My Experience at Wikimedia Diversity Conference

Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2017 in Stockholm Group Photo, a photo by Jonatan Svensson Glad, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International</a>
Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2017 in Stockholm Group Photo, a work by Jonatan Svensson Glad, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

This past weekend I attended the Wikimedia Diversity Conference in  Stockholm, Sweden. This conference was hosted by Wikimedia Sverige and was the second conference of its kind. The 80 attendees live in 43 countries and speak a total of 23 various languages. It was humbling to be in such a delegation.

I became interested in attending the conference during Wikimania 2017 in Montréal, Québec. I heard about it from another attendee. The principles of the open knowledge movement speak to my core values: education for all, content created by the masses, and consumed by everyone – for free. Due to my desire for equity in the open knowledge movement, I knew I would really appreciate a conference like this.

Right now, the communities in the open knowledge movement are out of balance. The larger communities, which are connected by language and often geography, dominate the attention and focus of the broader movement. I am not saying one community should be ignored to the detriment of another. I am saying we need to support the developing communities better.

So, going back to August, I read about the conference and signed up to be an ambassador to help spread the word about the conference. I started working on my application. Space was limited, so the organizers were being selective about attendance so we ended up with a well-rounded group from around the world. I applied for a scholarship to attend the conference, and considering I self-funded four trips so far this year on one household income, it was much needed. Unfortunately, in early September, I got notice that I was on a waitlist for the scholarship that would help with travel, lodging, and conference attendance fee. I understood. The response to the conference was overwhelming I am sure!

Moving to the end of September, I was having chats with some gracious Wikimedians about my grant proposal to investigate the impact of implicit bias on Wikipedia. One person asked if I was going to the Wikimedia Diversity Conference. I told her I wasn’t because I was unable to get travel support. She said, “You know, you should really think about going.” Because I respect her a lot, and the rest of the community does as well, I immediately got off the call with her and told my husband the story: about the conference application, not getting a full scholarship, but a partial, how it might fit right in with my grant, and how this person really thinks it’d be a good idea for me to be there.

Without hesitation, he said, “Do it.”

I thought it might be too late. I emailed the people organizing the conference. I explained how I hesitated because I had already self-funded four trips this year, but I would love to accept the scholarship if the opportunity still was open. The organizers expressed regret as the conference was already at capacity. I understood. I hesitated too long.

A month later I get an email on October 25, nine days before the conference. There was a cancellation and I could attend. I really had lost all hope at that point and just thought I would watch the sessions that were recorded. After a very supportive conversation with my husband, I booked my flights and made plans to head to Sweden for a few days of intense conversations.

My flights were uneventful and I slept much of the time. This is always funny since I always load my iPad with articles and movies in case I’m bored. Each flight I woke up as we were touching down in the next city. Since I just packed a carry-on bag, I quickly got off the last plane and went looking for the bus to take me to the Stockholm Central Station. Hilariously enough, ABBA was playing at the airport in Stockholm.

Horse stables along my route from Stockholm Airport to Stockholm City

I found the spot where the Flygbussarna busses pick up passengers and got onto a bus right away. The underground was a bit cheaper, but I wanted to see more of Stockholm on my short trip. It was pretty cool – I got to see loads of horse stables, and even the amazing horse stables I saw on the Flygbussarna video, which I would totally live in. I also saw a place where you could buy tiny houses. I didn’t get a picture unfortunately. My oldest wants to be an architect and design tiny houses. She would have flipped out if I got a picture.

Flygbussarna bus I rode
Sunrise at Stockholm Central Station

I arrived at the conference hotel just a few hours before the conference was supposed to start. I headed up to my room to freshen up before meeting everyone for dinner. I was excited, but so sleepy. A nice cup of tea helped greatly!

At 4 pm, I headed down to the lobby to meet everyone and walk to dinner. We all walked to the Royal Armoury. It’s a museum, but unfortunately the halls were closed. I really want to go back someday and just enjoy the museums and libraries in Stockholm. Although the halls were closed, I did enjoy the best news: they’re wiki-friendly. They love getting their documents and pictures of their collections on Wikipedia and Commons. It was really cool to hear how they engage with the community and invite Wikipedians to connect with their collections.

Dinner was great – I’d never had vegetarian lasagna with beans before, but it was good, and exactly what I needed after a long day of travel. The conference organizers set us up with bingo cards as conversation starters, but some of us just jumped right into conversation without the cards. We didn’t realize we were supposed to be playing bingo for about 45 minutes! It was so great to see faces new and old – meeting new friends, meeting others again, and meeting some for the first time in person. After a few hours of fun, food, and conversation, I headed back to get a good night’s sleep. I walked back to the hotel with another person focused on the gender gap. We had a good conversation catching up.

