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Black Women’s Herstory–Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon at Spelman College [Reflections and Press]

About the Event

Recently, me and Professor Jamila Lyn–a colleague at Morehouse–organized a Black Women’s Herstory Wikipedia Editathon that took place alongside hundreds of other similar events as part of Art+Feminism–a distributed global event designed to diversify Wikipedia’s coverage of women in the arts.  As you may know, the vast majority (at least 85%) of Wikipedia’s editors are (white) males.  Although Wikipedia is the fourth most visited website online, its content reflects the homogeneity of its editors.  We, in the AUC, have the power to diversify Wikipedia coverage by adding more articles about notable black women in the arts, media, and advocacy.

Gratitude to Sponsors and Volunteers

We were fortunate to acquire significant support from Morehouse Academic Affairs, Spelman Honors, the Spelman English Department, the Spelman Comprehensive Writing Program, the Bonner Office of Civic Engagement, and the Atlanta University Center (AUC) Robert W. Woodruff Library.  Each of these sponsors offered financial, spatial, and/or credit-bearing support for this event.  We also had several “partners” who actively promoted the event.  These included the African Diaspora of the World program (ADW), the Office of the Provost, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman, Emory’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality program, and individual professors such as Dr. Calaya Reid and Dr. Estelle Finley.

Jamila and I deeply appreciated that almost 80 students participated in the event and contributed to its success. Through the Bonner’s Office of Civic Engagement’s willingness to offer First and Second-Year students service credit for their participation, we ended up with about 40 volunteers.  Our volunteers also included several members of the National Council of Negro Women, some Morehouse students, as well as students from my English 193 (Honors Composition), English 390 (Writing and Editing Digital Media), and English 453 (Writing Across Professional Contexts) classes.  We are very grateful for our student photographers who documented the event.  Peyton Hawkins, Miah Hardy, Lewis Miles, and Serena Hughley contributed to some of those high-res photos that you are seeing on the photo gallery post.

Meanwhile, we are especially indebted to Aleta Turner, our local Wikimedian, who traveled to our event from Athens, GA.  She patiently and passionately helped our students learn more about the intimate politics and practices of Wikipedia–as a community and site of online publishing.  We can’t wait to invite her back next year!  We are also grateful to Dr. Estelle Finley for voluntarily bringing donuts and coffee for breakfast, and for her tablecloths and helpful organizational guidance throughout the event.  She was also our endurance champion–she came at 10 a.m. and she edited all day and left at 7 p.m.!  Professor Opal Moore worked with students in the Writing Center and lent historical expertise to students editing about radical poets.  Dr. Michelle Hite joined us for the tutorial and was available to assist students for most of the afternoon.  Meanwhile, we observed busy students checking folks in and editing Wikipedia all day long!  It was truly an inspiring event!!

Results

According to our event dashboard, we made the following sum total contributions to Wikipedia:

We also created a post-event survey, in which 22 respondents provided their thoughts on the day:

Jamila and I had a great time learning and working with everyone throughout the day.  This experience brought us into contact with so many invaluable herstories and interests that we may have never discovered in the traditional classroom space or in a faculty meeting.  We strongly believe that we have to do this event again for the purposes of ensuring that people have increased access to writing spaces, in which they can edit comfortably and enjoy a relaxed, lively social environment.

Press

The event details were posted on the homepage of Spelman College, Kiss 104.1,  and served as a critical promotional tool.  The college also marketed the event on Twitter.  We were also featured in an issue of Spelman Connection.  After the event, we were also recognized by the Office of the President.  In an email to all Spelman faculty, Mary Schmidt Campbell described the event as, “Just the kind of intellectual activism that we want to encourage in Spelman students.”

