Women’s studies and Wikipedia: a year in review

As we approach the end of the academic year, I enjoy reflecting back to celebrate our achievements. When I step back, I see how much we’ve accomplished through our dedicated staff members, passionate program participants, and committed partners. My real passion project on Wikipedia is to improve its equity—in both content and contributors—and I’m consistently blown away by the energy we expend in our community to expand the voices represented in this precious source of information for the world.

One of the major ways Wiki Education is dedicated to expanding Wikipedia’s equity is through our partnership with the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA). Through the NWSA partnership, nearly 5,000 student editors have added 3.5 million words about women’s studies to Wikipedia, reaching 346 million readers. The partnership enables us to work closely with a fiercely smart group of people whose lives are devoted to making academia and knowledge more equitable. They work tirelessly to ensure all traditionally underrepresented communities—women of color, LGBTQ people, the impoverished, the homeless, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, children, victims of police brutality—are represented fairly in our understanding of how the world works. If Wikipedia wants to be the sum of all human knowledge, it must adopt these lenses and represent different people’s experiences in the world. That’s why so many members of NWSA work with Wiki Education to learn how they can bring their context to the encyclopedia that reaches 500 million readers each month.

Here are some of the ways we’ve worked to bring more women’s studies scholars to Wikipedia this year:

Presenting to academics about why Wikipedia matters to their discipline

In November 2017, Wiki Education attended the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual meeting in Baltimore. The 40th anniversary meeting also marked the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist organization from the 1970s that developed a statement highlighting what would eventually come to be known as intersectionality. Renowned political activist Angela Davis gave the keynote speech alongside Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their discourse allowed the opportunity to show how black women historically have been leaders in the fight for justice and parity. Decades of hard work to shift the feminist canon toward fighting for all people have begun seeping into the mainstream understanding of feminism, as more laypeople than ever discuss intersectionality in their everyday lives.

During the conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with women’s studies scholars and instructors who seek to bring intersectionality to the masses, enabling citizens to acknowledge narratives beyond their own. Today, Wikipedia is one of the most efficient ways to ensure this research reaches beyond the university campus.

Student editors learn how to add scholarly information to Wikipedia

In Wiki Education’s Classroom Program, students channel their research and writing into expanding Wikipedia articles related to their coursework. Thus, students make academic literature accessible to those of us who cannot access university libraries and databases. Over the past year, 1,500 women’s studies students have completed our program to learn how to edit Wikipedia. In the process, they made incredible information available at the world’s fingertips.

In Dr. Jo Ann Griffin’s Fall 2017 course at the University of Louisville, two students expanded the feminization of poverty article. They added information about human trafficking, single mother households, cultural influences on Muslim women’s employment status, welfare reform in the United States, and the wage gap between women and men in the Dominican Republic. In a world with growing poverty rates, it’s imperative that we enhance our understanding of economic disparity, perhaps finding more empathy for our fellow humans. Thanks to these two student editors, Wikipedia readers now have a more complete picture of struggles facing impoverished women.

In Dr. Margaret Lowry’s Spring 2018 course at Texas Christian University, one student significantly improved the article about gender equality in Rwanda. Rwanda is ranked 5th in the world for gender equality, as women have a high rate of labor participation, a smaller wage gap than most countries, paid maternity leave, and a high rate of women in government. This statistic perhaps surprises readers because the country ranks in the 48 least developed nations. As the student in Dr. Lowry’s class makes clear to the world, if a nation truly prioritizes gender equality, they can enact laws and policies to improve women’s quality of life. Gender equality does not have to take a back seat to other efforts working toward economic growth; rather, it is a core part of the solution. This article can increase the visibility of Rwanda’s successes, perhaps even inspiring other nations to follow suit.

Working with department chairs to bring more Wikipedia expertise to their campuses

In March 2018, I joined women’s studies department chairs in Denver to speak about the successes of our initiative and how we can make Wikimedia projects even more representative of women and women’s history. The meeting offered the opportunity to present to more than 50 women’s studies department chairs and ask them to join the Classroom Program and bring the initiative to their campuses. Wiki Education appreciated the opportunity to meet with more women’s studies instructors and scholars, including several of our current program participants. We also presented to attendees about our newest program, Wikipedia Fellows, as NWSA was one of the first partners to participate.

Training content experts to share complex knowledge with the world

In short, Wikipedia Fellows join our team virtually over the course of a few months to learn how to edit Wikipedia. We provide training and insight into how Wikipedia works and how it differs from traditional academic publications, and the content experts identify articles they can improve. Then, they work to make them more representative of the underlying scholarship. During the Denver meeting, NWSA Wikipedia Fellow Dr. Jenn Brandt shared her experience in the Wikipedia Fellows pilot cohort. Dr. Brandt is teaching in the Classroom Program for the first time this term, so she also reflected on the value of asking students to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia while she was in the process of doing so herself.

Dr. Brandt selected the women’s studies article and decided to make it better align with experts’ understanding of the field. When she showed other department chairs the lead paragraph of the article (the part that comes up in a Google search!) before and after she worked on it, they couldn’t believe how inaccurate the definition had been. Brandt expanded the history of the discipline, explained different feminist theories and research methods, and made sure she included all prominent references in the field. This article is much of the world’s entryway into women’s studies, and an expert’s touch really went a long way in making it a valuable reference and summary of the discipline.

Join Wiki Education’s programs!

If you’re interested in improving Wikipedia’s equity, consider joining the Classroom Program to teach with Wikipedia or applying to be a Wikipedia Fellow. Email us at contact@wikiedu.org, or visit teach.wikiedu.org. We’re thrilled about the work we’ve been able to do alongside the National Women’s Studies Association, and we look forward to our continued partnership.


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