When I got back to my room, I found out my roomie was none other than AfroCROWD‘s Sherry Antoine. I met her in Montréal and really enjoyed hearing about her work with her colleagues. I cannot wait to get something like what they are doing going here in St. Louis! They have such a large gathering of folks and with such diverse skills – people good at writing, people good at finding information, young, old, curious, etc. People can learn so much from their wisdom with organizing events and connecting people.

After a good breakfast, Saturday morning the conference started at 9 am. We all organized into “base camps”, which were intended to mix us up into relatively diverse groups. Everyone had to be from a different country, if possible, and a mix of genders and languages as well. We would have discussions where we would move about the room, but then we would come back to our base camp groups to discuss and debrief. The day started with a talk from Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. In her talk she said:

These conversations are hard. Justice is difficult.

She went on to talk about shared power. Our mission statement implies equity, but it is not our reality. We need to make sure we give people who need to be at the table a seat at the table, and listen. “Nothing about us without us.”

Dominant culture
We need to deconstruct dominant culture. In many discussions on Wiki projects, the edit count is viewed as a measure of a person’s contributions to the movement. This is only a snapshot and a very incorrect view of people’s contributions. Organizing, teaching, advocating, planning, etc. do not produce an edit count. Privilege leads to a high edit count – editing on a computer you own, with electricity and Internet, in a country with free speech – where it’s easier to produce a higher quantity of edits. The edit count is not and should not be considered a representation of a person’s worth in this community.

Cultivating identity
Valuing and realizing the value a diverse group of people and their identities bring to the movement.

Communicating in an accessible language
Speaking in language we understand, and clearly.

Centering the marginalized
Center people who need to be at the table, listen to them, encourage others to listen to them, and be sure to center and share their needs in a way that does not objectify them or their communities.

To close, she said:

Knowledge is a tool of power. Free knowledge is a radical act.

For our next activity, we were to look at our cue card number four. This was about what we wanted to accomplish this weekend. I said:

Listen to the realities of others about their communities and their experiences with their identities in the broader movement.

We discussed these statements in our base camp groups and came up with a few behaviors and actions to make the friendly space policy work:

Listen.

Be curious.

Don’t deny others’ realities.

Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2017 Friendly Space policy, a work by Sara Mörtsell, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International</a>
Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2017 Friendly Space policy, a work by Sara Mörtsell, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Then Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight presented about the Gender Diversity Mapping Project. A few insights I took away: only 7% of the world’s knowledge is in books. This is huge considering the way notability and verifiability standards for English Wikipedia are centered around published sources. We’re excluding nearly 90% of the world’s knowledge due to policy.

I had a hard time keeping my seat when this menti poll came out the way it did.

Implicit bias permeates everything.

Yes. Bias is a sneaky bitch. Find out more about bias on Wikipedia from my Wikimania 2017 session Birth of Bias: implicit bias’ permanence on Wikipedia and my grant proposal to investigate the impact of implicit bias on Wikipedia.

After an intense morning, we all gathered for lunch. The lunch was great, but not very allergy friendly. Foods were not labeled, so I just ate what I was pretty sure about. Another tip for all future conferences with an international attendance: label foods with information about the food and how one would eat it. It was assumed that everyone knew what each food was and how one would eat it. Not so!

After lunch, it was a discussion about the Wikimedia movement strategic direction. We first gathered in our base camp groups, then mixed around the room. I stayed at our base camp table as a conversation host.

These statements stuck with me the most from these conversations:

“Why does this matter to me?”

“This is something so beyond where we are. We are still struggling with getting the computers and reliable/affordable Internet.”

“This was up for discussion? In our culture, when we see ‘direction’ we think that is what we are doing and there is no discussion.”

“We don’t know how to organize to implement this. We need facilitators to help us with this.”

“What strategic direction? This was not communicated to my community.”

We used Menti a lot to do polls with the whole group, particularly during our discussion about the strategic direction. This allowed us to easily share our ideas and the fruits of our discussions with the bigger group without talking to everyone individually. Here is an example:

After the session ended for the day on Saturday, I went to walk around the town a bit. It was funny, because we started our days before the sun came up, and ended them after the sun had set for the day. The only time I saw Stockholm in the daylight was going to and from the airport. I took a few pictures walking around town, up and down Drottningsgatan Street, and in old town Stockholm.

Lions are big around Stockholm. Here is one of the lions on Drottningsgatan Street. These were sculptured by artist Anders Årfelt. Further lions will be placed as barriers for the pedestrian street to help prevent further vehicular attacks, as that has become a common method of terrorist attack in Europe.

I also got to see the holiday decorations in store fronts around town.

Buildings on one side of the Big Square

This is a photo of the well on the Big Square. Behind it to the right is the Stock Exchange building, which houses the Nobel Library and Museum.

