Building an Inclusive Community

Salil Vadhan, OpenDP Faculty Co-Director

Dear OpenDP Community, 

Like many others, we on the OpenDP team are angered and saddened by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many Black Americans before them.  We spent last Wednesday participating in #ShutDownSTEM, reflecting on the systemic racism in academia and the tech industry and how we can work towards eliminating it.  

Launching a new initiative like OpenDP offers us a unique opportunity to build a community that is truly inclusive and learns from anti-racist leaders.  While we are still in the early stages of educating ourselves on how we can do this, I would like to share our ideas so far and would love to hear your thoughts on these and other approaches we can take.

  1. Code of Conduct.  We have posted an initial Code of Conduct for OpenDP adapted from the short version of the NumFocus Code of Conduct.  We will not tolerate any form of harassment or discrimination of community members, regardless of disability, gender identity and expression, physical appearance, race, religion, or sexual orientation.  Over the coming months, we will augment this with more detailed standards of behavior and reporting mechanisms. 

  2. Diversity of Participation. We are committed to building and being held accountable to a diverse community for OpenDP, at every scale, from the core leadership and software development teams to the broader set of stakeholders who use, contribute to, or are impacted by OpenDP software.  To this end, we will perform outreach and recruiting in venues that will reach underrepresented groups, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, HBCU Connect, the NSBE Annual Convention, the Tapia Conference on Diversity in Computing, and WECode. 

  3. Impact of our Software.  Like all technologies, differential privacy software can be designed and used in ways that have positive or negative effects on different groups.  While we may not be able to control everything about how the OpenDP software is used by others, we must do our best to direct it towards applications that are consistent with our values.  In particular, the interests of underrepresented and vulnerable communities should inform our search for use cases and guide the customization of the software for those applications. To this end, we will reach out to organizations and leaders that represent and serve these communities to provide input to our work.   

  4. Care with Symbolism.  Names and images, and the messages they send, matter.  For this reason, we and Microsoft are actively in the process of finding a new name for the differential privacy system that we have been developing together, and hope to finalize a new name soon.  Regardless of the intended meaning, the current name risks reinforcing the problematic practice of using “white” to mean good or safe (cf. “whitelist”).  We are committed to building processes to ensure that we do not perpetuate racist, misogynistic, or hateful frames.

  5. Sustained Accountability.  We will hold ourselves accountable to the Community and our Advisory Board for sustaining our commitment to inclusion and against discrimination in our work. Our annual reports will include a section describing the state of our efforts to support and engage underrepresented and vulnerable groups, including but not limited to metrics on the diversity of our community and leadership.  

I hope that all of you in the OpenDP Community will support and contribute to our efforts to combat the racism and exclusion that surrounds us.  Please send us your feedback (including suggesting organizations or leaders we might work with on these issues) and do let us know when we make mistakes so that we can do better.