According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, only 25 percent of professional computing occupations in the US were held by women in 2011. Additionally, only three percent were African-American women, four percent were Asian women, and one percent were Hispanic women.
A Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization, DIVAS for Social Justice, is hoping to change those numbers with its programming, which encourages students to use multimedia projects to discuss social justice and other issues facing their communities. DIVAS, which stands for Digital, Interactive, Visual Arts, and Sciences, launched five years ago as a way to get students in underserved neighborhoods more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Clarisa James, the executive director and co-founder of the program, said that she and her co-founder, Sha Sha Feng, met while in an integrated media arts graduate program at Hunter College and noticed a lack of people of color not only in the program, but also among the faculty. The duo launched DIVAS for Social Justice in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, hoping to reach underserved students, especially young women, there.
“There is a real need in central Brooklyn for our students to connect with technology, but also to become the future leaders in STEM,” James told Madame Noire. “Our focus in the last five years has been encouraging the students we work with to do media-driven projects around the issues in their community, around real social justice issues.”
DIVAS has offered several programs, including Through My Lens, which is a 10-week workshop on media literacy and documentary production skills, and Imaging Ourselves, an eight-week program that the fundamentals of digital photography and Adobe Photoshop and also discusses how images of women of color are manipulated in the media. In November, DIVAS launched a robotics team, led by volunteer and Pace University professor Andrea Taylor.
Taylor is leading the team of six young women—a project manager, a programmer, a documentarian, a researcher, a designer, and a data recorder—through a six-week program, and will hopefully take the team to the national Lego League robotics tournament organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in early 2013.
DIVAS has set up an IndieGoGo page to raise money for travel expenses to the competition, as well as additional resources and tools.
As for future goals, James said, “We are looking to launch a multimedia after school program and do more with robotics. We’re applying for funding.” The multimedia project would culminate in an online magazine that would include articles and videos written and recorded by the students, encouraging them to get out in their communities and report on issues there.
One of the benefits of DIVAS for Social Justice is that James, Feng, and other supervisors have been able to see the students grow and mature.
“There are some young women who have been in the program since they were 10 years old and now they are teenagers, so it’s been wonderful to watch their growth and interest in technology and watch them take on leadership positions within the organization,” she said. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the relationships I see them build with each other.”
With the robotics team and goals for 2013, DIVAS is ready to make a difference in neighborhoods in Brooklyn. James summed it up when she said, “We want them to be the pride of Bed-Stuy!”