Datamatch Draws Criticism Over Gender Options

The Harvard Computer Society’s Datamatch, a program that matches students based on responses to an online survey, drew criticism from students who took issue with the survey’s presentation of gender.
Datamatch 2017—the Harvard Computer Society’s annual Valentine’s Day matchmaking survey—drew criticism from students for what some called its “disconcerting” presentation of a non-binary gender response field.

A Valentine’s Day tradition on campus since 1994, Datamatch partners annual with Harvard Square eateries—this year at El Jefe’s Taqueria, Flour Bakery, BerryLine, and Zinneken’s—to pay for the meals of the couples it matches. For Datamatch, Students complete an online survey and receive "matches" with compatible results.

This year’s Datamatch, however, has sparked criticism from students for including only “male” and “female” gender response options, and requiring students to choose one option to complete the survey. Participants who wanted to include more information about their gender could do so in a section designated for “extra” information at the end of the survey.

“I saw that the options were male, female, and then you had to put any other gender identity markers into this ‘extra’ section that was at the end of it,” Darius A. Johnson ’18 said. “That wording—or that separation—was super disconcerting to me, of the two binary options being the ‘normal’ options, and anything else being the extra. I thought that was a huge oversight on their part.”

Raynor J. Kuang ’17, a leader of the Datamatch development team, said HCS received feedback about the interface and hopes to work with students to rectify concerns about gender identification in future iterations of the program. The survey’s open-response entry has since been moved to an earlier section, adjacent to the gender field.


“Datamatch did not do enough to include people of non-binary genders—that was abundantly clear,” Kuang said. “We want feedback; we take this extremely seriously.”

In a Facebook post to the HCS Datamatch page, Kuang proposed adding a non-binary choice to the “gender” and “match with” fields in the future, as well as allowing participants to select multiple options for both.

“Whatever the answer is, we need to try and discover it, and we need to try our best to be inclusive,” Kuang said in an interview. “Everything is still in the process right now. I have this proposal and I need to contact campus groups.”

For Johnson, the gender option is significant because Datamatch is a “quintessential” part of Harvard’s culture. At the weekly meeting of the Undergraduate Council Sunday, representative Nicholas Whittaker ’19 gathered signatures for a petition criticizing Datamatch and its binary gender options.

As of Sunday evening, over 3,500 students had registered for this year’s Datamatch.

“Calling gender non-conformity or any gender non-binary identity ‘extra’ is sort of tactless nomenclature,” Johnson said. “You can’t put a part of someone’s identity in parentheses and say that’s ‘extra’ information about them.”

Last February, 4,195 students participated in the collaboration between HCS and Satire V, representing over 60 percent of students at the College—in contrast, less than half of the student body cast online ballots in the most recent two Undergraduate Council presidential elections. Datamatch closes on the midnight of Valentine’s Day and results will be sent out the next morning.

This year, Satire V created its own parody of the Valentine’s Day algorithm called “NumberSex.” Daniel J. Kenny ’18, editor-in-chief of Satire V, said the humor publication thought it could make a funnier version that mocked Datamatch at the same time.

“What is the basic thing that Datamatch is always implying? They’re trying to use their numbers, so that you have sex,” Kenny said. “Why don’t we just mock them by being totally up front: It’s called NumberSex.”

Although Satire V did not initially intend to create an algorithm for their 18-question Google form, Kenny said that NumberSex participants will receive matches after an unexpectedly large number of students chose to participate. Over 1,000 undergraduates were registered by Sunday evening, even though the Satire V version will not come with the possibility of free food.

“It was definitely inspired by the inner machinations of a wise old Furby, but we also have people who know how to code,” Kenny said. “It’s going to match people up based on similar responses, so kind of the same thing, but with less Steven Pinker.”

—Staff writer Kenton K. Shimozaki can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @KentonShimozaki.