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United by the Same Vision: A Guide to Using Discord as Public Interest Technology

United by the Same Vision: A Guide to Using Discord as Public Interest Technology

Public Interest Technology University Network Projects


  • College of Staten Island (CSI)/City University of New York


  • Andrea Guifarro
  • Taliah Pina
  • Yamilet Vasquez
  • Samantha Wilkinson


United by the Same Vision: A Guide to Using Discord as Public Interest Technology


Defining PIT and Using Discord for PIT Work

Representation is Key

Our public interest technology (PIT) learning community is diverse in many aspects such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities. Students in our learning community are interested in a variety of majors. All are focused on learning about humanities and social sciences through the lens of technology. As part of PIT’s goals, we want to be able to understand and speak to the ways technology impacts our lives and our communities to harness the power of tech to make change and do good.

PIT’s focal point is helping others through technology, spreading awareness, and establishing a sense of justice utilizing the media. As technology develops in many areas, we must as well. We have to evolve and adapt but most importantly use it to our advantage to create the changes we want to see in this world.

Andrea Guifarro

What It Means To Do PIT Work

The use of technology has been an essential part of our community as it relates to our main goal of building a student-led PIT community at the College of Staten Island/CUNY. Over the past few months, I, along with many other members, have discovered what it really means to be a part of PIT.

It is about creating change within ourselves first before going out into the world and transforming it for the better. As first-year college students during a global pandemic, we spent our whole first year of college in a remote learning environment. A major tool that has helped us significantly in this journey is Discord, an instant messaging platform packed with different features that allow everyone to share their ideas and create a connection. We can now create new innovations to help others, and just as Discord has helped with our communication, it can help with so much more if it’s developed with the same focal points as PIT.

Andrea Guifarro

How Discord Helps Build Community

This past school year, Discord provided my PIT community with opportunities to use our creativity when interacting with one another. Discord gave us a platform to be ourselves, while also pointing out areas where we were struggling. This topsy-turvy start to college made some things very clear.

This semester was all about learning how to self-manage, and in a lot of cases, self-soothe. Online remote learning can have extreme impacts on mental health, and unless students are given support and tools, such as learning communities and interactional platforms, they will face great challenges and risk burnout. The great thing that Discord did was offer us a platform to connect, but I realized that even then, students still needed help with the management of it all

Taliah Pina

Discord makes it easier to get in touch with one another and also gives us that sense of community. Going into school fully remote was scary to think about, but if it wasn’t for the PIT learning community I wouldn’t have that strong support group.

Yamilet Vasquez

In February 2020, just before the first lockdown in March, I went to Japan on a class trip. I started using Discord when one of my friends asked if I would join their server, and we started using the platform as a text replacement while I was away. Even back at college, students’ mention of running Discord servers made its way into my conversations with friends. I came to know what I had to suggest enhancing our PIT learning community experience. With PIT being such a new program for us, I knew that Discord is an easy way to keep in contact and would be at least a little bit helpful in building community and finding meaning.

Discord for PIT made communication easy. It helped bring us closer together as students. It helped us be more comfortable with our professors in asking for help with their own individual class servers, and it helped keep us organized.

Samantha Wilkinson

Easy and Accessible

One thing that I believe helped us as a group was the browser use of Discord. Even though it seems like everyone has a mobile phone, the phone can be unreliable and sometimes inconvenient when engaging with schoolwork. Being part of a grant-funded learning community through New America, every student in our learning community was provided a laptop for their own personal use. This was a game-changer. Not everyone had storage or easy access to Discord as a mobile app, but being able to either download or use Discord in a web browser on their laptops made it easier for everyone to use it.

The server I helped make was easily organized with different channels that could be used for specific purposes. We organized smaller student groups within the larger group so we could create even closer bonds. This made it easier to ask each other questions and post reminders in these channels, which helped us in classes.

Samantha Wilkinson

Building Skills for Educational Success

Through this entire process I learned that online communities are important to provide a sense of normalcy, but the ability to do things creatively, such as making infographics, supports things that we would typically do in a classroom, like hand out papers or a schedule. These types of solutions are extremely innovative and encouraging for students like myself, and anyone else who may be having trouble navigating this new environment.

Taliah Pina

It has been hard to adapt to the new environment resulting from the pandemic, but Discord has made it easier since we have been able to get support from one another and also hold ourselves responsible for assignments.

Time management and organization become a challenge for students in a remote learning environment because their sense of normalcy changed — real-world strategies don’t necessarily align with remote strategies for college success. Not being allowed to come to campus for classes meant students like us in the PIT community had no choice but to adapt to remote learning. Beds were now desks, and courses were being taken while noisy siblings came stumbling into our rooms. The spaces we once used for recreation were now being used for studying. Couple remote learning with online classes, a bunch of different syllabuses, and having to get it all done in a stagnant environment inspired me to use my interest in creative design to make weekly infographics for students like myself.

Graphics helped to condense everything that was a priority for the week, such as classes and assignments into one place. The graphics were often colorful and had positive reminders on them to keep the positivity flowing through our community. Many of my peers found it helpful to see times, dates, and important information in one place, and they were able to customize their routine in unique ways that fit their daily lives.

Andrea Guifarro

Cultivating Talent and Recruitment Tools

During this pandemic, it can be hard to create an effective recruitment process. We didn’t have the ordinary booth stand where you were able to apply in person. Last year, I was personally recruited to apply to the program through a flyer sent to my college email. This time around my peers and Professor Katie Cumiskey thought it would be less challenging and more effective if we used Discord in our recruitment process for our new cohort of PIT students that will be starting college in fall 2021.

To enlist potential PIT students, we have spreadsheets and make calls to students who seem like the right fit for the program. When we find a student who is interested in our program, we send them an invite that automatically makes them a part of the “Fall 21 PIT applicants” Discord server. The Discord chat itself has an application for them to fill out, and if they fit the PIT profile, we welcome them with open arms in the chat. A cool feature about Discord is you can @ a person and also give a reaction to their message by celebrating with emojis. It’s exhilarating when another member joins our group because we started this program in the middle of a pandemic and to see it grow can be emotionally moving.

Yamilet Vasquez

Enhancing Communication and Student Advocacy

Another way Discord has been helpful to our advancement in PIT is by creating a unique connection with our professors. It can be very hard especially during the COVID-19 pandemic to have that one-on-one connection with your professor, so we decided in the learning community to make them a part of Discord and have a channel dedicated to them. It was convenient since my peers who had a question or might have been confused about something would text in the channel, and they would get a response right away. Professors also told information about finals, when class starts, and about any necessary topic. Involving our professors in Discord is one of the greatest decisions we’ve made.

Yamilet Vasquez

Are you interested in learning how to use technology to improve and
celebrate your communities and to affect social change?

CSI St. George/CUNY is pioneering the nascent field of public interest technology (PIT), and generating a tech talent pipeline for students with a passion for technology and social justice within a supportive, small-scale learning community.