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New center launches to combat inequality in community

The Difference Engine was announced at a virtual event Thursday

_20191021 Beus Center for Law and Society 0005 copy.jpg

The Beus Center for Law and Society is pictured on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Phoenix, Arizona. 

ASU announced Thursday the name and website for The Difference Engine: An ASU Center for the Future of Equality, a university-wide center that will implement new projects and research to combat inequality in the U.S. and the local community. Over 200 people attended the virtual event.

The name for the center was inspired by Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, who worked together during the Industrial Revolution to build the first automatic digital computer, said Ehsan Zaffar, founding executive director of The Difference Engine. 

Part of their design was focused on helping those who were powerless. For example, it was used as a time card machine so workers could track their hours and advocate for better working conditions, he said. 

He said inequality is continuing to rise throughout the country whether in areas of race, gender or income. The goal, Zaffar said, is to turn the tide of inequality through the center's research and projects. 

Zaffar, professor of practice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said the center will focus on three main missions: launching innovative projects to involve students in decisions regarding inequality, fighting social inequality and building a national and local community where people can discuss issues they are passionate about and be supported by the community. 

One project the center has begun working on is the Women’s Power Index. This project is focused on uncovering structural issues that prevent women from starting a career in law. 

In the project, students, faculty and members of the community will work to create a scoring model for American legal institutions on measures of inequality for women in the field, according to The Difference Engine’s website. 

"Just as ASU is known as being a leader in innovation and sustainability, the center wants to make ASU known for fighting against social justice,” Zaffar said.

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, School of Social Transformation and W. P. Carey School of Business have joined forces to create the center. Anyone in the community, including those not at ASU, can become a Difference Engineer and can sign up on the center's website, Zaffar said. 

ASU President Michael Crow said at the event the center was formed around the idea of realizing the American dream. The school wants to design new concepts, solutions, laws and legal ideas to think about inequality and what contributes to it, he said.

The center's creation and Zaffar's appointment as its leader was item 22 on Crow's list of 25 action items to support Black students, faculty and staff, released in September 2020.

“At the end of the day, the reason we haven’t achieved the types of things we want to achieve, relative to equality is that while we have the aspiration to improve our designs, systems and laws, they are inadequate," Crow said. "We need to set our goals at a higher level and figure out what is limiting us from achieving them."

A question and answer session is scheduled for Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. where people are encouraged to ask questions about getting involved in the center.

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Lauren KobleyCommunity Reporter

Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times. 

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