During my photo walk I bumped into loads of people from the conference. One of my gender gap partners-in-crime and I bumped into each other. We ended up walking around taking photos and chatting before dinner. It was a well-deserved chat. In this work, it can be hard, and it’s always nice to have someone with whom you can vent!

After enjoying the brisk air, we went back to the hotel for dinner. It was a nice well-deserved break after a long day of deep conversations. More on that later.

The next day, we reviewed day one with our base camp groups, listened to lightning talks, and tried to listen to a presentation about Hosting Inclusive Events. I do feel bad for the person hosting the presentation, who was from the Wikimedia Foundation’s Support and Safety team. She received a lot of anger and critique due to history of harassment not being addressed in the community.

On Harassment
Here is what I am going to say and summarize the harassment dialogue from the conference. Although it was not an official topic, it was a topic that dominated dialogue in my base camp group the entire weekend. One person felt the Wikimedia Foundation did not do enough to represent her in her lawsuit with her harasser. Others do not like the idea of having other people report the harassment they witness, for fear it might become problematic for the victim. Others still thought putting the responsibility on the victim to report the harassment was inappropriate. Basically, it’s complicated, but here are several key things the WMF could do:

  • Define what harassment is. There is real confusion about what harassment is and what it isn’t.
  • Respond to the harassment in the space where it happens. Don’t wait until after the event. Address the behavior where it is occurring.
  • Openly publish the actions victims and the rest of the community can expect from the WMF.
  • Relatedly, openly publish the actions victims and the rest of the community cannot expect from the WMF.
  • Follow up and follow through.
  • Stand up firmly to harassment. Yes, we rely on volunteers, but at what point is the harasser more valuable than the victim, the community in which they are perpetuating hostility, and the potential volunteers they are keeping from the community? Administrators and other volunteers did not sign up to respond to harassment. They are also not equipped to do so. This responsibility falls on the WMF. Something needs to be done.

After this session, we broke out into three possible tracks. I chose Accessing Resources to Increase Diversity. It was a really great session, especially after the discussions I had in the roaming discussions on Saturday which yielded lots about access to resources being issues in developing regions. There was one particular exercise I really liked in the session. It was about focusing not on what you want, but what you have, in the event/project planning process. Wikimedia Foundation’s grant program officer, Marti Johnson, had us all set aside what we need and brainstorm about what we have.

So, for me, the list of what I have for my proposed project would be:

  • Space to hold events (with computers and Internet) at local libraries
  • Knowledge of Wikipedia/Wikimedia projects and their guiding principles
  • Knowledge of how to facilitate discussions
  • Grant writing skills
  • Event organization skills
  • Information literacy
  • Computers
  • Internet
  • Software
  • Knowledge of how to use computers
  • Access to information
  • Volunteers
  • Time

It can go on an on. It just gets us out of the mindset of what we don’t have and away from the fixation on funding. I really loved it! It is a positive exercise to get us thinking creatively when it doesn’t seem like there are resources.

After the individual sessions it was time for lunch and the final session of the day: the Way Forward. This session I think needed a little more structure, as I don’t feel many action items were developed from this time, as I think was intended. I did have a good conversation with several people about leadership needs. I didn’t have any particular needs, but wanted to express what I had heard as needs during the discussions.

The conference was very informative, and I do hope we continue to work as a cohort. I want to thank Wikimedia Sverige for all their hard work and the opportunity to attend the conference. Thank you for making many of the sessions streaming! Attending was a privilege and I wish more could have attended as well.

After the closing session, some people organized karaoke and a dance party. A big group of us stole the leftovers from the last Fika and pulled chairs together in the conference center hallway. I think in conferences where the conversations are so intense, activities to just let loose should be part of the options in the day or evening.

I was glad to talk more to people about the implicit bias study I hope to do. I found some wonderful people who would be interested in replicating the study in their own communities. This is wonderful news considering bias is complicated by culture and language, expertise I only have in English. I really want this study to continue in all of the Wikimedia communities. That is when the impact will be truly complete.

We wound down the day talking about implicit bias, harassment, societal pressures, gender expectations, cartoons, and insects. The hotel staff closed the conference level on us, so we had to take our conversation elsewhere. We all headed to a vegetarian buffet in Old Town Stockholm. Funny enough, we kept running into other Wikipedians and others joined us! I think this restaurant never expected such a crowd on a Sunday evening. We ended up talking until they closed and kicked us out. We moved to the hotel lobby. On the walk back to the hotel, I had a meaningful conversation about harassment with another attendee. She shared some blatant harassment she experienced, and also some of the challenges of the politics in serving higher capacities within the movement. Both issues are fueled by individual lust for power, but the actions exclude those wanting to volunteer for the greater good.

