Mariana Arcaya

Mariana Arcaya

Vedette Gavin

Vedette Gavin

Neighborhoods, Just-Us & Health:  Mapping the Geography of Discrimination

Faculty leads:

Mariana Arcaya, MIT Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Public Health

Vedette Gavin, Director of Research & Partnerships, Conservation Law Foundation, Boston

Description:  This hack builds on an on-going, community-based participatory action research study in low-income Boston-area neighborhoods. Over the course of two years, a team of roughly 40 resident-researchers partnered with the Conservation Law Foundation and MIT faculty and students to create a pilot a community-based survey to understand how neighborhood conditions impact residents' health. One of the residents' highest priorities was understanding when, where, and why their neighbors experienced discrimination, and what the impact of these experiences are.

This hack will take materials and questions developed by residents to collect information from their neighbors about discrimination, and create a web-based platform to collect information related to experiences of discrimination on a larger scale. These data will be used by nine local community-based organizations for advocacy, planning, and programming decisions, and to inform research around discrimination and health.

Law Enforcement-Community Relationship Building

Professional lead:  Elaine Harris, Breakthrough Marketing Technology

Description:  Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately pulled over, detained and arrested by police at higher rates than their White and Asian counterparts.  Racial disparities are also present in analysis of data detailing searches, tickets, and license suspensions.  Some argue that statistical discrimination vs prejudice is at play.  The former infers that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be offenders and is the justification for ‘racial profiling’.  The Department of Justice states, “Racial profiling sends the dehumanizing message to our citizens that they are judged by the color of their skin.”  Increasingly these encounters result in violence and sometimes death.  A report of 2012 data issued in 2016 indicates that 55,000 people were killed or injured during "legal interventions."  Police also feel that they are at risk.  In 2016, there was a significant increase in the number of police deaths, especially those resulting from gun violence/ambush killings.  One of President Trump’s first Executive Orders: “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers”.  So the question to be addressed:  How can technology be used to support mutually beneficial outcomes from police stops, reducing the likelihood of violence from these encounters as well as ongoing risk to police?

The team will have access to North Carolina police stop data from the Stanford's Project on Law, Order & Algorithms as well as Chicago and New York City stop-and-frisk data.

Sharing the Playbook for STEM

Lisa Egbuonu-Davis

Professional lead:  Lisa Egbuonu-Davis, Sanofi

Description:  African Americans and Latinos continue to be woefully underrepresented in STEM fields at all levels- from bachelors degrees to doctoral levels, and in settings ranging from senior faculty to business and technical leaders. This is in spite of over 40 years of efforts to diversity the pipeline and the workforce. Underlying causes for lack of diversity range from limited access to preparatory academic and research experience to the lack of well developed informal networks of mentors and advisors.

A well-developed platform of key resources needed by STEM undergrads and grad students with ready access to an array of experienced, successful African American, Hispanic and other leaders could provide a “playbook” of essential learnings.  Existing mentorship programs often entail lengthy preparation, significant time commitments and cumbersome matching – which limits participation by senior level leaders eager to share their experiences and by undergraduate and graduate students who seek more informal links and on-demand access to address key questions.  It is often difficult to find the right information or people at the right time to support decision making at multiple parts of the journey – from making the decision to pursue STEM to building and sustaining a successful career. Technology offers the potential to enhance connections between talented Black and Hispanic STEM students and more senior level potential mentors. AI and machine learning can be applied to make a scalable system that could have profound impact, reducing the gap between the have’s and the have not’s as well providing grooming and development opportunities for diversity-seeking entities in the corporate world, public sector, government, and academia.

Block(chain)ing Discrimination 

Denys Linkov

Student lead:  Denys Linkov, University of Toronto

Description:  Research shows that perceived ethnicity, gender and/or other demographics can significantly impact the evaluation of resumes and applications, where all other information is equal.  

We can create a mechanism for the job application process to be more accountable and transparent by utilizing Blockchain, an immutable ledger technology.  All interactions with candidates would be recorded and immutable, insuring that any malpractice can be identified and fixed.  From a job seeker's perspective, they would create a universal personal profile that would only release information depending on which jobs they are applying for and their job application stage. 

Stage 1 would only allow employers to see a 'blind' resume to identify candidates with relevant skills and experience.  Once a candidate is selected for further consideration, the candidate's profile proceeds to Stage 2

Stage 2 would feature some contact information, allowing the employer to arrange further testing and interviewing with the candidate. 

