Fired for Speaking Out Against Anti-Blackness and Ethnic Cleansing: Open Letter to Cornell Tech

Image Source: Inside Higher Ed

I was fired last week from Cornell Tech by Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Associate Professor Tapan Parikh for calling out South Asian anti-Blackness with a GIF and speaking out against ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. My termination is part of a broader pattern in academia and industry of silencing Black scholars who speak out against injustice. It also sends a horrifying message to Tegaru and other marginalized people that the systematic state sanctioned and extrajudicial rape, murder and starvation they’re experiencing can’t even be spoken.

On March 23, 2021, my friend (and newly minted Assistant Professor at the University of Washington) Sucheta Ghoshal posted her Critical Technology Practice syllabus on Twitter. Many people responded with positive affirmations, including senior scholars Lilly Irani and Andre Brock, because the syllabus was centered on Black and indigenous scholars towards a framework for liberatory technologies and practice. However, a series of South Asian scholars began to question the absence of “global south scholars” which I knew with relational/contextual information was truly a gesture to “Why so Black?”.

Particularly, the suggestion for Sucheta to take a hint from Tapan Parikh’s Revolutionary Technology syllabus was upsetting because having worked with him since 2018, I knew that it featured almost zero Black scholars. In fact, the only Indian scholar assigned was Gandhi, well known for being anti-Dalit, anti-Black and slept naked with children as a “celibacy test”

In lieu of an essay length response a layered critique requires, I posted a GIF of Kamala Harris sipping tea sans text. The politics here might not be immediately legible, but Harris’ ascension to the second highest office in the United States is inextricably linked to the immense social privilege she inherited by being born to a Tamil Brahmin mother, extensive career as a prosecutor and her mandate to create a Bureau of Children’s Justice which might be the Clinton Crime Bill of our era in its ambitious expansion of juvenile detention and child protective services. Indian caste discrimination is imported into Silicon Valley. The few Dalit engineers who receive an H1B visa come to the United States only to find the caste system thriving here as well.

This sole interaction produced a series of egregious, racist direct messages from Tapan Parikh on Twitter. (I did not post anything publicly besides this GIF until after he harassed and fired me.) He attempted to threaten Sucheta through me stating “all these kinds of actions do is make it harder for ppl like sucheta to get tenure because they have to decide whether they want to sit at this lunch table or the other one” and unprompted drew in the Ethiopian state’s Oromo-phobic rhetoric, stating “anyway u and noname can go start your black liberation oromo front and make podcasts, remixes or whatever. I dont think I share a lot in common with that agenda, nor u for that matter.” Like the Minnesota activists who organized protests demanding justice for George Floyd and #OromoProtests speaking out against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as Oromo diaspora, it’s impossible for me to ignore the transnational connections between the murder of Black Americans by the State here and the murder of Oromo protesters by the State in Ethiopia.

I replied asking for him to leave me alone because this was so ignorant that I needed to disengage, but he proceeded to harass me with 17 additional messages for over 6 hours. Around 10pm I repeated my request for him to leave me alone and he stopped. The following morning I received a 2 sentence email stating I was fired and requesting my University ID be returned to campus.

On March 26th, Tap sent an “apology email” to Sucheta “My immediate issues with [Khadijah] were related to some of her incendiary social media comments abt the brewing ethnic conflict in Ethiopia.” I’ve been outspoken about the state sanctioned and extrajudicial murders in Tigray since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a war against his own people in November. There’s substantial evidence suggesting the systematic rape and killings of Tegaru civilians meet the criteria for genocide (further independent investigation is required to legally substantiate the scale of violence by the Eritrean as well as Ethiopian military). I’m also working on a report investigating the role of Facebook in facilitating the war and it’s alarming that this urgently needed work would be levied against me as cause for termination.

This contributes to an already chilling atmosphere for Black tech scholars following the high profile termination of AI Ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, by Google. What’s most concerning is the message it sends to Tegaru and other marginalized ethnic groups in Ethiopia when someone can be silenced for even tweeting about the crimes against humanity they are facing.

