CSE 134B Midterm Study Guide Defaced with Racial Slur; Professor Responds

The online study guide for the CSE 134B midterm was defaced 86 times with the word “nigger” by an unnamed student on Sunday, Oct.29 at around 11:50 p.m., the night before the midterm.

CSE 134B: Web Client Languages Design is an upper division computer science course taught by Professor Thomas Powell, which focuses on the implementation of interactive web clients using helper applications and plug-ins. The collaborative study guide, a Google Doc, was distributed through a Slack channel created by Powell; only students in the class would have had access to the document.

“I don’t think there have been incidents this bad before,” said a student of color in the 128-person class who declined to be named. “Not that I have experienced.” Although the incident happened last week, she said that she still hasn’t had time to fully think about its implications.

“In this case, it doesn’t seem like ignorance. I think someone did it because they knew what kind of reaction they’d get,” she said. “I’ve had so many midterms, I haven’t had time to really process it. Things like this do happen, and you don’t want to desensitize people to how big of a problem this is.”

Other students in the class, like fourth year student Raymond Arevalo, think that incidents of racism and sexism often go unnoticed.  

“It’s common behavior,” said Arevalo, who posted about the incident on Facebook. “This is not the first time this has happened in a computer science class.”

Arevalo was made aware of the changes to the document by his suitemate and subsequently posted screenshots online. “If I didn’t post anything, nobody would have said anything,” Arevalo said. “It happens all the time.”

Powell, who has lectured at UC San Diego since 1999, did not respond to a request for comment via email. He addressed the changes made to the study guide during class on November 1, following the midterm.

Instead of moving forward with the originally planned lecture, Powell began class with a lecture on web anonymity. Powell described that it’s actually fairly easy to discover someone who anonymously makes edits to a document when they don’t take serious security precautions.

“Someone, somehow, somewhere knows what you’ve done,” he said during the lecture. “The reality is that you are not anonymous online.”

Powell did not provide any names or indicate that he would be punishing the student. Instead, he took up roughly half the class time to emphasize the disrespectful nature of making racist comments online, and how, if discovered, this can lead to a lack of future job prospects.

“The internet is real life, because the things you do there are things you do in real life. If you want to yell out a racial slur, you should just yell it out right now,” he said to the class.

Moving forward, Powell said that all study guides will now only be accessible when a student is using their assigned UCSD email address. He said that students should operate under the assumption that any inappropriate activity will be resolved to the student “IRL” and dealt with “IRL.”

Gabe Schneider is the News Editor at The Triton.