Graduation Celebration

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A picture of all the lovely cards my friends and family gave me.

When my defense date was scheduled, Chris suggested having a graduation celebration at a local restaurant. I am not one to celebrate my accomplishments, but I thought, “I do miss my friends.” Being in a Ph.D. program is isolating. Finally now after five years, I get to rejoin society. :) <smile>

Chris found this little family-owned restaurant near South City. It was so nice. The service was great. The food was great. They were so accommodating! If you’re in St. Louis, go eat there. It looks so unassuming from the outside, but it’s a wonderful place to eat or have a large party.

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it out that evening. Sorry some of you could not make it. We need to meet for a coffee date. It was wonderful to get to see all the new little someones in our group and enjoy a meal without worrying about how much time I was spending away from my research and writing.

I always am the worst at receiving gifts, because I never expect anything and feel guilt when receiving gifts. Maybe this stems from my shyness. I’m outgoing unless the attention is on me, the person. In spite of my shy awkwardness around gift receiving, some of my friends and family were so gracious to give me cards, a coffee mug, flowers, money gifts, Star Wars nerdery, and wine.

Because of my guilt I feel when receiving gifts (I know, weird, right?), I always want to make sure I’m very responsible in buying items with gift cards and money. I thought very hard over the past week-and-a-half about what would be good to buy with the money gifts.

First I thought books, but then I figured the local library has a great selection of books and eBooks, and my bookshelf space is already “inappropriately overstuffed.” (I’ll own that one.) So, no on books.

Previously, I purchased my graduation regalia with a money gift from my parents and the bank of moi. (This is lovingly known around the house as my Pokemon outfit. Mom is evolving.)

This gift I would buy needed to be something practical and really applicable for where this degree took me.

For the past five years, I have been using a hand-me-down desk chair from my parents.

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A picture of the old faithful chair and poor Jack Skellington

This desk chair was purchased when my family bought a new home computer when I was 13 – it was 1995. Because the foam in the seat is now worn out and the bolts are now just under the fabric, I sit on a Jack Skellington pillow. Sorry, Jack.

Considering now I will be doing a lot of academic coaching, independent research, and writing, thus working from home, Chris suggested it was time for a new desk chair. I searched, and read, and debated. The Steelcase Gesture did have the best reviews everywhere I searched. But did I really want to drop that much on a chair? The last desk chair I purchased was in 2000 for $99. Bless that thing for lasting 11 years. And, arguably, this current chair has lived a healthy 21 years and it was more than $99 when my parents bought it. If this new chair lasts that long, it would only be 13 cents a day. Please understand, I am not used to spending money on myself.

After hearing my debates for the past week, and giving an unknown number of exasperated responses, Chris told me to “get over it.” Heeding my famous advice, last night I closed my eyes, and pushed the “Submit Order Now” button. My new desk chair will arrive Thursday. Appropriately, I ordered the chair in same blue as the velvet on my graduation regalia, signifying Education. It’ll help me take on the complexities of the state of education.

I am so fortunate to have such caring family and friends to help over the past few years, patiently ignore my absence, and help celebrate my accomplishments. Thank you.

If you want to come attend my hooding ceremony and watch me evolve into a Ph.D. graduate while in my Pokemon outfit, it’ll be the 18th of May, 2017.

Wikipedia is Therapy

Ruf des Phönix Erster Sog, Bild von Magdalena Maya Ben 2007
Ruf des Phönix Erster Sog, Bild von Magdalena Maya Ben 2007Licensed under Creative Commons

Connections between people over the Internet offer a large possibility for anonymity. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Or more likely, no one knows about your gender, race, religion, or disability. For people with disabilities, the Internet is full of havens where they can live without stigma. Wikipedia may just be one of those havens.

I was toying around with the idea of investigating the lived experiences of people with disabilities who contribute to Wikipedia. Now I am even more intrigued after reading the article titled Wikipedia is not Therapy by Andrew McMillen.

I clicked on some of the links in the article, starting with the English Wikipedia essay Wikipedia is not therapy (WP:NOTTHERAPY). Essays on English Wikipedia are written by Wikipedia editors. The information written is usually opinion-based or advice pertaining to Wikipedia. The essays do not require approval, or widespread agreement; this one, however, is used frequently.

This WP:NOTTHERAPY is sometimes referenced in edit disputes or other community discourse about inappropriate behavior. It is to insinuate the receiving party has a mental disability and tell them that Wikipedia is not a place for their inappropriate behavior. It is used to diminish their value and discredit any further discussion of their merits.

Similar to the casual way in which society uses “crazy” and “nuts,” this suggests inappropriate behavior and disability have a causal link in the minds of some in the community.

Let me pause and explain. There are two views of disability: the medial model and the social model.