Demands

You can sign this letter by emailing BlackScholarshipMatters@protonmail.com with your name and affiliation (if applicable)

  1. I demand immediate reinstatement as lecturer in the Cornell Tech Milstein Summer Humanities & Technology Program and privileges associated with being a year round Visiting Researcher at Cornell Tech. Additionally, I expect this reinstatement to accomodate for my safety so I will not be vulnerable to Tapan Parikh’s racist harassment.
  2. A public, written apology from Tapan Parikh and communication from the Dean Greg Morrisett about how Tapan will be held accountable for his egregious behavior.
  3. A statement from Dean Greg Morrisett detailing how academic freedom will be protected at the university given the dangerous precedent my dismissal sets.
  4. There have been no full time, Black faculty at Cornell Tech since its founding. This has always been unacceptable and I demand that a cohort of Tenure track Black faculty be hired in the HCI and/or Computer Science department.

*4/11, the fourth demand is corrected to read “there have been no full time Black faculty”

We the undersigned condemn Tapan Parikh’s actions and support the demands listed:

  1. Meredith Whittaker, Faculty Director and Co-Founder of AI Now Research Institute at NYU

2. Timnit Gebru, AI Ethics Researcher

3. Safiya Umoja Noble, Co-Director of Center for Critical Internet Inquiry (C2I2) at UCLA

4. Sarah Roberts, Co-Director of Center for Critical Internet Inquiry (C2I2) at UCLA

5. Rashida Richardson, Visiting Professor at Rutgers Law School

6. Veena Dubal, Associate Professor, UC Hastings School of Law

7. Virginia Eubanks, Associate Professor of Political Science, University at Albany

8. Andre Brock, Associate Professor, School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech University

9. Lilly Irani, Associate Professor, Communication, Science Studies, Computer Science, Critical Gender Studies, Design Lab at UC San Diego

10. Rachel Thomas, AI Ethics researcher

11. Ali Alkhatib, Interim Director, Center for Applied Data Ethics, University of San Francisco

12. Awol Allo, Senior Lecturer in Law at Keele University and Fung Global Fellow at Princeton University

13. Niloufar Salehi, Assistant Professor at the School of Information at UC, Berkley

14. Julia Powles, Associate Professor of Law and Technology at The University of Western Australia

15. Vass Bednar, Executive Director, Master of Public Policy in Digital Society Program at McMaster University

16. Helen Pritchard, Associate Professor in Queer Feminist Technoscience, i-DAT, University of Plymouth

17. Elleni Centime Zeleke, Assistant Professor of African Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University

18. Mutale Nkonde, Executive Director of AI for the People

19. Shakeer Rahman, Race and Technology Fellow at Stanford University and Stop LAPD Spying Member

20. Michael Falco, Associate Director, INCITE at Columbia University

21. Ben Tarnoff, Logic Magazine

22. Maywa Montenegro, Assistant Professor, University of Santa Cruz

23. Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Co-Lead, Our Data Bodies; Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science

24. Brian Jefferson, Associate Professor, Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

25. Amy Mulzer, Elie Hirschfeld Family Defense Fellow at NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic

26. Chris Dancy, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Bucknell University

27. Xiaowei R. Wang, Logic Magazine/PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley

28. Joshua Scannell, Assistant Professor of Digital Media Theory at New School’s School of Media Studies

29. Julie Lee, University College London

30. Dan Bouk, Colgate University

31. Mohamad Junaid, Assistant Professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

32. Treva Ellison, Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Pomona College

33. Carrie Freshour, Assistant Professor at University of Washington, Seattle and Cornell Alum

34. Sucheta Ghoshal, Assistant Professor at University of Washington, Seattle

35. Sophie Wang, Co-Founder and Member, Free Radicals

36. Hafsa Kanjwal, Assistant Professor at Lafayette College

37. August Guang, Senior Genomics Data Scientist at Brown University

38. Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer and convenor of Critical Information Studies (CIS)

39. Silvia Lindtner, Associate Professor at University of Michigan

40. Alejandro Villalpando, Assistant Professor, Pan African and Latin American Studies, California State University, Los Angeles

41. Bianca Wylie, Co-Founder, Digital Public

42. Sean McDonald, Co-Founder, Digital Public

43. Jason Zevin, Associate Professor, Psychology and Linguistics, University of Southern California

44. Mimi Onuoha, Independent Artist

45. Aimi Hamraie, Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, and Society and American Studies, and director of the Mapping Access Project at Vanderbilt University

