Nerds, Geeks, and Bros

Nerds, Geeks, and Bros

Dr. Kara Van Cleaf

Office/Student Hours:

Course Description:

This course looks at the rise of the ‘nerd’ as a way to investigate shifts in masculinity, race, and power within the digital economy and computer science fields. We will examine the historical and cultural shifts that changed computer work from a feminine job to a masculine one. From examinations of popular culture, such as movies, we’ll trace how the nerd figure became a new hero. The nerd hero is overwhelmingly male and white and represents shifts in gender and racial politics. Students will read from history, social science, communications, as well as study popular media such as movies, television, and advertisements. Through an investigation into the nerd, geek, and bro, figure students will see how women and minorities’ innovations have been left out of history, as well as left out of the industry. By the end of the course, students will advance potential solutions to the inequalities in the technology industry.

Readings: All online, check schedule for URLs and if not listed, readings will be at


Article Expert (25%): For this portion of your course work, you’ll need to choose one reading and be our resident expert on it. Meaning, you’ll need to prepare a brief report on the reading and share it with the class. Please include: the main argument/thesis, supporting evidence, methodology (how the gathered the data). You’ll also need to be able to ask the class questions about the article and lead discussion throughout the class period. Finally, you’ll also need to share with us your critique of the reading—does the evidence support the claims being made? Do you agree with the conclusion (and be able to explain why or why not)? Is there anything that could make the reading better, or if you could offer suggestions to the author, what would you say? We will schedule these the first two weeks of class.

*Please note, when your article is up, I’ll give you some time at the beginning of class to give us a run down, share your thoughts. I will refer to you throughout the class period—we’ll share the responsibility of discussing the article with the class. You do not have to lead the entire class period. Please create an outline or summary to share with your classmates via a google doc. This google doc will be your study guide.

Exams, Midterm/Final (50%): Multiple choice, short answer and essay. These exams will be sent to you via a link to your Fordham email. You will have a block of time to complete the exams.

Final Project (25%): Our last session (or last two) we will have a mini conference on the state of inequality in the digital technologies industry. In groups or alone, students will create a brief presentation on a targeted solution to remedy gender and racial inequities. You will have to have research to back up your program, and present it in a compelling way. We’ll work on these throughout the semester and you have free reign as to what you focus on. You may want to look at the field in general or maybe look at a particular company/platform. You will also have to create a one-page sheet or brochure for the audience. These should be a road map to your project, a document that is easy to understand. You will turn in a paper to me explaining your solution. More details to come. We will work on these in class throughout the semester and you’ll have to turn in a proposal for approval (and to receive full credit on the final project).


100=A+                        79-77 = C+

99-93=A                       76-72 = C                                            

92-90=A-                      71-70 = C-

89-87=B+                     69-60 = D

86-83=B                       Below 58 = F


RULES/POLICIES: No cheating, no plagiarism. Respect each other and different opinions.


Fordham’s university-wide policy is that 4 unexcused absences results in a failing grade. If you miss four or more and due to an emergency, family, personal, or medical reason, you must notify both myself and your class dean of the issue at hand with appropriate documentation. It is your responsibility to get readings/assignments for missed days from other students, and you are encouraged to come to my office to discuss topics you’re unclear on.

Final grades are FINAL: I do not negotiate grades. Do not ask. I do not need to hear about your GPA, or what grade you need or must get. You are responsible for your grades. Regardless of what other faculty tolerate, I do not negotiate grades with students.  ALL GRADES ARE FINAL. If you wish to learn more about why you earned the grade you were assigned, you must see me in person during my posted office hours. Nonetheless, students should remember that coming early and often for help does not guarantee that I will pass you.  In the final hour, you need to demonstrate proficiency in the material, no matter how hard you tried. Coming to class, trying hard/studying many hours in college is a given.  In the end, you must produce college-level work.

******I will probably change, delete or ADD readings to this schedule.  I will always give you notice but you must come to class to stay abreast of any changes.

******Do not be offended if I call you and do not be offended if I do not call on you! I will try to call on everyone at least once over the course of the semester so be prepared.

