationship between gender and other components such as race, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, social class, religious affiliation, ability, etc. are ignored. Everyone is accused of either being the oppressor or playing the victim based on their binary gender identity. People deeply involved in the conversation continuously feel hurt and angry, while many others are exasperated by unending conflict and want to leave the entire conversation regarding gender identity and discrimination.

Over time, gender identity and discrimination becomes a taboo topic, since it causes flame war and heated argument the moment it is brought up. Students find small, homogeneous groups they can belong in without conflict and primarily reside there. There is barely any interaction or exchange between different communities. The gap in people’s level of awareness increases, and people become unaware of how they can simultaneously experience more privileges in some aspect while facing more discrimination in other areas, instead of being strictly in one group.

IDEO Method: Fly on the Wall

I observed Cheney Room on Monday afternoon. The Margaret Cheney Room was made in 1884 to provide a safe space for women. Access is granted to any self-identified women and non-binary individuals who asks.

Despite the importance of gender in the motivation for founding of Cheney Room, the space itself does not have strong gender identity. There is a board of posters for events publicizing and available resources, but otherwise Cheney Room looks like any other lounge. The furnitures aren’t stereotypically feminine in terms of color and decoration. Overall dark neutral colors are used and room is dimly lit. There usually isn’t an active conversation going on, and most students are studying on their own or taking a short nap.

Still, students who stop by the lounge behaves differently from students I’ve seen in other lounges. Usually each student takes up a long couch, and spreads out their backpack, water bottle, notebooks, and laptop. Essential and valuable items such as phone, student id, laptop were more spaced out than they tend to be in other lounges or common spaces, which seemed to indicate students felt safer and felt like they had more space under control. About a third of student had their shoes off and most were in a laid back position.

Students didn’t look up when the door opened, even though it made a loud sound. This seemed partly due to the fact that they weren’t expecting anyone related to them (ex. there were no meetings or group projects happening) and were all focusing on themselves and partly because there is a baseline understanding that everyone entering the room is someone who knows what the space is for and agrees to its purposes and rules. In this sense, Cheney Room served not as a safe space for women, but a safe space for being alone and away from public. Even though it was a common space, it was almost like each person was in their own compartment where they can be in whatever state is comfortable for them.

Ecosystem Map of Bullying

Bullying is a pervasive problem in the US. 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that about 20% of students in grades 9–12 report being bullied on school property. Bullying can result in decreased academic performance, physical harm, and mental health issues for those bullied, and increased violence and substance abuse for those bullying.

There are state laws and policies on bullying, as well as many federal and non-federal resources that provide training on bullying prevention and intervention and support for victims of bullying. Nevertheless, bullying remains frequent, and there needs to be a stronger change that uses current resources more effectively and can bring more fundamental change in addressing this issue.

(p.s. I added a photo of my ecosystem map below, which shows up fine in edit mode, but doesn’t appear on the uploaded post. Not sure if this is a problem with my browser setting.)

Designing a Convening

This convening is a mix of pitch competition and discussion workshop. The goal of the convening is to have people open up and share their thoughts and experiences regarding bullying. While this convening is not a direct solution to the problem, it will serve as the first step in understanding its graveness and how it impacts lives of individuals.

The 5 core values of this convening are:

  • We are respectful: We believe that everyone is worthy of respect and are respectful towards others and self.
  • We are open: We understand that everyone has different experiences regarding the same topic. We always listen and are ready to embrace opinions different from our own.
  • We are inclusive: We believe that diversity leads to a solution that is creative and just, a solution that does not exclude or disadvantage a certain group.
  • We believe that people can change people: We are optimistic that people have the power to change other people’s thoughts and beliefs, however slow and difficult the process may be.
  • We are community-driven: We believe in power of community in prevention and support. We aim to build such communities that will last beyond this event.


This convening includes diverse group of people: victims of bullying, their parents and family, people who have been part of bullying, people who have been bystanders, teachers, workers at help centers, therapists, police, lawmakers, and anyone invested in the topic. People can sign up to give a 1-5 minute pitch, where they can share personal experience, offer constructive criticism on how to improve current system, publicize available resources, etc.

As pitches take place, people can form breakout sessions at tables at the back and start discussion about a certain topic. For example, it might be a further Q&A with the speaker that just spoke, or inspired by the pitch, someone might start brainstorming new school policy to detect bullying early and respond to it. Each table will display their topic on the monitor and a list of ongoing breakout session topics will be available on screens along the wall in the main pitch session, so that interested people can come join.

There are rules for breakout sessions (ex. you must let a person finish speaking, no insults or derogatory comments), as well as moderators that ensure breakout sessions are held in a respectful manner. Moderators’ job is not to direct conversation, but make sure the rules for respect are kept and supply the group with materials needed for creative, collaborative process (ex. big paper to draw sketches on, iPads to create a shared document on).

3 Issues I’m Thinking About

High Tuition in the US (and ensuing Student Debt)


The government can regulate tuition by setting a maximum tuition limit, and then have each school find out how to meet the limit. This approach is a bit dangerous and could be either effective or have unexpected toll on certain groups depending on how each school deals with it. Schools may identify unnecessary portions in administration that can be streamlined, cut down on staff, or find external funding sources.

There can also be a policy for certifying alternative educational institute (e.g. online courses, studying abroad), so that they are acknowledged and given the same benefits as having a degree from a traditional institute (e.g. in job opportunities). If change in policy gives cheaper alternatives similar competitiveness, this will affect education market and tuition may come down.


