Princeton Course Focuses On Fixing ‘Racist’ Soap Dispensers

A Princeton University course focuses on correcting “racist” technology like “soap dispensers” that “don’t see dark skin” and cameras that “misidentify black faces.”

QUICK FACTS:
  • A Princeton course is offering what it presents as solutions to fight the “racial biases built in tech” and building “actively anti-racist solutions” using technology, according to Campus Reform.
  • The course—titled “Can We Build Anti-Racist Technologies?”—has produced “actively anti-racist solutions” during this year’s spring 2021 session. 
  • It teaches students to “build and test systems that embrace anti-racism as a core value.”
  • Examples of racist technologies range “[f]rom soap dispensers that don’t see dark skin, to facial recognition tools that misidentify black faces.”
Screenshot of the “Can We Build Anti-Racist Technologies?” course from coursicle.com taken July 13, 2021
WHAT THE ‘PRINCETON ALUMNI WEEKLY’ IS REPORTING:
  • The Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW) is a Princeton University-based news magazine that “keeps Princeton alumni connected to each other and to their university,” according to its website.
  • One team of students led by Dora Zhao hopes to “reimagine spaces on campus to be more inclusive and celebratory of people of color” with an augmented reality (AR) tool, according to PAW. With this device, students can use smartphones to “replace” the name of campus buildings with “impactful people of color.”
  • PAW lists Stanhope Hall, named after Samuel Stanhope Smith, a former Princeton president who had slaves, as one example. Stanhope hall had two of its rooms renamed in 2017 after “Black Princetonians.”
  • Two buildings named after Woodrow Wilson will be renamed, Princeton announced in June 2020.
  • Zhao also told PAW that another “anti-racist” solution will come in the form of a website built to “unearth the actual racist legacy that may exist at the sites that we chose.”
BACKGROUND:
Screenshot from Janet.Vertesi.com taken July 13, 2021
  • “This is not a class where the professor knows all the answers. This is a class where we are going to work together on something very new,” Vertesi told PAW.