46. Fatuma Bedhaso, Oromo Activist and Human Rights Graduate Student

47. Mir Suhail, Kashmiri Cartoonist

48. Desmond Upton Patton, Associate Professor of Social Wor and Director of SAFElab at Columbia School of Social Work

49. Katherine Weinschenk, University of Virginia

50. Jathan Sadowski, Machines Kill Podcast

51. Ayantu Tibeso, Information Studies, UCLA

52. Chris Gilliard, Professor at Macomb Community College

53. Romi (Ron) Morrison, University of Southern California

54. Andrea Miller, Assistant Professor of Social Media and Digital Cultures, School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, Florida Atlantic University

55. Mikaela Brown, Cornell Tech Alumni

56. Andrea Cuadra, PhD candidate in Cornell Tech IS Department

57. Abraham Zere, Freelance Journalist

58. Paul Duke, Software Engineer (Contesting firing from Google)

59. Victoria Copeland, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

60. Alex Sanchez, Free Radicals

61. Amelia Spooner, Phd Student, Columbia University

62. Joyce McMillan, Founder of Parent Legislative Action Network

63. Merertu Kitila, Oromo Activist

64. Daniela K. Rosner, University of Washington

65. Tricia Wang, Tech Ethnographer

66. Saadia Muzaffar

67. Sophia Mo, Phd student at Columbia University

68. Dylan Iannitelli PhD student at NYU

69. Lexie Cook, PhD student at Columbia University

70. Yasemin Akçagünar, PhD student at Columbia University

71. Margaret Mitchell, AI Researcher

72. Metti Girma, Honors College Scholar at University of North Texas

73. Emily Tseng, PhD Student in Information Science, Cornell Tech

74. Roderic N. Crooks, Assistant Professor Department of Informatics Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) at University of California, Irvine

75. Tegan Wilson, Computer Science PhD Student, Cornell University

76. Julia Voss, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition, Santa Clara University

77. Liza Gak, PhD Student, UC Berkeley School of Information

78. Varoon Mathur, Technology Fellow, AI Now Institute at NYU

79. Tonya Nguyen, PhD student at UC Berkeley

80. Jeffrey Gleason, Incoming Computer Science PhD Student

81. Liza Gak, PhD Student, UC Berkeley School of Information

82. David Carroll, Associate Professor, School of Art, Media and Technology, Parsons School of Design, The New School

83. Cindy Lin, UMSI PhD candidate, incoming postdoc at Cornell University

84. Seda Gürses, Associate Professor in the Department of Multi-Actor Systems at TU Delft at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management

85. Chinasa T. Okolo, Computer Science PhD Student at Cornell University

86. William Agnew, University of Washington, Queer in AI

87. Rutha Kidane

88. Daniil Vodopian, a software engineer at Google

89. Stacy E. Wood MLIS, PhD, Director of Research at UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry

90. Sayash Kapoor, PhD student, Princeton University

91. Agazi Abay

92. Camille Andrews, Cornell University Library

93. Sathya Ragunathan, AI engineer, distill.io, India

94. Anne Jonas, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley School of Information

95. Tamara Kneese, Assistant Professor of Media studies at University of San Francisco

96. Dr. Susan Wyche, Associate Professor, Dept. of Media and Information, Michigan State University

97. Christiane Assefa, PhD Candidate, UCSD Ethnic Studies Department

98. Nathaniel A. Raymond, Lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University

99. Funetebirhan Wereta

100. Vandhana Ravi, Policy Fellow at UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry

101. Mar Hicks, Ph.D, Associate Professor of History of Technology, Humanities Department at Illinois Institute of Technology

102. Megan Aguirre

103. Christina Dunbar-Hester, Ph.D, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California

104. Erin Miles Cloud, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Movement for Family Power

105. Lisa Sangoi, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Movement for Family Power

106. Dan Adler, PhD Student in Information Science, Cornell Tech

107. Sarah Myers West, AI Now Institute at NYU

108. Stephen C. Rea Adjunct Instructor Colorado School of Mines

109. Zeerak Waseem, PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield

110. Kay L. Kirkpatrick, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

111. Sreela Sarkar, Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication, Santa Clara University

112. Justine Zhang, PhD Student, Information Science at Cornell University

113. Alexa Lempel, Cornell Tech Alum

114. Daniel G. Krutka, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Social Studies Education at University of North Texas