Event Significance for Spelman and Beyond

The edit-a-thon explicitly focused on a global women-centered movement to increase the visibility of women in the arts, which aligns with Spelman’s new focus on black women’s participation in the arts.  Furthermore, the event launched an excellent demonstration of how Spelman English faculty are engaged with Art, Media, and Technology.  As an English/Writing faculty, I occupy a strange limbo space between Arts and Humanities because I teach students how to both interpret and produce various texts across media.  Moreover, I am connected to STEM because I teach students how to use technology (e.g. writing is a technology and digital writing forces me to introduce principles of composition for web development and design, as well as how to adapt to emerging writing genres in both online and print media cultures).  My own interdisciplinary identity enabled me to organize an edit-a-thon because I saw direct connections between the edit-a-thon, my own teaching and research, Spelman’s strategic plan, and the Arts @ Spelman initiative.  Beyond my institution, it demonstrated my commitment to digital humanities and especially critical information and media literacy.

Indeed, one of my major motivations for organizing the event is that I have been teaching Wikipedia editing since 2007, and I have observed its potential for deeply engaging our students with 21st century knowledge production and intellectual service in several complex ways.  First, students learned how to think critically about the arts by recognizing the extent to which the arts is absent from mainstream digital sites of knowledge making.  Next, they recognized their ethical obligation to participate in globally distributed attempts to represent that knowledge for the purposes of educating the public about the value of (black women in) the arts.  Third, they participated in crafting a narrative about the notability of black women across the diaspora in the arts, which enables them to learn more about how the arts is inextricably related to other fields of production that affect human decision-making such as media and advocacy.  Throughout this process, students acquired invaluable research, writing, and critical thinking skills.  Finally, the Black Women’s Herstory Wikipedia Editathon aligned student, faculty, and staff goals in a distinctly womanist method:  everyone was invited to participate, regardless of “expertise,” because we all know something.  By coming together to share our knowledge, we all benefited from the exchange.  The social aspect of knowledge production and learning strengthens our spirit and our will to seek wisdom in the honor of both our individual excellence and our ancestors–to whom a great cognitive and emotional debt must be paid for our ability to tell the “herstory” of black women’s intellectual and cultural legacies.

Conclusion 

Overall, this Black Women’s Herstory Wikipedia Edit-a-thon modeled the kind of cross-institutional interdisciplinary potential of alternative educational programming.  For example, it showed how connections between programs like Honors and the Comprehensive Writing Program, could combine with English in such a way that students could actively participate in radical intellectual activity and development on-campus.  We can’t wait to host our next Black Women’s Herstory Edit-a-thon next year!  We would also love to work with Morehouse to do one during black history month too.  It was amazing to see both Spelman and Morehouse students working together with our faculty to create an enduring intellectual contribution to the web.  Next year, we will recruit more faculty, prepare with more training, and increase quicker access to the dashboard (Dr. Lockett can officially create accounts now!).

We should also consider how to leverage all of our amazing community organizations and museums in this city, as well.  Wikipedia Edit-a-thons don’t just have to happen for demographic specific months like “black history or women’s history.”  We can help anyone looking to represent the notability of a subject online anytime.  For instance, a historic cemetery like Westview, or the Auburn Research Library might have themes or topics they want us to come help them hack.  If you are reading this post and want to organize virtually or in-person, send me an email (alexandrialockett@gmail.com) or leave a comment.  Jamila and I would like to strategically plan these partnerships in collaboration with anyone who would be willing and able to assist.

As we move forward, we would like to know more about how the Edit-a-thon environment, and Wikipedia, has real implications for teaching and learning practices at HBCUs.  What do we, teachers need to know more about effectively exchanging–not simply transferring–learning with our colleagues and students?  How do we facilitate knowledge making with real impact that enables our community members–not just students, but faculty, staff, and residents–to chart a meaningful path of discovery?

In sum, I hope this edit-a-thon might raise some provocative conversations about how we design and lead radically collaborative, artistic, technologically-driven programming for the Atlanta University Center (AUC), HBCUs, Women’s Colleges, and any and all diverse learning sites.