To close, we need to stop being tolerant of the poor behaviors of others. We need to enlighten those who need it. We need the WMF to step in to support marginalized communities and victimized groups, and not be scared by certain parts of the community crying out with “overreach!” because this is only serving their power and privilege further. We need to listen more, think about others more, and communicate more. Then we will have a chance at equity.

My First Wikimania

By Kevin Payravi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
A few weeks ago, I attended my first Wikimania conference. It was held in Montréal, Québec. I had been to Montréal once before for a conference, but I was in a part of the city just a few blocks to the south this time. Thank goodness this visit was much warmer. August is much nicer in Montréal than March!

I was not planning on attending the conference if I didn’t get a scholarship, as I don’t have travel reimbursement right now and I’m completely self-funded, but I was to be presenting in 3 different sessions. On top of this, I really wanted to meet the people I had been connecting with over the past year in person. I shed a tear for my credit card and booked the trip.

By Chris Koerner from St. Louis, USA (Wikimania Hackathon 2017) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Chris and Kari attended the conference with me. I am not sure if Kari was the youngest participant, but she did not see anyone else her age. I did meet a few 16 and 17 year-olds from Germany, but no other 11 year-olds. She did make the acquaintance of the oldest Wikimedian in attendance, who was charming.

Our flights to Montréal were fine, but certainly not my favorite. Both flights we took were really turbulent and on really small planes where we were seated in the back. Luckily they were short flights and thank goodness the hustle through Customs did not take as long this time. Last visit to Montréal we only made our flight from Toronto with 10 minutes to spare! Thankfully this time we had enough time to not be in a panic.

By Ziko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Once we arrived in Montréal, we met up with one of Chris’ work friends at the baggage claim. We all took a taxi to the hotel. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable riding in a taxi or any other car service. Before this trip, I didn’t know you could drift in a Prius – just kidding. It really wasn’t that bad.

The hotel was really nice. The elevators were fast, if maybe a little too fast. The outlets all worked – if you travel a lot you know what a joy this is! And, although I was allergic to my bed, it was super comfy – nothing a little allergy medicine can’t fix! After a little rest and freshening up, we went to help with the set up for the Hackathon. I am always so blown away by what I see created at the Hackathons. I can’t think of any better coding than coding for a greater good.

That evening we met up with even more of Chris’ work friends and went out for dinner. After the first place turned out to be a dud (really, we judged a restaurant by it’s front door – more about this later), we went to a place called Dunn’s. Now eating out in other countries is a treat for me. I have food allergies. Countries outside of the United States usually have ingredients fully listed on the menus, or are really accommodating with modifying the item on the menu. Also, some food additives are just not allowed in other countries (get with the program, America). I rarely get sick eating out when I’m outside the US. Let’s just say I totally dug their in house veggie burger. Not quite like the one I had in Boston, where I hustled the chef for the recipe, but certainly in the top 5 of veggie burgers.

By Ziko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
After a night’s rest and a quick breakfast, Kari and I headed to our selected pre-conference, WikiConference North America. The first day was full of tours, edit-a-thons, scan-a-thons, and wrapped up with a social night at a pub in Old Montréal. Kari was dragging her feet on the way to McGill University. She did not want to tour the rare collections and archives. I gave a little smirk and ignored her complaints. Little did she know what this meant: a library with exclusive content. Once we were inside, I didn’t see her again until it was time to leave. She enjoyed herself so much taking pictures to upload to Commons (still to come). After the whole day at McGill, she’s convinced that’s where she’s going to college. As for me, I met and talked with so many different archivists, librarians, scholars, and change-makers during our hour in the rare collection archive, I didn’t get a chance to look at the material in the rare collection!

Topics discussed included the strong work others are doing surrounding equality, information access, and gaps of all kinds. I met some librarians and archivists from around the world. Librarians are still the coolest people I know, and wicked smart. Always have at least one on your trivia team for trivia nights. They are the pioneers of getting knowledge into the hands of the people.

By Slowking4 (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday evening we all gathered in Old Montréal at a pub for drinks, dinner, and conversation. I got to chat with several people who are passionate about the gender gap, bias, harassment, and categorization on Commons just like I am. It was really relaxing to get to talk amongst people with common concerns and thoughts. It can be great to have challenging discussions, but it is also so restorative to have those validating conversations. They show you you’re not alone, and what we’re all doing is important work.

One thing I can say I noticed right away about Wikimania and WikiConference North America, was the competitive aspect was missing. Most other conferences are filled with people recounting their resumes and competing for attention. But this experience with other people there for this common cause, it was very refreshing and quite relaxing. My lack of both rank and tenure didn’t matter here. My opinions about information access and the opportunity gap were received with snaps and nods of agreement. My choice to publish openly wasn’t followed by harsh comments, but excited anticipation. Wikipedians are the coolest people I know.

