Many of the millions who visit Wikipedia every month are looking for information to understand their current political climate. They may be researching candidates or policies related to upcoming midterm elections. Or they may be looking to understand how our history has shaped present day affairs. Encyclopedias and other accessible knowledge resources (like newspapers) are vital to a functioning democracy. They are tools to ensure that everyone feels empowered, prepared, and well-informed enough to participate in democratic functions that protect their rights.
However, even widely used resources like Wikipedia contain gaps in their content. These gaps arise primarily due to who is fleshing out content on the site. Wikipedia is a platform that relies upon the hard work of volunteers, most of whom are young men who work on topics of interest to them. These editors don’t necessarily have access to academic databases or journals, leaving a number of gaps when it comes to academic topics. That’s why higher education students are so well-positioned to become new editors. They can use their access to academic sources to apply course concepts in a worldwide context, helping to make a resource that we all look to for information more comprehensive.
When mainstream media and politics don’t reflect the diversity of the people they are supposed to represent, alternative platforms for discourse must arise. La Raza is one such platform, a Chicano newspaper and magazine that developed in East Lost Angeles in 1967 and ran for ten years. Before Dr. David-James Gonzales’ student at the University of Southern California created the Wikipedia article, the history and legacy of the newspaper wasn’t documented at all on the site. As the student writes in the article’s lead section, La Raza provided a space for Chicano activists “to document the abuses and inequalities faced by Mexican-Americans in Southern California.” Staff employed a photojournalistic approach, capturing images of “police brutality, segregation, and protests that rallied support to the Chicano cause.” The paper advocated educational reform and improved conditions for minority students in Los Angeles. It served as a vehicle for community organization, founding groups like the the Barrio Union for Scholastic Community Action (BUSCA), which sought to engage Chicano parents and community leaders in improving education for Chicano students. La Raza also played a role in developing El Partido de la Raza Unida, a political party centered around Chicano nationalism.
Dr. Gonzales’ course, Borderlands in a Global Context, explores migration, migrant rights, indigenous sovereignty, transnational labor, and how national identity forms around the metaphor of border and borderlands. Over the course of the term, his students added almost 70,000 words to a variety of articles on Wikipedia. Those articles have received 2.4 million views since.
Interested in teaching with Wikipedia? Visit teach.wikiedu.org to get started or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.