******Please email me if you are having trouble with the course material in anyway.

****** Academic Integrity/Plagiarism: Plagiarizing in any way, shape or form will result in a zero for that assignment or test. I will report it to your advisor, class dean, and fill out a report for the academic integrity committee to review. I take this very seriously so please see me if you’re nervous about properly citing your work. By being enrolled at Fordham University students are bound to comply with the University Code of Conduct, which includes, but is not limited to the Standards of Academic Integrity as outlined in the Student Handbook.If you have any question concerning the plagiarism policy or about documentation of sources in work you produce in this course, speak to me about it. Plagiarizing includes passing off any work you have not created as your own (scholars, bloggers, people you pay to write a paper, etc.), as well as turning in papers you’ve written for another class.

Preferred Name Policy: Some members of the Fordham community are known by a name that is different from their legal name. Students who wish to be identified by a chosen name can contact their CMS faculty members via email and request their chosen name and pronoun be used.[Faculty are welcome to supplement this as well]

Disabilities: All students, with or without disabilities, are entitled to equal access to the programs and activities of Fordham University under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you have, or think you may have, disabilities, please get in touch with The Office of Disability Studies at or 718-817-0655. The office will coordinate with faculty, staff, and administrators to ensure that the facilitation of reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with documented disabilities is provided. We encourage faculty to add more than the required legal language related to disabilities, and to invite students to come to you with any difficulties related to ODS or their disabilities.

Student Resources

Writing Center: If you struggle with the writing required in this course, please make use of the Writing Center. For more information about their services see

Counseling and Psychological Services: University life is full of challenges. Fordham offers support for anyone who feels like they need help dealing with the pressures of life as a student. 

CPS offers resources on issues like anxiety, coping strategies, COVID and mental health and so on on its website, and provides individual and group counseling and therapy in a safe and confidential setting. For more information about their services see:

There is also a Crisis Text line available—text START to 741-741 to use it. 

Food (shelter, etc) insecurity Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to contact your class dean for support. I also urge you to contact me, or our dept chair, about this. I understand you may not want to share such information with professors who you see all the time, but Fordham has few policies in place, and our support may be helpful.

Academic Coaching: Any student who struggles with time-management and/or organization is invited to one-on-one academic coaching sessions (typically once a week for 45 minutes). Please contact for more information.


1/20:                            Intros

Foundational Theories

1/27:                            “Gender Codes: Defining the Problem” by T Misa, URL:

2/3:                              “A Question of Genius” by Anne Faust-Sterling (

James Damore’s Google memo:

2/10:                            Book Review of The Bell Curve, by Troy Duster URL/Email to come

Brotopia, Intro and chapter 1 (


2/17:                            “Technology as Masculine Culture” by Judy Wajcam (scroll to chapter 6 in below link) URL:

                                    “What Gender is Science?” by Maria Charles URL:

2/24                             War Games, movie

2/24:                             No Girls Allowed:

“Beards, Sandals, and Other Signs of Rugged Individualism” by Nathan Ensmenger (

3/3:                              “The Male Gazed: Surveillance, Power, and Gender” by Kate Losse URL:


3/10:                            Midterm


3/24                             “She’s Geeky: The Performance of Identity among Women Working in IT”


“The Anatomy of Interest”

                                    “Coding is not empowerment” by Janet Abbate (email)

3/31                             “Sexism is a feature, not a bug” by Mar Hicks (email)

“Here’s the Clearest Picture of Silicon Valleys Diversity Yet” URL

                                    “Black and Brown Tech Workers Share Their Experiences of Racism on the Job” URL:


4/7                               Tech Leavers Study:

                                    Brotopia, “Sex and the Valley: Men Play, Women Pay” (

4/21                             Presentations

4/28                             Presentations

Final TBA (online)

Additional Readings (for your pleasure or your projects):

1.)            We will not fix diversity in tech unless we end discrimination URL:

2.)            If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention


3.)            Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men URL:

4.)            Don’t Be Evil: Fred Turner on Utopias, Frontiers, and Brogrammers

  • Gender Job Segregation