The wonderful world of Wikipedia

By on October 30, 2020

The wonderful world of Wikipedia

By on October 30, 2020

The wonderful world of Wikipedia

Yohanna White graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2020 with an MS in Chemistry. She recently took the Wiki Scholars Informing Citizens training to learn how she can expand representation in Wikipedia. Her past community efforts to diversify STEM workplaces for women, underrepresented populations in higher education, and undocumented students inspired her to become a Wikipedia editor. 

The Informing Citizens training course gave me the opportunity to practice Wikipedia’s motto to “Be Bold”. As a woman scientist and advocate for STEM diversity and accessibility, I have no choice but to be bold. Not when marginalized groups are disproportionately underrepresented in the world’s most popular encyclopedia. I choose to write and be bold so that I can be part of the movement that is challenging the status quo by questioning who qualifies for “Wiki worthiness”.

Before this course, I pictured Wikipedia editors as mythical beings who were all-knowing and possessed some hidden mark that deemed them qualified. This misconception only deterred me from imagining myself as an editor. Thankfully, this course corrected my naive thinking by welcoming me into a cultivated and inclusive world. It even made me realize that Wikipedia is a great platform for marginalized editors; it is oddly liberating to write under a penname so that I don’t have to wonder whether my identity affected someone’s judgement of my work.

Anyone with knowledge and access to the internet can become a Wikipedia editor. What distinguishes someone as a Wikipedia editor is having the confidence to write for the world to change the world. I was motivated to take this course for the opportunity to change the narrative of women scientists—especially women scientists who self-identify as a person of color—and to give them recognition that is long overdue.

It was a pleasure to learn about Wikipedia’s useful features and idiosyncratic culture. My favorite feature that I learned to use was the Talk page of an article. It turns out that this is where all the behind-the-scenes discussions take place. Here, you can find people asking for suggestions, debating how to structure the article, what to include and exclude, etc.  It is amazing to see a community of well-intentioned strangers create and improve articles together for the sole benefit of providing  free and accurate information to the public. I now have a habit of checking out the Talk page whenever I’m on Wikipedia because I want to honor the group effort involved, and  it also reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect or make up excuses for why I can’t be an editor (symptoms of imposter syndrome, which, unfortunately, tends to affect marginalized people). There will always be a community of skilled editors who can fill in knowledge gaps, fix typos, and correct spelling errors. I can also showcase my strengths by revealing my WikiFauna, which is a way for editors to describe their editing style. For example, WikiFairies improve the aesthetics of an article, while a WikiJanitor eliminates vandalism from pages. There are also WikiElves, WikiHobbits, and WikiGnomes, and many other WikiFauna that roam in this virtual world. Editors may also spread some WikiLove and show appreciation for good work in the form of WikiCookies. Belonging in this positive community is the reason why I am committing to be a lifelong Wikipedia editor.

Everyone has a different reason for why they choose to be bold. I choose to be bold because as an underrepresented minority in science, it is a source of empowerment to be able to express my knowledge. I look forward to taking my boldness to the next level: hosting edit-a-thons to recruit and inspire potential editors! I am grateful for the opportunity to have a seat on the table. It is truly an amazing feat that a group of diverse volunteers can maintain the world’s greatest encyclopedia, considering that all it takes to make a difference is to create an account and be bold enough to click edit.

Interested in taking a course like the one Yohanna took? Visit learn.wikiedu.org to see current course offerings.

Image courtesy Yohanna White

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