Students complain that prof's op-ed made them feel bad

Students at the University of Washington are circulating an internal petition of concern after a computer science professor claimed that men and women are different. 

The controversy began on June 19, when UW-Seattle Professor Stuart Reges published an article in Quillette titled “Why Women Don’t Code,” in which he argued that women tend to not be as interested as men in coding due to sex differences. 

While he admits the title was hyperbolic—as he’s taught hundreds of women to code over the past two decades—Reges told Campus Reform that “one should never attribute to oppression that which is adequately explained by free choice.” 

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“If men and women are different, then we should expect them to make different choices,” he wrote in Quillette, before summarizing recent research discovering that women may be less likely to enter STEM fields due to their comparatively high verbal ability. 

“It is not lack of ability that causes females to [favor] non-STEM careers, but rather the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability and thus can consider a wider range of occupations,” he wrote, quoting a seminal 2013 study.

Further, Reges expressed concern that diversity initiatives backfire by gaslighting women into being afraid of men, especially as these initiatives often stress the “negative stories of men behaving badly in tech” at the expense of positive anecdotes. 

“Women will find themselves wondering if they should resent men,” he worried, adding that diversity efforts might alternatively make male geeks “find themselves feeling even more awkward around women than they would be otherwise.” 

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Not long after the piece was published, however, students at UW began criticizing the professor for his views.  

Members of the Diversity Allies listserv—which aims to create “allies to underrepresented groups in computer science”—drafted up a petition of concern, asking each other how the memo made them “feel” and if they should demand a “response” from the school. 

“Do you think the [school] should have an official response to this article?” an anonymous group of students pondered, asking each other to vote on what sort of response they would each like to see from the Allen School.

Reges told Campus Reform that the students’ response proves his point about sex differences, drawing a parallel with the backlash faced by ex-Google coder James Damore. 

“There was one group of people saying: this made us feel bad, and thus made us feel inferior. On the other side, you have these very logical men saying that Damore’s arguments are logically correct,” Reges said in a phone interview. 

With regard to the petition, Reges argued that while students “asked each other how [my memo] made them feel” they did not ask “do you think there’s any validity to his arguments?”

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“The response was all about how my article made made them feel,” he continued. “It reminds me of this 18th century view of women—they’re so fragile they need the smelling salts ready because they could faint at any moment.”

Four days after the article was published, the school responded by affirming its commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“Some of you may have read a recent editorial written by an Allen School faculty member about gender diversity in tech,” wrote Hank Levy, director of the UW School of Computer Science, in an internal email. 

“This is a good time to reaffirm our values,” he added.

While Levy did not link to Reges’ memo, he said the school “disagrees with the conclusion,” though school officials did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request to elaborate on that position. 

“We acknowledge that we have a long way to go, but [diversity] efforts work,” he wrote. “As you can see…women are interested in CS, and they do code!” 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen