Working with Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone teen center and Games for Justice founder and MIT senior Hussain Risvi, Buford created an afterschool program aimed at letting high schoolers explore game design in a space where they feel comfortable trying and failing; holding thoughtful converstaions about technology and games in the context of black feminist thought and design frameworks; and learning to be reflective, playful designers.
In its latest iteration, the program’s curriculum includes five workshops, two of which Buford got to test so far at the Neutral Zone with a group of predominantly Black teens.
“It’s a really interesting and unique space, especially in computer science,” she said. “Even in game design, having a predominantly black team or space is very, very rare.”
Sessions include warm-up activities on working with narrative, playing games, software tutorials, defining terms like “oppression” and “privilege,” and lessons on ways black women are using personal experiences to teach others to be more respectful through games. At the end, students take surveys about what they learned.
One challenge has been recruiting students; the Neutral Zone lost a lot of its core audience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and getting them back into the space hasn’t been easy. But Buford says high school students also bring great ideas and awareness of their place in the world and how power structures work.
“The opportunity of working with high school students is to start getting young people thinking a lot earlier about how computer science isn’t just a lucrative field to get into,” Buford said. “You can make great money, and that’s really important, but knowing that when you enter that field, you’re entering a lot of things as someone who is Black or who is Latina, and so I just felt really excited about working with high schoolers.”