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!