By enabling a staged process, a clearer boundary for intrusive questions and discriminating tactics would be set.  This would supplement training for recruiters on good practices and be simultaneously enforced by technology.

If deviation occurs, say canceling an interview after learning that the candidate comes from a low income community, designated process overseers would be sent a notification allowing appropriate action to be taken.

The Diversity Dashboard

Kari Heistad

Professional lead:  Kari Heistad, Culture Coach International

Description:  Currently 93% of companies in the United States do not measure the ROI of their diversity programs which means that $7.4 billion dollars a year has no direct link to the bottom line.  With an increasing focus on metrics and data in today’s business environment, diversity professionals desperately need software, specific to them, to help them track their activities, measure their results and analyze their ROI. The Diversity Dashboard is the answer to this problem. A SaaS product with modules on topic such as budgets, diversity training, employee resource groups, engaging senior leaders and alignment to strategic goals.  By using data collected in the Diversity Dashboard, diversity professionals will be able to make better decisions, find hidden trends, improve resource allocation and with the data to prove their impact on the bottom line, earn a seat at the executive level.  If we are to remove discrimination and promote equality in today’s workplace, diversity professionals need a tool that will help them to do this in a data-based manner that will speak to the economic impact of their work. 

Immigration Integration

Professional lead:  Jennifer Williams, Lincoln Lab

Jennifer Williams

Description:  Currently there is a formal resettlement program and there are several organizations that help refugees and immigrants.  There is an opportunity to make connections with everyday people along life dimensions to provide immigrants with needed social and logistical support.  This could also have a positive impact on negative stereotypes that, unfortunately, exist in America.  Life dimensions could include education/tutoring, mentoring, dinners/get-togethers, helping children make friends with other children, mom-to-mom, dad-to-dad, job skills/opportunities, and the like.

There are a number of ways that technology could support this vision: 

  • Technology similar to social networking websites can be used to connect immigrants with each other and with US persons
  • Immigrants can be matched based on their profile and interests using a matching algorithm
  • Technology can make it easier for people to volunteer and help immigrants get settled
  • Technology can help keep people connected over long periods of time and support development of long-term relationships
  • Immigrants could also be encouraged to connect with anyone on the site (not always relying on the matching algorithm)
  • US persons can benefit from getting exposure to cultures, ideas, languages, and communities outside of their everyday experience (give and take)
  • Provide immigrants with social capital and a social safety net that could reduce experiences of bullying, discrimination, and hate crimes.

Tackling Unconscious Bias with Augmented Reality

Sarah Vick

Student lead:  Sarah Vick, MIT Sloan School

Description:  Imagine your brain as a decision making computer with a carefully developed model based on a huge data set collected over years of experience. Every day, your brain is “crunching the numbers” to decide what to eat for breakfast, which is the safest street, who is the right candidate, and thousands of other judgment calls.

But what happens when we have insufficient data or our data that is skewed? That’s when unconscious bias manifests. Our brains have no way of telling us when a particular decision is based on less than ideal data. The analysis is just collapsed into a judgment call.

What if we could augment our experience to flag events like this? Is it possible to create an AR signal that would pop up in our "Google Glass" peripheral or a similar device that indicates, "Hey!  You might be making this decision on too little/the wrong data!"?  The concept is to complement our brains with computer technology, rather than replace them- and provide an alert for decisions with unsupported data and personal bias.

Discriminatory Practices in Healthcare Insurance

Professional lead:  Sharon Paik, Cognitive Consulting


Discrimination dimensions:

  • Insurance coverage/access:  Commercial vs. Government vs. None
  • Education: Understanding the paperwork, language barrier- healthcare language is more difficult than everyday language; understanding the importance of regular checkups for preventative care
  • Socio-economic/financial: Unaffordable insurance on the exchange; less likely to have insurance via benefits if working non-salary job; less time/job security to make time for regular checkups
  • Limitations: Technology use

Level of importance:  Critical

  • Bear witness:  Individuals not getting optimal care (doctors, clinics, and treatment) based on their insurance coverage and access, limitations on time and understanding
  • Connect for change:  Healthcare professionals in key/influential organizations, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Group
  • Generate momentum:  Shift the focus of discussion within healthcare circles from talk of reform and demand to transformation on an individual level


  • #1  Technology/App that provides database access to high-level, easy to understand medication information (i.e., branded vs. generic) to make informed decision at prescribing (patient-centric view)
  • #2  At education level (medical, dental, optometry, pharmacy schools), provide grants to those willing to be actively involved to ensure fair and equitable coverage
  • #3  Streamline online application process.  Allow those with access to technology to apply for financial aid and complete necessary forms online in order to reduce congestion for in-person applications.