By Katie Chan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
On Thursday I presented my session about implicit bias at WikiConference North America. There were really bright people in the room. Honestly, I am better for their comments and discussion. One person brought up the fact that my topic only covered English Wikipedia. That’s the tricky bit. My presentation did only cover English Wikipedia, but I would love to be able to examine bias in other languages. This is something I need help with from within the language community. Bias is additionally complicated since much of it has to do with culture. Since I have not experienced the culture, there would be a greater learning curve, and also a greater rate of error. I would, however, love to inform these projects and efforts in any way I can.

Because of my particular interest in harassment on Wikipedia, I was excited to hear about Pax’s work with harassment. Pax is championing and supporting efforts to make harassment easier to report, and getting the community to call harassment what it is. A lot of times harassment, both on- and off-wiki, is not called exactly what it is. Pax is putting their experience to work, and encounters triggering and challenging content each day, to make harassment something unacceptable in the wiki-community.

I met people working on gaps in content and contributors. I cannot express how much I learned. There are students in New York editing content about crime to counteract editing attempts by local police departments to improve the department image. Women in college are editing content and reaffirming their place in creating and curating knowledge. Students at the Ohio State University spoke about their user group on campus. I also spoke to a student from Germany who is part of the Wikipedia youth users group. She told me about empowering youth to code, take pictures for Commons, and otherwise contribute. I really hope we can get something like this started in communities where there is already a large Wikipedia user group.

By Samat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Thursday night was the Wikimania opening session. It was nice to meet new people and get to embrace those I have come to know and love through Wikipedia. There was good food, and an amazing hoop dance to welcome us to Montréal.

On Friday, I presented my session on implicit bias for the Wikimania crowd. I was pretty surprised it was standing room only. I wish I would have recorded it and shared it. The group in the room was amazing. Answering questions and challenging each other to go further about bias was just great. There was one question about how you tell someone they’re wrong when they are telling you you’re biased, when you’re actually not. It was really cool seeing the crowd start to shift and buzz before this person finished asking their question. Thank you to the person in the crowd who answered the question, and with more grace than it deserved.

By VGrigas (WMF) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The rest of Friday and Saturday were filled with more sessions, lunches and dinners, social gatherings, a delicious shawarma (from the restaurant we judged), and the closing party. I had an incredible time and will always look back on this fondly. All of the guest speakers were amazing. I’m serious. They were absolutely incredible. Everyone I met was doing brilliant work. I made connections with people who are working toward changing bias – bias in content, policy, thought. I am excited to continue our work together.

My Wiki-filled visit to San Francisco

About a month ago I was fortunate to get to go to San Francisco for part of my visiting scholar role. The intention of my trip was to go to the Patient No More exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library. This exhibit is a production of San Francisco State University and the Longmore Institute on Disability.

I was arriving on Friday at 10 am and staying until Sunday at 5 pm. The event for Patient No More was only from 1 – 4 pm on Saturday. I wanted to make the most of my visit so I emailed some friends and colleagues. After a couple of hours, I had a wonderful weekend planned.

This trip, of course, didn’t start without a few flight delays. After a lengthy delay in Las Vegas, I arrived in San Francisco with just enough time to go to my Airbnb, freshen up, and grab a Lyft to head to coffee with a few members of the Wikimedia Foundation staff. The coffee was just what I needed to revive from my 1 am start! We walked past the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was incredible. Our chat was very helpful. It helped me reflect further on my own research and the Wikipedia community. I am very passionate about the community health work that is happening right now and their investment in the future of the community’s health. It really will create a stronger community by empowering contributors of all levels.

After my afternoon coffee, chat, and office tour, I headed back to change for the evening and headed to the Wiki Education Foundation offices in the Presidio. What a gorgeous ride it was! I passed quite a few painted ladies, and finally got to see the hills of San Francisco!

The staff and board at Wiki Edu are just as awesome as all the other wiki folks I have met. Thank you all for letting me crash your board gathering! I got to chat with others about the work I am doing, and started some collaborations while I was there. (I cannot wait to examine the lived experiences of people with disabilities in their career. It might be a long project, but incredibly important! Thank you, Helaine, for connecting with me on this.) I also met the soon-to-be newest member of the Wiki Edu staff. I am just blown away by everyone and the work they are doing. I really wish everyone well in their own projects.

I went back to my Airbnb around 9 pm because the Golden State Warriors were in town and slotted to win a pinnacle game. (They didn’t win that night, but they did win the championship!) My Airbnb host was amazing! Seriously, if you’re in San Francisco, stay there. It’s a very walkable location and a great place. It even comes with its own rescue pup, who is adorable.

