During quarantine, I set a goal for myself to read 30 books. This morning, I just finished the 18th book on my reading list, “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller. The memoir is nothing short of brilliant in the way that Miller teaches readers uplifting, hopeful lessons alongside the unbearable anguish and grief she and so many others across the globe have to endure due to systemic sexual assault. I hope that one day I will be lucky enough to meet Chanel, as she is such a strong and inspiring role model — I truly look up to her as a writer and activist. I write this article to collect my thoughts while reflecting on reading such a powerful book, and I have learned some things that I wish everyone knew:
The justice system is and always has been extremely broken. It seems almost untouched from the increasingly technological and equitable world that my generation is working to build. Instead, courts and the way they work come across as archaic artifacts from the past, with life changing sentences based on facts that have been manipulated so heavily by the people within the court system that they are essentially lies. Just as every system in society is built on sexist and racist ideas, our justice system is indeed another system under which the wealthy, straight, white male has always profited at the expense of everyone else.
There are a lot of truly amazing people in this world, and I forget that sometimes. When I read about how Chanel’s Victim Impact Statement spurred so much hope and love across the globe, I cried. The fact that victims, survivors, and allies from all different backgrounds can come together, even if for such a somber moment, is beautiful and gives me hope for the future despite everything.
Finally, as an aspiring engineer, I like to think about how technology comes into play when thinking about how to systematically prevent sexual assault and provide resources to sexual assault victims. Two thoughts come to my mind when thinking about this subject.
There is exciting existing technology that we can use in order to mitigate sexual assault. An example is one Chanel mentioned — we could have proper lighting in every backyard of a fraternity. We can also make sure to coordinate sharing iPhone locations with friends and family at all times, and have cameras placed on college campuses and in city alleys. We can definitely use social media to educate people on sexual assault and use modern teaching tools to teach our young boys and girls valuable lessons: Instead of a “boys will be boys” mentality, we can use games and apps to teach children a culture of consent and respect instead. These pieces of technology are really powerful and, if used right, can save lives. However, an equally important point came to mind while reflecting on this book:
Modern technology is not necessary in order to systematically prevent sexual assault. At any point in American history, no matter what tech had evolved, we could have worked within our governments to ensure not only that the court system would be fair(Bias training, preventing defendants from misleading victims/witnesses to get the answers they need to keep a guilty person out of jail), but we also could have been teaching our children about preventing sexual assault. Society just …. Didn’t. Why? The power systems in society today have been ingrained in many cultures since the dawn of modern history, so they’re tough to uproot. So, to reiterate, we are not waiting on a technological advancement in order to solve these systematic problems in society. Same with climate change, poverty, and racism — Technology might be able to mediate some symptoms and make improvements(Wind turbines, water filters, social media, to name a few), but the real answer lies in global systemic change, not a product.
I hope these points inspire some good thinking about the place of engineers and citizens in the world around us. Bit by bit, I believe that every individual in every industry has the power to make the world a better place for everyone — and I know that in the engineering world, that world changing work is extremely exciting. Let’s keep going.