115. Petros Shumie

116. Cella Monet Sum, Researcher at UC Irvine, Incoming PhD Student at CMU HCII

117. Anil Kulkarni — Software Engineer @ Facebook

118. Sydette Harry

119. P M Krafft, Senior Lecturer, University of Arts London

120. Iris Bull, PhD Student, School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington

121. Maria Antoniak, PhD Candidate in Information Science, Cornell University

122. Nishant Subramani, Intel Labs

123. Bethlehem Zebib

124. Bruce Cohen

125. Neal Patwari

126. Bserat Ghebremicael, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

127. Michelle Tackabery, North Carolina Central University

128. Kavita Philip, Department of English Language and Literatures, University of British Columbia

129. Victor Petrov, Assistant Professor of History, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

130. Jasmine McNealy, JD, Ph.D Associate Professor at University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications

131. Natasha Lightfoot, Associate Professor, Columbia University Department of History

132. Ilan Mandel, PhD Student in Information Science, Cornell Tech

133. Ethan Key, PhD student in History at Boston University

134. Anoush Najarian, NeurIPS Meetup Chair, GHC (Grace Hopper Celebration) AI Track Chair

135. Teddie Vidolova, Hardware Engineer

136. Pallavi Rao, PhD Candidate, The Media School, Indiana University Bloomington

137. Abel Quintero, UX/QA Analyst, Out in Tech QTBIPOC+PDX Leadership

138. Elizabeth Resor, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley School of Information

139. Amiri Tulloch, Columbia University and WKCR FM

140. Jill Dimond, PhD Sassafras Tech Collective

141. Jessica Bethune

142. Sharrona Pearl, PhD., Bioethics and Science, Technology, and Society, Drexel University

145. Larisa Kingston Mann, Assistant Professor, Klein College of Media and Communication, Temple University

146. Kerri Winston, Incoming MBA student at Cornell University

147. SA Smythe, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies, UCLA

148. Brandeis Marshall, PhD, Professor of Computer Science at Spelman College and CEO of DataedX

149. Garrett Felber, Assistant Professor of History, University of Mississippi

150. Hanna Sebhat

151. Bill D. Herman, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Marketing, Metropolitan State University of Denver

152. Nantina Vgontzas, Postdoctoral Researcher, AI Now Institute, NYU

153. William J. Broussard, Ph. D. Minnesota State University-Mankato

154. Patrick Wight

155. Minali Aggarwal

156. Cameron Rasmussen, Center for Justice at Columbia University

157. Andrew Hume

158. Fana Gidey, MSA Candidate, Ryerson University

159. Siddharth Garg, Associate Professor, New York Unversity

160. Phillip Harrington, Web Application Developer

161. Ned Matheson

162. Sarah Tuttle, Assistant Professor of Astronomy, University of Washington

163. Miguel Barreto, Senior Software Engineer at Twitter

164. Dorothy R. Santos, Processing Foundation and Ph.D. Candidate at University of California, Santa Cruz

165. Anasuya Sengupta, Whose Knowledge?

166. Elizabeth Patitsas, Assistant Professor, McGill University

167. Erin LeDell, Chief Machine Learning Scientist at H2O.ai; Founder of Women in Machine Learning & Data Science (WiMLDS) organization

168. Claire Wilmot, Doctoral Researcher, London School of Economics, London, UK

169. Maria Farrell

170. Gebrekirstos Gebremeskel, Founder of mermru.com and Tghat.com. PhD candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen (Radboud Universiteit), the Netherlands

171. Maxine Davis, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of Texas at Arlington

172. Alex Hanna, Senior Research Scientist, Google Research

173. Jara Rocha, independent researcher currently collaborating on a project for TU Delft and Cornell Tech

174. Ted Pedersen, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Minnesota, Duluth

175. Konstantin Ritt, Technical University of Munich

176. Shimon Cohen, MSW, LCSW Host & Producer, Doin’ The Work podcast

177. Mariam Asad, PhD from Georgia Tech, currently at Sassafras Tech Collective

178. Metti Etefa

179. Drey Jonathan, MSLIS Student, Pratt Institute School of Information

180. Erin Truesdell, Digital Media Ph.D. student, Georgia Tech

181. Kimberly Wilber, Cornell Tech Alum

182. Safia Aidid, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto

183. Christopher Le Dantec, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology

184. Alex A. Ahmed, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Scholar, Carnegie Mellon University

185. Venkata S Govindarajan, The University of Texas at Austin

186. Sareeta Amrute, Data & Society Research Institute, University of Washington

187. Girma Tadesse, Co-Chair, Oromo Advocacy Alliance

188. Mustafa I. Hussain, PhD Candidate, Department of Informatics, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) at University of California, Irvine