The medical model frames the disability as a deficiency of the person, which must be cured, and places the emphasis on the perceived disease or deficiency. The medical model offers complications for people with disabilities as it frames them as “abnormal,” “subnormal,” or “special.” The focus on curing or managing their disabilities in order to be more “normal” further communicates to society that a disability is something to be removed and even ashamed of.

The social model of disability views disability as part of the natural environment. The social model focuses on how society is developed around people without disabilities or the “able-bodied.” This model came out of the recognition that society’s practices of discrimination, exclusion of people with disabilities, and inclusion of those without disabilities is a form of oppression. Society has told people who have disabilities “how to be disabled.”

The WP:NOTTHERAPY message, on the whole, is not offensive. Yet it contains language that embodies society’s stigmatized view of disability. The longevity and usefulness of WP:NOTTHERAPY, suggest a great number of people in the community subscribe to the medical model of disability.

Here are a few examples of language in WP:NOTTHERAPY:

These problems may be caused by personal immaturity, an inability to properly apply Wikipedia’s policies, poor social skills, or other reasons.

This sentence, connected with the title, implies that people who cause problems need therapy.

The phrase “Wikipedia is not therapy” should not be taken to imply that editors with mental disorders are incapable of making constructive contributions to Wikipedia…

Why then did the editors who wrote this essay choose this title? There has been discussion on the talk page about the essay title. The self-proclaimed inventor of the concept said, “In its ‘voting is not therapy’ incarnation, it was useful as a sneer, and it was meant as a sneer.” This suggests is it acceptable to use assumptions about one’s state of mental health as a sneer. Just like using the word “retarded” does not make it okay because you didn’t mean “retarded” but just “stupid.”

In short, Wikipedia offers users the chance to practice being sensible, sane, and productive, but one’s psychological state is not an acceptable excuse for disrupting the encyclopedia.

Why does mental health need to be in this conversation? If you can’t make sensible and productive contributions, don’t edit right now. I just said the same thing without being insulting. Punch up, not down.

After reading WP:NOTTHERAPY, in the See also section is an essay titled Wikipedia is not a convalescent center. Included is the text:

Wikipedia is not a convalescent center for people with poor communication skills…It should also be noted that lack of communication skills may be indicative of a deficit in actual functioning, such as a disorder.

This could also be indicative of people who are newbies, young, or non-native English speakers.

Further on in “Wikipedia is not a convalescent center,” there is reference to trolling and “behaviors that are disruptive both for the encyclopedic work and the project’s social community.” Essay titles and content like this damage both the encyclopedic work and the project’s social community.

The title could be: Wikipedia is not a tabloid. Or Wikipedia is not a toilet.

But it isn’t.

The language chosen in both essays is a jab at people with disabilities. People with disabilities are valued contributors to Wikipedia and there are people without disabilities who are destructive to Wikipedia. Having a disability should not be used to diminish contributors, nor should ‘disability’ and similar language be used as insults.

Going back to McMillen’s article…

McMillen’s article makes some great points. People on Wikipedia are valued contributors. Some people may have disabilities, but that does not diminish their value.

…it can reveal some of the worst aspects of human behavior, including abuse, harassment, and threats of physical violence.

Exposing yourself on the Internet can be challenging. Just like any relationship, you’re opening yourself up to all experiences. This could include appreciation for contributions, constructive criticism, or the bile of heinous behavior.

…mental health carries a powerful stigma, and that the more open we are about it, the less it weighs all of us down.

By suggesting people who are destructive or people with whom you are feuding have a mental disability, this only serves to perpetuate the stigmatized perspective of disability held by society. The more open we are about mental disabilities and receiving help for these disabilities, the more acceptable it will become in society, meaning more people will get the therapy they need to live personally fulfilling lives – and others will be more supportive when learning someone has a disability. No empathetic person wants to see their fellow human distressed, so why would anyone want to perpetuate the stigma which only serves to oppress people with disabilities?

I found in my reading for my dissertation people do not always disclose their disabilities. The failure to disclose could indicate people with disabilities do not want to be judged, invoke stigma about disability, or be treated differently than the people without disabilities. People with disabilities would rather risk struggling academically rather than face the stigma, stereotyping, and status loss society places on people with disabilities.

When you get a bunch of passionate people together, emotions can run high and interactions can become less than cordial. This is the time when WP:NOTTHERAPY is used. Unintentionally, this mentality might be serving to only further alienate current and potential contributors.

While McMillen’s article does have the intent to bring more attention to the potentially distressing effects of being an active contributor, I do disagree with one point:

Depending on the reader, its tone might be perceived as just snarky or dismissive enough to rub a distressed editor the wrong way.

I am not distressed or someone with a disability, yet I perceive the WP:NOTTHERAPY as “snarky and dismissive.” It is inappropriate. Maybe this has to do with my overall empathy. Or my hope to not exclude a valuable population of contributors. Or maybe others agree with me and it’s time to take that essay down and decommission its function in disputes.