Saturday morning I worked out and grabbed breakfast at a local dive with great reviews. It was awesome and the people watching made it even better. After breakfast, I checked out the International Art Museum of San Francisco. Once I finished the last gallery, it was time to head to the opening of Patient No More.

The exhibit is full of quotes and artifacts from the activists during the 504 protests. It was cool to see on so many levels. First, it was neat to see an exhibit about the history of one of the most notable pieces of disability legislation in the United States, second, it was great seeing another exhibit about disability, (previously my only experience was with Allies for Inclusion), and finally, I got to experience history all around me.

Let me explain: the main purpose of my visiting scholar role is to affect bias on Wikipedia regarding disability topics. I have a great desire to get speeches, letters, pictures, and other artifacts from the history available on Wikipedia. This would enable everyone to learn from these events, and experience the artifacts as if they were almost there. To be around people who wrote the letters, people who took the pictures, people who gave the speeches…it was powerful. These were people who participated in the 504 Sit-Ins right there next to me. This included Judith Heumann! She was the main organizer of the event in San Francisco, she served two US Presidents, and worked tirelessly for disability rights her whole life!

I was then talking to Cathy Kudlick, the Director of the Longmore Institute, about my desire to upload pictures, speeches, and other artifacts to Wikipedia. She then turns around and says, “Oh, then you must meet Anthony.” Anthony Tusler has been an invaluable source of information. Not only is he supportive of my plan, but he is willing to get me the info I need to get there. I have pages of notes from our last phone conversation I still have to act on. Hopefully I can make some progress once fall starts! I love the written word, but I love experiencing the audio of speeches, the details of the photographs, and the physical information stored in the letters. So much more can be learned from these additional resources. I’m stoked!

After the event was over, I wandered about town for a while before heading to dinner with a friend. It was a great dinner and we got to connect over some career concerns I was feeling. It’s always nice knowing you’re not alone! It is difficult when you are a creative person and know your path, but just must find how to make your path in this paved world.

Sunday I was on my own to explore the city. My Airbnb host had incredible suggestions of the best local places to visit. I literally walked down Market Street to Embarcadero, where I had amazing views as I walked all the way up the Bay to Fishermans Wharf. There I stopped at Boudin Bakery for some delicious clam chowder. Then I walked to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to get a great view of Alcatraz. After that, like any good chocoholic, my nose led me to my next location: Ghirardelli Square. There I got to see the historic factory and I had an ice cream that was just completely unreasonable…really.

I called it quits at about 600 calories in. No wonder the waiter gave me two spoons. Ha! Luckily my walk back to my Airbnb was 2.3 miles up and down the San Francisco hills. On my trek back, I passed Lombard Street. Even more impressive: I saw a person on a motorcycle going down Lombard Street! All the tourists applauded when the motorcyclist made it to the bottom.

After that, I finished my trip back and grabbed a ride to the airport. Another delayed flight, but I made my connection with 20 minutes to spare! On my flight from Los Angeles to home I got to see the Strawberry Moon from 30,000 feet! Pretty cool.

I am glad to be home, but my trip to San Francisco is on my top 10 list. I also have a lot of work to do! I am very thankful of the connections I have made during my time with this visiting scholar role. I am now looking forward to meeting new friends and gathering with new-old friends in Montreal for Wikimania in August.

Stuck between a paywall and equality

When I graduated with my PhD in 2016, I received offers to publish in various journals and I even have a book I’m writing. I am not completely committed to any of it.

What?!

I know.

Believe me, in this world of academic “publish or perish” I am not ungrateful and recognize my privilege in this. Anyone would jump at this, unless they think like me. I don’t create knowledge to sell journals, magazines, or subscriptions for some publishing house. I create for my fellow humans.

I am not a religious person, so this is not in a religious sense, but I have been privileged with circumstances, biological and societal, that led to experiences that nurtured my critical thinking and intelligence. I don’t wish to capitalize on that. None of this is what I truly earned so it wouldn’t be right for me to make knowledge that is not for everyone to receive.

I am committed to publishing my full dissertation and any writings of mine on my website, or in ways where they are openly accessible to others. Granted, this might be a delayed release so I can publish additional material off of my findings, but ultimately I don’t want my creations to be behind paywalls. My work is so personal to me. This is my art. This is my activism.

I did publish one article in a CASE magazine, but was insistent on this part of the contract:

“CASE agrees to identify Author/Assignor as the author of Work, and also to grant Assignor in perpetuity a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce by any means Work or parts of it solely for Assignor’s own personal use or as workshop handouts if the following copyright notice is placed on Work by Assignor: Copyright © 2015 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.”

