Writing Latina artists into Wikipedia

What if students could help raise the visibility of artists of color across decades through a single assignment? In the case of Dr. Nicole Strathman’s students at UCLA, learning how to write Wikipedia biographies for Latina artists is accomplishing just that.

“In exploring the diverse artistic contributions, interventions, and aesthetic experiments by women in Latin America, we will find that Latina art has evolved through a conversation with women’s movements in the U.S. and abroad,” reads Dr. Strathman’s course description. As part of a 12-week scaffolded assignment, students explored the exhibition, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1965-1980, formerly on display at the Hammer Museum, and wrote Wikipedia biographies for the participants. Not only are their careers and works fascinating, but the artists’ positioning themselves within local and international politics through their art also speaks to rich cultural histories. And now, thanks to these students diving deep, these histories can be surfaced through one of the most-accessed websites in the world.

Head over to Wikipedia to read all about installation artist and author Sylvia Salazar Simpson, who uses (often decaying) food in her art to trigger audiences’ memories through smell. Or dive into the work of Colombian photographer and mixed-media artist Rosa Navarro, who explores the concept of “self” through self-portraits. Isabel Castros portraiture work is powerful, as well; her series, “Women Under Fire”, explores the forced sterilization of Mexican American women in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Johanna Hamann has a brand new biography, too; she uses strong imagery through her sculpture work to deconstruct Peruvian politics and to comment on oppressive stereotypes enforced on women. And Maria Adela Diaz, born during the Guatemalan Civil War, sees political issues as central to her identity and has stated that her preferred artistic medium is her own body. Read about the careers and accomplishments of these women (and more!) on Wikipedia.

Only 18% of Wikipedia biographies are about women and there are many barriers to creating new pages. To warrant an article, a person must have coverage in several secondary sources unrelated to themselves or their employer. If women aren’t featured or recognized as much as their male counterparts in popular culture, that bias will be reflected on Wikipedia. College students are well-equipped to correct this imbalance, and in doing so learn some valuable lessons. Students often have access to sources through their institution that people outside the university community may not. By leveraging those sources (and maybe even consulting their librarian for help for the first time!) students can have a direct effect on closing the gender gap on Wikipedia.

We hear from instructors that it can be energizing to see students contribute to public knowledge. For students, the autonomy* that the assignment provides is inspiring (*many of our assignment templates give students the tools to choose a Wikipedia article they want to create or improve).

As one instructor we supported last term remarked in our survey, “There are few assignments that incorporate all of my course goals (teaching critical thinking, practicing research skills, writing intensive work, facilitating collaboration between students, teaching practical skills, and incorporating equity work) in a succinct manner. The cherry on top was the degree to which students engaged with the project and created thoughtful and significant edits.”

Interested in adapting a Wikipedia writing assignment to fit your course? Head over to teach.wikiedu.org to access the free assignment templates and tools we offer.

Header image by Parque de la Memoria, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Thumbnail image by Cecilia Vicuna, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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