As slightly mentioned above, alternative educational institutes such as online educational platforms could be built and publicized to gain social acknowledgement.

There can also be platforms to help people understand the issue and status quo better. For example, one platform might gather data from enrolling students how much they are actually paying for tuition (after special discounts, school aid, etc.). If data reveals that a university practically collects and operates on only 70% of stated tuition, there will be a greater understanding of financial status quo and a stronger urge to tackle the issue (This can also provide a guideline for setting legal limit above). Another platform can list tuition for international and domestic universities and opportunities to apply to institutes abroad to broaden people’s perspective and education market.




Two complementary set of law can be set that when a bullying incident happen, 1) if a student bullying is in need of help (e.g. domestic violence), s/he is connected to appropriate resources in hope of solving the underlying cause of bullying and prevent recurrence of bullying but also 2) bullying (especially repeated bullying) is met with harsh punishment. Such policy will be implemented at both school level and state/federal level.


In addition to school resources, there can also be private companies with 24/7 hotline or resources for those who don’t feel comfortable seeking help within school or in case the school resources have low capacity.


To reduce bullying in school, norms of both children and adults (namely parents & teachers) need to be affected. In addition to factual workshops on how to identify bullying and how to seek/respond to help, an emotional workshop that shows stories from children who’ve been bullied can be more effective in bringing out empathy and conveying graveness of the issue.

Furthermore, accepting diversity and differences should be incorporated into everyday life not just in special workshops. A reading class featuring books with diverse main characters or a cultural show and tell can help shape how children react to differences, although not directly targeted at solving bullying.


Code can help with specific type of bullying: cyberbullying. Automatic detection of bullying pattern and verifying accounts, combined with real life consequences (e.g. subject to same punishment by law instead of simple account suspended limited to cyber space) can be effective.


Student Mental Health/Depression


Law can mandate schools to maintain a certain student to counselor ratio so that students can receive timely and extensive help. Law can further manipulate the market to increase insurance coverage regarding mental health or lower the price of treatment for mental illness to make it more accessible.


Attitude towards mental illness or treatment can be improved through multiple methods. There can be a newsletter or a blog where people (e.g. mix of high-profile and local people) share their stories regarding mental illness. There can also be a peer-to-peer support platform that can be searched by location, school, subject, etc. to share thoughts and resources and build help system outside of formal institutes.

Project Reflection

I will write about a small project I did on assistive technology, since bigger projects I’ve worked on were more about overcoming technical challenges rather than addressing a social issue. Even through a technical problem, such as improving running time of an algorithm, does influence society (e.g. What solutions are now made viable through this improvement in performance?), I think it’s more beneficial to look at a focused case for this critique exercise.

Through this project, I wanted to provide learning and socializing environment complementary to traditional classroom for children with autism. Many children with autism show high motivation in their fields of interest and starkly low interest in other areas. They often have high sensitivity and many social interactions considered norms in American culture (e.g. eye contact) tend to cause stress. As a result, teachers often characterize children with autism as being distracted, unmotivated in topics outside their interests, and having issues with social interactions.

As one way to help alleviate this problem, my project partner and I built a two-player math game that is highly customizable to fit each child’s field of interest and endorses indirect social interactions through cooperative play. People affected by this problem include children with autism (with enormous variations within this category), parents and family, teachers, and children without autism. At the time, we had input from the first three groups, but did not think about how this may affect other children in the classroom or how the classroom dynamics might be affected if this game and device were to be incorporated into the classroom.

I think the best people to tackle this problem would be a group of teachers from specialized schools that teach only children with autism, teachers that teach a mix of children with and without autism, parents of children with autism, children and adults with autism, education theory specialist, child psychologist, and education policy/law maker. My partner and I were too focused on the problem of alleviating the symptom of children with autism not being integrated into classroom, we did not consider solutions to bigger questions such as what type of classroom structure is suitable, or is it desirable for children with autism to conform to social norms (i.e. is this really a problem to begin with).

The game was designed as an alternative classroom activity. We ran only behavioral studies and the game was not actually implemented in a classroom, but some predictable consequences are: if used as an alternative classroom activity for children with autism, the game may create a sense of division between children with autism and without autism as they participate in separate activities. Also since the game is played on a tablet, it may create some fixation with or dependency on the device, which may steer children away from human-to-human interactions and have them prefer interactions with the device.

What brought me here?

Hi, I’m Abigail, an MEng student in EECS. I grew up in Texas and Seoul, Korea, which were two quite different experience.

Education is highly-valued and highly-competitive in Korea. Especially back when I was in high school, school grades and national exam grades were completely relative, so that only the top 4% of students received A, the next 7% B, and so on.

Moreover, schools had very rigid structure. My school, for example, had regular classes 8am-5pm, special after school classes 6-9pm, and mandatory study hall in complete silence 9-11pm. I went to a private school, so it was a bit more extreme, but most schools still had the same schedule, just off by a couple hours. (So it’s not too surprising when I first came to MIT as a freshman and thought ‘Wow, MIT is so….chill?’)

I do not agree with a lot of philosophy behind Korean educational system, but one pro is that there is a rich abundance of high quality learning resources readily available—spanning workbooks, online videos, and private tutors. After all, education is a big market and high competition applies to content providers as well.

I would like to find a way to utilize those existing network and resources as more than simple boosters to help students get ahead in the competition. There were great resources and lecturers I encountered that helped me connect different subjects and develop critical thinking, and yet their strengths are overlooked or merely advertised as means to help students get better grades. Perhaps, there is a way to shed light on their alternative values and eventually shift the approach to education.