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Social Justice Day: Language in Pursuit of Social Justice

As part of UMD's Social Justice Day, we hosted a series of talks on the role of language in social justice issues.

John Baugh (Wash U) discussed his research on the role of dialect in housing discrimination, and how he has worked to fight dialect-based racial discrimination as an expert witness in trials, and in collaboration with the Department of Justice. (Check out his new book, "Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice"!)

Susan Ehrlich (York U) discussed a recent example of her work analyzing the language used in sexual assault trials to demonstrate how the legal system often re-victimizes women and perpetuates rape culture. In this case--the 2013 Steubenville rape trial--photographic evidence from social media was treated by prosecutors as a more reliable representation of reality than verbal testimony, leading to successful convictions.

Aylin Caliskan (GWU) discussed her work (published in Science) demonstrating that machine learning algorithms have the same biases as humans, because those biases are embedded in the linguistic data they learn from. Her findings highlight the risk of using computers for sensitive tasks like hiring or criminal sentencing: rather than preventing discrimination, they may amplify it.