• Thu. Dec 7th, 2023

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Data ethicist to discuss how technology can impact racism at week-long public event

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Leading data ethicist and criminal justice consultant Renée Cummings is coming to Grand Rapids next week for a public series to discuss how data can be biased.

She’ll talk about how using biased data, especially as it relates to technology, can influence systemic racism.

“Disrupting Data Injustice” is a weeklong exploration about how the use of data can lead to racial disparities in criminal justice and incarceration, education, employment, health care and other community systems.

The series, open to the public, kicks off Monday, Nov. 14, and runs through Thursday, Nov. 17 with events at different locations.

The initiative is being led by The Delta Project, Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, West Michigan chapter of Public Relations Society of America, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Valley State University, and a consortium of technology businesses, according to a news release from The Delta Project.

Cummings, a former journalist and public relations practitioner, is a professor of practice in data science and the first data ethicist in residence at the University of Virginia.

She studies the impact of algorithms and artificial intelligence on criminal justice, specifically in communities of color and incarcerated populations, according to the release.

“Organizations need to develop a culture that is ethical, open and committed to issues such as accountability, transparency and explainability,” said Cummings.

“We need to understand bias and discrimination, and how our data needs to be reimagined and redefined. Wherever you are, you represent several communities with different facets—within your industry or profession, the groups you actively support, your neighborhood, schools and at home.”

“We need informed people on the front line where the action is happening, where the technologies are being designed, developed and deployed, and where the debates are happening on how to do this ethically.”

Here’s a list of Disrupting Data Injustice events that are open to the public:

  • Monday, Nov. 14: Grand Valley State University Disrupting Data Injustice: An Evening with Renée Cummings, 5-6:30 pm. More information here.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 15: Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Rise Together: Diversity & Talent Summit – Afternoon Keynote
  • Thursday, Nov. 17: West Michigan PRSA, How to Talk About What We Don’t Want to Talk About: Driving Conversations About Racial Injustice. 4-5:30 p.m., online and in-person at The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, 1530 Madison Avenue SE. Register here.

At the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America’s signature Diversity Equity and Inclusion event, the focus will be on how businesses and community organizations can choose when and how to speak up about injustices. The event is especially relevant with West Michigan getting national attention after the killing of Patrick Lyoya, the release said.

Cle Jackson, president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, stressed the importance of educating communities who are disproportionately impacted by data bias.

“When we talk about race and justice, we’re talking about the ways that discrimination, policing, prosecution, and incarceration practices impact Black communities,” Jackson said in a statement. “Focusing on the role data plays in this space can help ensure that ethical data use improves public safety and community well-being for all stakeholders.”

Joel Van Kuiken, WMPRSA member and The Delta Project Co-founder, had the vision for the weeklong event involving Cummings, according to the release. He said he’s grateful for Cummings to be sharing her knowledge and perspective with the Grand Rapids community.

“Biased data has the potential to create an inequitable future, and we won’t even realize it’s happening,” Van Kuiken said. “That’s why it’s important to discuss now what we want our future to look like.”

The weeklong exploration is sponsored by: The Wege Foundation, The Heart of West Michigan United Way, The Michigan Municipal League, Grand Valley State University College of Education and Community Innovation, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, The Children’s Advocacy Center, The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Atomic Object, Carnevale and more, according to the release.

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