It wasn’t as perfect of a distribution option as I’d preferred, but better than many publishers include.

So, how do you all do it? How do you publish and still stand for free knowledge?

Education is a human right denied to many. That statement of mine was an unpopular one with faculty members at my private, Jesuit graduate school. I was rather surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.

Free knowledge is a radical act. It is political. It is absolutely political to believe in free knowledge.
-Katherine Maher (Source Code Berlin)

This is why I spend much of my time editing Wikipedia. Education equality is my passion, my activism.

No laughing matter: my experience as a Wikipedia visiting scholar at ACPA

WikiEdu.org screenshot of Jackie Koerner: Wikipedia Visiting Scholar at SFSU

Wednesday night I got home from a higher education convention I attend each year. ACPA is an international organization for higher education personnel. Beyond an annual convention each March, ACPA provides professional development opportunities and various publications.

Last year, I attended the ACPA convention as a PhD candidate and graduate assistant at Saint Louis University. I graduated with my PhD in August 2016.

This year, I attended convention as an independent researcher and visiting scholar with San Francisco State University’s Longmore Institute on Disability. On the daily, I do independent research, submit my articles to publications, and I edit Wikipedia. In editing Wikipedia, I use sources available to me through SFSU to improve content on Wikipedia. I focus on disability topics, whether it’s culture, history, or adjusting bias in existing content.

For the 2017 ACPA convention I was a program review coordinator on the organizing committee. I also presented an educational session about attitudinal bias in disability and career. I also gave a PechaKucha talk about mental health and graduate programs. I was stoked!

That was, until I had a crowd of hundreds of people laughing at me.

It all started Saturday morning at a council meeting for the leadership of the state chapters. I talked about the work I was doing with San Francisco State University’s Longmore Institute on Disability and Wikipedia. At first, I was a little skeptical of talking about what I was doing in my group of professional peers, considering the mixed bag of responses I have received when talking about Wikipedia in the Midwest. The thirty plus people in the room thought this was pretty cool. I was super excited by their responses! I thought, “Yes! They get it!”

Then on Tuesday, I was presenting in a session with two of my colleagues (and friends) about attitudinal bias about disabilities in career. I mentioned media representation of self-hate of people with disabilities as an overwhelming theme, especially in movies. I mentioned Million Dollar Baby as an example, and noted although I had not seen it, I had read about its problematic plot on Wikipedia. A man in a suit seated at the front table loudly yelled, “HA!” I started at his outburst, then I laid out the logic for him. I told him numerous scholars are on Wikipedia, and commented on how funny it was he was attending a session about attitudinal bias and scoffing at Wikipedia. He turned red and continued mumbling under his breath lamenting the “problems” of Wikipedia. In interest of time, I continued with my presentation intending to catch up with him after the session. He left before I could greet him and hand him my card. The guy, however, was lucky enough to sit behind me in a later session, where I was able to continue my clarification about Wikipedia. His only concession was that maybe it “has gotten better” and a shoulder shrug.

That night, I prepared myself to go on stage to deliver a talk to a crowd of hundreds of people about mental health and graduate education. The evening’s M.C. mentioned I edit Wikipedia in my introduction. The crowd laughed. It was like they were watching slapstick or some incredibly funny cat video.

It hurt. It really hurt. After I got off stage, I posted this thread on Twitter:

No one responded, but some other Wikipedians retweeted my posts.

Evidently we still have some work to do educating educators about education. Sadly, those educators in the room did not know that very likely they had people at their educational institutions using Wikipedia in their courses. When I say use, I mean assigning editing Wikipedia as the course assignments, watching emerging events unfold as civic learning, and learning to engage in the scholarly community by learning to debate and support their arguments (and more…). Oh, and it’s been shown educators teaching with Wikipedia have students who achieve the course learning goals. (See “Read more…” below)

So, I want to hear it: what are your thoughts about Wikipedia? Why do you feel this way? I want to hear from academics, educators, scholars, and from other Wikipedians!

Read more…

Wikipedia community suggested practices about students editing as assignments

Editing Wikipedia is becoming a class assignment

Teach with Wikipedia

How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool

Case Studies: How professors are teaching with Wikipedia

Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later

I’m an academic and I use Wikipedia

Ok, friends, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s time to move on. Everybody does it. I’ve seen colleagues do much worse. We all secretly do it, but are sure our colleagues will judge us for it.

I am an academic and I read and contribute to Wikipedia.

No one has unfriended me. I don’t have to wear a scarlet W around campus. I have kept my honors. Heck, I even am a visiting scholar because I contribute to Wikipedia.

Why am I saying this?

