My weekend at Hack(H)er

PHOTO COURTESY OF THEVENNPROJECT.ORG

PHOTO COURTESY OF THEVENNPROJECT.ORG

Claudia Olson ’22 | Features Editor

This weekend, I went to UMass Amherst and attended Hack(H)er 2019, the first hackathon exclusively for women and non-binary students in Western Massachusetts. For those unfamiliar, a “hackathon” is what it sounds like: a computation marathon. Teams are expected to create something from scratch using computers, whether their creation takes the shape of hardware, software or a website. The teams are given 24 hours to get their project done, and often teams use all 24 of those hours. Over 300 students attended the hackathon, a signal that the tech world could be becoming more equitable in terms of gender.

I worked with two Smith students and one from Champlain College. Shortly after forming our team, the four of us decided it was crucial to incorporate social justice into our project. We decided the best way to do this was to explore “intersectionality,” the idea that marginalized groups are all connected by the fact that they are oppressed by the same system. We wanted to promote a brand of activism focused on finding common ground between such groups and making sure individuals who belong to multiple marginalized communities have the resources they need to gain equality in society. Therefore, the goal of the project was to promote resources that benefit marginalized communities, especially the young people of the Pioneer Valley. We chose five identities to focus on: disability, sexuality/gender, socioeconomic status, mental illness and race. We first researched what resources would benefit each group separately then delved into what resources would support individuals who belonged to two or more marginalized communities. The best way to depict our goal was with a Venn diagram, a classic chart for comparisons and contrasts. Soon, we had a website and, eventually, a name: The Venn Project. By constructing a Venn diagram with interactive intersections, we could take the user to different web pages depending on where they clicked and what resources they were looking for. As we researched resources throughout the night, we realized how difficult it was to find programs designed to specifically benefit people in multiple identity groups and that it must be even harder if you don’t have the luxury of doing this research for fun but urgently need help specifically tailored to you. Our end product could not encompass all of our goals of social justice or every combination of marginalized identities, but it still became a site I am very proud of: thevennproject.org.

Besides working on the project, my teammates and I went to fun activities throughout the very long night. We tried out some logic puzzles, put on some face masks, played a couple rounds of Jenga, almost won a cup-stacking competition and took lots of photos along the way. We ended up working on the website and going to fun activities in between for the entire night, only getting a total of about two hours of sleep among all four of us. Finally, we were able to showcase our hard work on late Sunday afternoon. We demonstrated our website to a rotating panel of judges, explaining our collective passion for social justice and our hopes that more accessible data and resources will lead to more opportunities for marginalized groups. I am so grateful to my teammates for the work they contributed to this project and for the opportunity to participate in this feat. Together, we made something that has the potential for real positive change.

Sophian Smith