LaborX:  LinkedIn for LinkedOut

Professional lead:  Yscaira Jimenez, LaborX Founder & CEO

Description:  Labor X's aim is to close the diverse talent gap for companies by connecting them to the 40 million+ people who are trained by 4 year alternative programs (vocational, boot camps, community college).  

There is a well-established market for finding talent.  Approximately $72 billion is spent on recruiting annually and $16 billion by GOs on post-secondary education alternatives.  Plus Intel, Google and Apple have pledges to increase diversity totaling another $500 million in committed spending.

This team will work to enhance LaborX.  See for more details.

Hacking Hunger:  Reimagining the WIC Program in the Digital Age

Susan Blumenthal

Susan Blumenthal

Professional leads:  

Susan Blumenthal, Former US Assistant Surgeon General, Senior Health Policy Fellow, New America & MIT Media Lab Advisory Council Member

Hildreth England

Hildreth England

Hildreth England RDN, Assistant Director, The Open Agriculture Initiative, MIT Media Lab, formerly engagement Specialist, Texas WIC

Description:  The MIT Media Lab, New America, and IDEO would like to explore ways to integrate innovative technologies into the WIC program, a federally-funded food assistance program that provides pregnant mothers and their children with healthy food, nutrition counseling and access to other health services

Background:  The problem of food insecurity and hunger in the US is of special concern for women and children, and particularly for families of color.

One out of seven Americans is food insecure in our country today and 69% of Americans are overweight or obese. These public health problems often co-exist in low-income individuals.  Female-headed, African American and Latino households continue to have 2 to 3 times the prevalence of household food insecurity compared with White households.  As one of several federal food assistance programs that target hunger in America, the WIC program provides healthy foods and services for more than 7.5 million low-income women, infants and children under the age of 5. In fact, more than half of the babies born in the US are on the WIC program. 

The Problem:only WIC is frustrating enough to make a grown woman cry in the aisles of Target.

Despite being an effective resource for underserved populations, only 43% of eligible families participated in WIC in 2015, and in most states, WIC clients use paper vouchers to shop for WIC-approved foods. WIC is a complicated program, facing various challengesincluding keeping up with the pace of user-centered technology design and development.  But a nationwide transition to a debit card system by 2020 means there may be an opportunity to collect and visualize purchase data, improve the shopping and cooking experience, and personalize the education and counseling outcomes for WIC clients.

The potential to improve services by “hacking” the data, technologies and infrastructure and exploring high- and low-tech solutions to the WIC program could make a huge impact for millions of US families.

How might we “hack hunger” by reimagining how technology could radically modernize the user experience of the WIC program, and advance its public health outcomes?

  • How might we use the data generated by the Electronic Benefit Transfer system?
  • How might we digitally modernize the entire user experience of the WIC program?
  • How might we reimagine the Electronic Benefit Transfer card as an interactive "smart" card?
  •  How might we leverage new technology to personalize nutrition education into the user experience of WIC?
  • How might we more effectively engage the 17% of women that are eligible for WIC but do not participate in the program?

For more information on food insecurity, hunger, and the WIC program:

Discrimination Advice Mobile Platform

Professional lead:  Edmund Korley, Toast

Description:  There are many people who experience discrimination, but have no agency to do anything about it.  The Internet happens to be a great medium for free information.  The proposition: Create a mobile platform that provides advice about what to do if you’re discriminated against. is the inspiration.  They have become a curation of informative, personal, yet actionable financial advice- and they also have some tools.  Our offering would be similarly comprised of articles and small tools.  A sample article could be “How to Refer to Officers” that references the fact that officers don’t always introduce themselves when engaging citizens.  So it’s important to take note of their name and badge number and find ways to repeat those several times during the conversation.  This is a subtle, but non-aggressive way to show that you have some agency simply by knowing who they are.  

An example of a tool could be a bot that reminds you via Twitter or your favorite social media to renew your car registration, as officers often utilize out of date registration as a means to pull over people they find suspicious.

This topic will especially benefit from participation by non-technical people and those with diverse backgrounds and experiences.