Personal connection drives student’s enhancement of Wikipedia article

Sophia Janssens was shocked when she first discovered how little information the Black women in American law Wikipedia article provided to its readers. As a Black woman and future law student, she was instantly drawn to improving the article, knowing that its content barely scratched the surface of the topic.

Confident that there must be more sources about Black women lawyers in the United States, the Brown University rising sophomore set out to include new stories in the article to combat the possibility of misinformation – when an incomplete narrative leads readers to fill in the missing pieces with their own assumptions and preconceived biases. 

“Narratives about social movements in history tend to center either male leaders or white women leaders,” said Janssens, who plans to double major in Environmental Studies and International and Public Affairs. “They are framed in a way that makes it seem like Black women did not play a role.”

Sophia Janssens
Sophia Janssens. Photo courtesy Sophia Janssens, all rights reserved.

Janssens significantly expanded the article by adding over 2,000 words and 18 references, providing readers a more comprehensive understanding of the role of Black women in U.S. legal history.

Her enhancements included the development of two robust new sections on history of the topic in the 1940s to early 1960s and the late 1960s to 1970s, as well as new content for the article’s existing sections. Most notably, Janssens expanded the sections covering the 1870s to 1930s and scholarship on Black women in the legal profession, transforming them from brief mentions into much more informative summaries. 

“I wanted to emphasize the strength and resilience of Black women lawyers throughout history,” explained Janssens. “They faced many obstacles to gain a seat at the table, so I wanted to make sure their work was visible and that their contributions did not go unnoticed.”

While unsure of exactly what type of lawyer she’d like to be one day, Janssens underscored the strong connection between her future legal career goals and the competencies gained during her Wikipedia assignment, including the writing and digital literacy skills needed to edit the online encyclopedia.

“Writing a Wikipedia article requires you to be very judicious about what information to include,” Janssens noted. “I wanted my writing to be well-formed but also accessible to anyone who might come across the article on Wikipedia. Identifying the most important information and conveying it in a clear manner will be helpful for me in a future career in law.”

Overall, Janssens found editing Wikipedia to be user-friendly, noting the pleasure of creating citations.

“I think editing Wikipedia was quite fun!” she reflected. “The ability to easily create citations was very helpful throughout the writing process. I love how they automatically generate in the ‘References’ section at the bottom of the article!”

This spring, Janssens and her classmates added nearly 33,000 words and over 300 references to Wikipedia articles as part of historian Mack Scott’s course “This is America”, which focused on people and events often marginalized or forgotten in American history. During the weeks of the course alone, their collective work on Wikipedia was viewed 237,000 times. 

“I felt a level of pressure working on this assignment that I don’t feel with traditional assignments,” said Janssens. “I felt like I had to make it really good so that it would be perceived well by readers and other Wikipedia users.”

Janssens hopes others will also feel compelled to enhance content on Wikipedia, including the article she herself improved.

“I think it would be cool if other people contributed to the article, as well!” said Janssens. “I like that Wikipedia is collaborative in that way.”

Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia assignment into your course? Visit to learn more about the free assignment templates, resources, and guidance that Wiki Education offers to instructors in the United States and Canada.


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