 This emergency response system was established in 2010 by Philippe Beaudette…

I am glad there is a response system in place to support community members in distress. The fear of invoking stigma can prevent people with disabilities from pursuing support. WP:NOTTHERAPY only helps to further the stigma associated with mental disabilities and seeking therapy. Many people could benefit from therapy, but choose to not seek therapy. This illustrates the personal impact of societal stigmatization of disability.

Having a mental, or an “invisible,” disability does not lessen the effect of stigmatized actions and remarks on the person. Disabilities, both physical and “invisible,” can affect people in various ways. Conflating poor behavior with people with disabilities does not help “write an encyclopedia,” but stifles the much needed diversity in the community.

Wikipedia is therapy…

I argue that contributing to Wikipedia is therapy. No, no activity can replace actual therapy, but there are benefits to contributing. After a stressful day, I feel reinvigorated because I’m having an effect on the available free knowledge. I feel excited immersing myself in solving content puzzles. I laugh, saying, “How’d I get here?” after going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of interesting content. After a day of fighting the good fight for education equality, this knowledge-nerd is rejuvenated by family, food, and Wikipedia.

I know the benefits for me, but the benefits and reasons for contributing are different for everyone. Veronica Erb wrote about Editing Wikipedia as self-care activism. Emily Temple-Wood’s positive punishment plan. Jake Orlowitz wrote about his Journey of a Wikipedian. I’d love to hear from other active contributors about their journey.

I am actually really curious to find out about the people with disabilities who are contributors on Wikipedia. If you’d like to collaborate on this investigation of the lived experiences of contributors with disabilities on Wikipedia, email me.

Make sure you do you.

If you are experiencing feelings that affect your enjoyment of daily life or negatively affect your daily activities, please do seek counseling. No other activity can replace seeing a qualified counselor. The counselor can provide you with resources and tools so you can enjoy the one life you live.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, know the suicide is preventable and you must get immediate help. Help can be found at suicide.org.

You are a scholar right now.

Ever walk into a room and walk out as someone totally different? I did. It was July 21, 2016. I entered the room as a student and left as a scholar.

I always felt smart, but there is the saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” This rings true, but in most of my years as a graduate assistant, I felt like a very educated copy machine. I repeatedly came up with ideas and asked to help write, research, and create projects.* I was told no. I let it eat at my confidence. I allowed the denial to cast doubt on my intelligence. “But how did I earn a full scholarship with paid assistantship at a prestigious, private institution?” I had to be smart.

Had I not had a professional career prior to my graduate assistantship, or that final awesome year of my assistantship**, my resume would basically look like:

  • Developed strong interpersonal relationship with Xerox 7000 series
  • Punched holes on the left and gained spiral-binding experience
  • Expertly handled staples, whether upper-left or upper-right

I lived my life jealous of other education graduate assistants at other higher education institutions. I would go to conferences and hear about the coolest research they were doing with their faculty mentors and how they were creating projects with departmental support to launch them into their careers after graduation. Believe me, I was crushing hard on Harvard. Oh, the plethora of social-justice-education collaborations available to sate my nerdy palette!

But I love my school.

And this is why I care so much about this problem. I am sure we’re not alone either. So, all of higher education, pay attention:

The way in which students are treated in the academic food chain is wasteful. The perspective academia has about the instantaneous moment at which someone changes from student to scholar wastes years of potential low-cost labor. Students would gladly put in effort for a little bit of experience. This experience could contribute to the available knowledge-base or otherwise positively impact education.

Faculty members have a huge case load of advising on top of their course load.*** They do not have the time to train graduate assistants to do tasks. Graduate assistants need to be strong critical thinkers and capable of self-directed fact finding.

Departments should charge experienced graduate assistants with interviewing graduate assistant applicants. Let students gain that human resources experience, and let them find the qualified candidates.

Regardless of the graduate assistants received, they are for the institutions to shape into their future scholars. Empower them on day one.

Faculty: at the first faculty meeting of the year, chat about some upcoming projects or wishlist research tasks. Develop a list of ideas before the graduate assistants arrive panting excitedly at the door.

Deans: make sure your departmental dollars are working for the department! Get those students out there in the world and show them off! Awesome, hardworking students bring good press, which brings more students. Recruitment TEAMWORK!

Everyone: Rethink intelligence. Empower students. Anyone can learn. This is how society will move forward.

*I was told no for three of the four years. Thank goodness for my last year experience. I had the best faculty mentor and look forward to our future collaborations.

**Yes, this did give me time to work on my literature review and dissertation while I was not doing work. However, much of my time not working I spent helping other students edit their papers or problem solve.

***To lighten their case load, my suggestion was the creation of a position to help students with their dissertation proposals and once they are ready for the focused advising, hand them off. This would give students accurate and level-appropriate feedback without taxing faculty members with the charge of cleaning up formatting, grammar, variables, or even the methodology.