189. Michael Madaio, postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research

190. Linda Musonza Equity/Fairness Advocate, UK

191. Laurence Berland, fired Google SRE and organizer

192. Charlotte Lee, Associate Professor, University of Washington

193. Devney Hamilton, Stanford BA & MSCS, Sassafras Tech Collective

194. Elizabeth Travelslight, MA MFA — Adjunct Professor, Critical Studies pronouns: she/her

195. Irene Knapp, Tech Inquiry

196. Aneesha Kommineni, Graduate Student, University of Washington’s Human Centered Design and Engineering program

197. Ero Balsa Postdoctoral research fellow at the Digital Life Initiative, Cornell Tech

198. Leah Horgan, University of California Irvine

199. Katreen Boustani, PhD student, School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington

200. Dr. Andrew Quitmeyer, Digital Naturalism Laboratories

201. Tanmayee Narendra, PhD student, University of Tübingen

202. Daniel D. Kelson, Member of the Scientific Staff, The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science

203. Jennifer Turns, Professor, University of Washington

204. Meg Young, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell Tech Digital Life Initiative

205. Meareg Hailemariam, Dakar American University of Science and Technology

206. Lyel Resner. Visiting Lecturer, Cornell Tech

207. Amanjeev Sethi

208. Kevin Lubin, Data Science Consultant

209. Rebecca Slivka, computer scientist, BA and MS from Cornell University

210. Laura Forlano, Associate Professor, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology

211. Robin Bacigalupo, NYC Department of Education

212. Elena Gormley, MSW Student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work

213. Jess Hohenstein, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Information Science, Cornell University

214. Adom Getachew, University of Chicago

215. Tom Smyth, Ph.D, Sassafras Tech Collective

216. Alastair Iles, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management at University of California, Berkeley

217. Saiba Varma, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UCSD

218. Summer Sullivan, PhD student, University of California, Santa Cruz

219. Linda Huber, Phd Student, University of Michigan School of Information

220. Mwenza Blell, Rutherford Fellow affiliated with Heath Data Research UK, Newcastle University, UK and Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators

221. Şerife Wong, Icarus Salon

222. Jenn Reed, Milstein Scholar and Undergraduate at Cornell University

223. Dana Francisco Miranda, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston

224. Ana Brandusescu, Professor of Practice, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal, McGill University

225. Rebecca Winkel, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute

226. Renata Barreto, JD/PhD Candidate Berkeley Law

227. Malak Abuhashim, Cornell University Student

228. Elizabeth Ominsky, Cornell University student, Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity

229. Gabriel Grill, Phd Student, University of Michigan School of Information

230. Gregory Butler, Brooklyn Borough Delegate, Allied Building Inspectors, IUOE, AFL-CIO

231. Seong-Hyun Ryoo, Georgia Tech

232. Pratiti Deb, Graduate Student, University of Chicago and Cornell Alumna

233. Max Hadden, Cornell University, Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity

234. Farid Azfa, Swarthmore

235. Christian Sandvig, H. Marshall McLuhan Collegiate Professor, School of Information, University of Michigan

236. Priyanka Dasgupta, Graduate Student, UC Berkeley

237. Mehma Bhasin, Graduate Student in Computer Science, Cornell Tech

238. Seth Donaldson, Machine Learning Engineer, Graduate Student at Columbia University

239. David A. Ayala-Usma, Computational Biologist

240. Azvan Amironesei, Research Fellow, Center for Applied Data Ethics, University of San Francisco

241. Meyhaa Buvanesh, Graduate Student, Cornell Tech

242. ava saheli singh, Postdoctoral Fellow in AI and Surveillance, University of Ottawa

243. David Golumbia, Associate Professor, English & Digital Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University

244. Abena Gyasi, Undergraduate Student at Cornell University, Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity

245. Lara Stapleton, writer and lecturer, Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York

246. Ruha Benjamin, Professor of African American studies at Princeton University

247. Cynthia Conti-Cook

248. Sajid Ali / PhD Candidate / Northwestern University

249. Charles Earl, Autmattic.com

Bearing witness to the present. Tentatively hopeful for the future. Middle name preferred. Follow me on twitter @upfromthecracks.