Rebecca Godard contributed to Wikipedia as a student editor in Diana Strassmann’s Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities course at Rice University in Fall 2016. In this post she reflects on her experience working on the article Muslim women in sport, which was promoted to a Good Article in November and appeared in the Did You Know section of Wikipedia’s Main Page in January.
Before entering this class, I was quite sceptical about the prospect of editing Wikipedia. In my previous educational environments, I was taught that Wikipedia was unreliable and unsuitable for rigorous academic research. I had never given much thought to the people who contribute to Wikipedia, and certainly never imagined myself becoming one. Through this class, I have gained insight into the workings of Wikipedia and into the need for contributors focused on social justice issues. I have thoroughly enjoyed both creating a new article and interacting with other Wikipedians, and the experience has helped me develop skills that will be extremely valuable in my future academic endeavours.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing my article was maintaining a neutral position. I care very deeply about sports, and am outraged at the ways that many Muslim women are excluded or discouraged from participating. Unlike a traditional research paper, writing for Wikipedia required me to set aside my own feelings on the topic and present the existing scholarship on the topic in the most balanced manner possible. This was particularly difficult for me when I was writing about hijab bans from international governing bodies like FIFA (association football) and FIBA (basketball). I see these policies as ludicrous and unabashedly discriminatory, an opinion that was difficult to keep out of my work. Through a conscious effort to remain neutral and some advice from my peer reviewers, however, I was able to accurately describe the situation in a way that did not reveal my own biases. By finding academic sources on the subject rather than simply using news articles, I could ensure that I was grounding my work in scholarship rather than in my opinions. This strategy was helpful in creating my entire article, but specifically in the sections that were focused on factors affecting sports participation, media portrayal, and empowerment through sports.
Another important component of my Wikipedia experience was the opportunity to interact with other Wikipedians. While I have not been in contact with very many Wikipedians, those I have communicated with have been incredibly supportive and helpful. Montedia and Eperoton both gave me excellent advice on how to best develop my page, including providing me with specific articles and other resources. Several other users helped me edit content that had been moved to my page from the Women in Islam page, as it falsely assumed that all athletes from predominantly Muslim countries (like Kosovare Asllani and Dinara Safina) were themselves Muslim. Wiki Ed employee Sage Ross was extremely helpful when I found myself in unexpected situations, such as discovering racist vandalism on another page or seeing that someone had created a Russian-language version of my article on the English Wikipedia site. Finally, my peer reviewers gave me very honest and helpful critiques of my article, and even helped me find information to supplement my content. In short, I would not have been able to develop my article to the extent that I have without the support of other Wikipedians. I have come to deeply appreciate the collaborative nature of the site, as it allowed me to produce far better work than I could have on my own.
The one thing that I wish could have been different about my Wikipedia experience is the lack of response that I received from WikiProject groups. My article is part of WikiProject Islam and WikiProject Women’s sports, but I have struggled to interact with users from either group. I never got any responses to the queries that I posted early in the semester (while I was still writing my proposal), which could have been quite useful in the editing process. Additionally, I requested that WikiProject Women’s sports reevaluate my page’s start-class rating, as I have added to it significantly since it was designated as such. To date, I have not heard back from any of the users who are part of the WikiProject, and the rating of my page has not changed. Even though the response from these project groups was lacking, I still felt that I had plenty of support and resources, both from within the class and from other users on Wikipedia.
In summary, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to Wikipedia. Using Wikipedia in a university setting is innovative and a refreshing break from the usual midterms and papers. Additionally, it was encouraging to see my classmates and I add to the number of women, people of colour, LGBT individuals, and social justice-oriented users. The current underrepresentation of such groups leads to a lack of content that is relevant to the Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities minor at Rice. By creating my article, I felt that I was taking a small step towards greater equality and representation on Wikipedia. I also developed skills that are important both to academic pursuits and to life in general, including neutral writing and collaboration. Finally, I enjoyed developing and researching my article, and I even made some edits on other, unrelated pages. I hope to continue being an active Wikipedia user and contributing to the knowledge and scholarship represented there.
Image: Iran national football team training, Azadi Stadium 29.08.2016 09.jpg, by Hamed Malekpour, CC-AT 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.