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Course Description

This course will focus on in-depth discussions of a set of books. The readings will primarily cover topics at the intersection of society, data, and software: social media, language models, automation, and more. We will discuss ways that these computing technologies perpetuate inequity and bias under the guise of presumed-neutral solutions. We will critique how we ourselves participate in engineering—both here at UC Berkeley and in any future roles.

Course Culture

Students taking this course come from a wide range of backgrounds. We hope to foster an inclusive and safe learning environment based on curiosity rather than competition. All members of the course community—the instructors and students—are expected to treat each other with courtesy and respect. Much of the responsibility for that lies with the instructors, but a lot of it ultimately rests with you, the students.

Be Aware of Your Actions

Sometimes, the little things add up to creating an unwelcoming culture to some students. For example, you and a friend may think you are sharing in a private joke about other races, genders, or cultures, but this can have adverse effects on classmates who overhear it. There is a great deal of research on something called “stereotype threat,” which finds simply reminding someone that they belong to a particular culture or share a particular identity (on whatever dimension) can interfere with their course performance.

Stereotype threat works both ways: you can assume that a student will struggle based on who they appear to be, or you can assume that a student is doing great based on who they appear to be. Both are potentially harmful.

Bear in mind that diversity has many facets, some of which are not visible. Your classmates may have medical conditions (physical or mental), personal situations (financial, family, etc.), or interests that aren’t common to most students in the course. Another aspect of professionalism is avoiding comments that (likely unintentionally) put down colleagues for situations they cannot control. Bragging in open space that an assignment is easy or “crazy,” for example, can send subtle cues that discourage classmates who are dealing with issues that you can’t see. Please take care, so we can create a class in which all students feel supported and respected.

Be an Adult

Beyond the slips that many of us make unintentionally are a host of behaviors that the course staff, department, and university do not tolerate. These are generally classified under the term harassment; sexual harassment is a specific form that is governed by federal laws known as Title IX.

UC Berkeley’s Title IX website provides many resources for understanding the terms, procedures, and policies around harassment. Make sure you are aware enough of these issues to avoid crossing a line in your interactions with other students. For example, repeatedly asking another student out on a date after they have said no can cross this line. Your reaction to this topic might be to laugh it off, or to make or think snide remarks about “political correctness” or jokes about consent or other things. You might think people just need to grow a thicker skin or learn to take a joke. This isn’t your decision to make. Research shows the consequences (emotional as well as physical) on people who experience harassment. When your behavior forces another student to focus on something other than their education, you have crossed a line. You have no right to take someone else’s education away from them. This issue is very important to your instructors. Therefore, if we cannot appeal to your decency and collegiality, let us at least appeal to your self-interest. Do not mess around on this matter. It will not go well for you.

Issues with Course Staff

Professionalism and respect for diversity are not just matters between students; they also apply to how the course staff treat the students. The staff of this course will treat you in a way that respects our differences. However, despite our best efforts, we might slip up, hopefully inadvertently. If you are concerned about classroom environment issues created by the staff or overall class dynamic, please feel free to talk to us about it. The instructors welcome any comments or concerns regarding conduct of the course and the staff.

We are committed to creating a learning environment welcoming of all students that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives and experiences and respects your identities and backgrounds (including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, language, religion, ability, and more.) To help accomplish this:

  • If your name and/or pronouns differ from those that appear in your official records, please let us know.
  • If you feel like your performance in the class is being affected by your experiences outside of class (e.g., family matters, current events), please don’t hesitate to come and talk with us. We want to be resources for you.
  • We (like many people) are still in the process of learning about diverse perspectives and identities. If something was said in class (by anyone) that made you feel uncomfortable, please talk to us about it. Sometimes, you may not be comfortable bringing this up directly to us. If so, you are welcome to talk to the department’s Faculty Equity Advisor Prof. Fox ( There’s also a great set of resources available at, including the EECS Student Incident Reporting Form. And if there are other resources you think we should list here, let us know!

We will take all complaints about unprofessional or discriminatory behavior seriously.

Misuse of Course Resources

If individuals are disrespectful to students, course staff, or others via course resources, they will lose access to course resources. E.g., if someone is unkind in the course forum, their account will be removed from the course forum. If someone is unkind in the classroom, they will be asked to leave the classroom.


This course is discussion-based, meaning you should come prepared to discuss the readings for that week. Readings and their respective QQC assignments (see Grading and Assignments below) should be completed by the listed date, prior to coming to class. Refer to the homepage schedule for the latest reading schedule.

Accessing Readings

On media format and editions: You may read physical, digital, or audio forms of any of the readings listed above. While some students may find it helpful, you are not required nor expected to bring copies of the readings to class. Instead, use your QQC documents (see Grading and Assignments below) to take notes and jot down ideas that you’d like to bring up in the class discussions.

On obtaining readings: Where possible, we will update this document with instructions on how to access free, open-source copies of the readings, often through UC Berkeley CalNetID authentication. However, note that this is not always possible; we therefore highly recommend that you open a library card, either with the City of Berkeley or with your hometown city/county. Many public libraries have online options for checking out books and audiobooks, i.e., through apps like Libby. Your local library will likely have more digital availability than any Bay Area library.

Grading and Assignments

In order to receive a passing grade in CS 39, you must complete the following:

  • Attend at least 10 out of 13 lectures.
  • Submit a QQC assignment for the reading assignment each week.

QQC Journal

See the sidebar link QQC Journal for more details.


We honor and respect the different learning needs of our students, and are committed to ensuring you have the resources you need to succeed in our class. If you need religious or disability-related accommodations, if you have emergency medical information you wish to share with us, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please share this information with us as soon as possible.


If you have physical, psychological, or learning disabilities that could affect your performance in the course, we urge you to contact See more information under the “DSP” section of “Resources” farther down this page.

Religious Observance

If you require accommodation for religious observance, please contact us at least a week before the deadline in question to make arrangements.


Some of the content on this webpage is adapted with permission from materials developed by Doug Woos, Kathi Fisler, and Shriram Krishnamurthi. QQC guidelines are adapted from Professor Kristen Stephens-Martinez at Duke University.