Because tonight I read a study about a study completed at two public Spanish universities (Aibar, E., Lladós-Masllorens, J., Meseguer-Artola, A., Minguillón, J., & Lerga, M. (2014). Wikipedia at university: what faculty think and do about it. The Electronic Library. 33(4). 668-683. doi: 10.1108/EL-12-2-2013-0217) – both relatively new and one of them was online only. The faculty used Wikipedia but only for subjects that were not in their primary field. Academics in STEM fields were more comfortable using Wikipedia for their scholarship and teaching. “So-called soft-science academics” were more skeptical.

Oh, my fellow social scientists, own up to it. You use Wikipedia. If you don’t, you should. What does this say about your bias? Go on. Go reflect on your actions and if your actions of judging Wikipedia/cloaking your true feelings are 1. valid and 2. really working toward the Truth we seek on the daily.

Did you know your students could learn in a collaborative environment where you don’t have to force inorganic collaboration? Pedagogical application is receiving mixed reviews in the literature. Why? Because many of those respondents are simply theorizing on how teaching with Wikipedia would be based on their assumptions about what Wikipedia is.

Wikipedia is “a new and powerful channel for the public communication of science.” Isn’t that what we want? Someone to read our work and to further scholarship? What are you waiting for? Give contributing to Wikipedia a chance, and what do you know, you might even let your hair down and teach with it next semester!

I’ll even volunteer to get you started.

I’m a visiting scholar!

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I am very excited to announce I was selected to be a visiting scholar with San Francisco State University. The goal of my position is to use the library resources available to me through SFSU to improve content on Wikipedia regarding disability. This includes art, culture, history, and so much more. The directors at the Longmore Institute already created a list of potential topics for me to examine.

Here’s the information about the role:

Historian and activist Paul K. Longmore founded the Institute on Disability at SFSU in 1996. When he passed away in 2010, the university created an endowment for the Institute and renamed it in his honor. It undertakes projects that work to challenge prevailing notions and stereotypes of disability by showcasing disabled people’s strength, ingenuity, and originality. Its public education and cultural events connect the Bay Area’s vibrant disability communities and the general public with faculty and students at SF State to fight disability stigma with disability culture.

Already I have so much to add! I am using my old pal, Scrivener, to collect the information before I make edits. I love Scrivener’s functions, which allow me to search my literature research notes, which will ultimately allow me to improve numerous articles with each source I find.

Oh! Did you know you can edit Wikipedia too? It not only helps build and improve the free, quality knowledge available on the Internet, it’s a great free time activity too – addictive, and habit-forming, but [generally] not harmful to your health. 🙂 Feel free to see what I’m up to on Wikipedia.

Locked out by paywalls

As a lifelong university student, I have never been without scholarly articles and quality information. I remember starting college when the World Wide Web was still young and reading articles online for the first time. Forget homework! I had my nose in some research article or op-ed piece about the desperate state of something. I love learning.

But so do many other people. They just don’t have equal access to information as I do…or did. Now I’m locked out. My guilty pleasure of swiftly replacing citations on Wikipedia with more valid sources is now more challenging.

What is the difference between a valid source and what I can find just by googling it? Well, published articles in journals have hefty weight. Most are peer reviewed and some are juried, so the content cannot be too ‘creative’ or far from the ‘truth’. On the other hand, people can say anything on the Internet. I can say I’m a dog, and you’d have to believe me. I could also say I have purple spots and ride a pineapple. Or take some of the election 2016 content. You get the point.

Being that anyone on the Internet can say anything, providing free, quality knowledge to people can be a challenge. This hits me right at my core beliefs: education and equity.

We are insanely privileged. We all may fuss about our clothes, our houses, or our cars, but we have access to quality knowledge. We have books in our homes. We have libraries. We have Internet access. Education is a human right, but only accessible to the privileged.

I am trying to change that. I hope you do too. Instead of just reading Wikipedia from now on, make an edit each time you read. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. We can provide a free, quality education through Wikipedia.

If you can’t edit, keep me editing! Consider donating to help me purchase remote access to my alma maters’s databases so I can keep updating those citations. I greatly appreciate it!

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.

Free Knowledge, Inquire Within

You use Wikipedia. But did you know it’s not just good for giving you fingertip access to factoids? The movement is much more than that. There are some pretty big goals.

Sometimes we take access to to quality, bias-free information for granted. Not everyone in the world has that luxury. But you can help make a change.

Get involved
Anyone can. You don’t have to be an expert or a jack-of-all-trades. You can start by cleaning up grammar on existing articles. Or take on bigger tasks.

Donate
If you haven’t watched the video above, do. It sounds so silly, but I get so excited when I think about how much information is given and received each day. What a gift! Donate today to give the gift of knowledge to everyone.

To find out more about all things wiki, come join me and others at the St. Louis Wiknic on July 10.