Story by Avery Gregurich
High school teachers and college professors alike have long badmouthed Wikipedia, calling it “unreliable” and “not a real source,” banning it from research papers and cursing it to the eighth circle of hell where Dante put the worst of the frauds.
What happens, then, when universities bridge the gap between the warring factions and begin offering legitimate course credit to students for rewriting Wikipedia articles?
According to a Fox News story published last week, some universities are doing just that.
The story reported that “15 universities including some ivy league schools are offering college credit to students who will inject feminist thinking into the popular website Wikipedia.”
The project, which was organized by a group called FemTechNet, is called “Storming Wikipedia” and is a part of an online course entitled “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology.”
Around 300 students are enrolled in the course, according to the story.
The participating universities range from small liberal arts colleges to Ivy League and state schools, including Yale, Penn State, the University of Illinois and Rutgers.
According to their website, FemTechNet is an “activated network of scholars, artists and students who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science and feminism in a variety of fields including STS, Media and Visual Studies, Art, Women’s, Queer and Ethnic Studies.”
A press release issued by FemTechNet about the new online course said that one of the goals is, “adding feminist scholarship to already existing content on Wikipedia.”
Another goal is “creating and expanding articles on women who played and are playing important roles in history and current events.”
This feminist-centered course comes just three years after a revealing study was conducted by a collaboration of the United Nations University, Maastricht University and Wikipedia.
The New York Times reported that this study showed that its content contributors were “barely 13 percent women.”
In that article, the Times went on to say that the female contributors of Wikipedia face both the “traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men” and “uncomfortable for women.”
Chris Snider, assistant professor of practice in multimedia, said he does not see the idea of “Wikistorming” as strictly a gender bias struggle but as a battle for information equality.
“To me, it’s one more instance where we see that the Internet belongs to the people,” Snider said. “If there’s something missing in how Wikipedia presents information, then it’s great that people are taking it upon themselves to fix things.”
Some conservative critics of the course see it as just an attempt at “political correctness.”
Katherine Timpf, a reporter for the website campusreform.org, is one of them.
“They’re more concerned with making it politically correct than factually correct,” Timpf said when interviewed by Fox News. “Usually it’s a little more subtle than a course actually to inject liberal bias in what is supposed to be factual articles.”
She laughed at the program and went on to call the entire course “absurd” at one point.
Snider, however, sees the situation differently. He said that, “It seemed like (FemTechNet) were trying to make the content more factually correct by including the missing voices.”
Associate professor of English Beth Younger couldn’t agree more.
“It’s not about ‘political correctness.’ It’s about accuracy,” Younger said. “Wikipedia has been scrutinized lately for being largely constructed by males and for leaving out much of history, scholarship and contributions by women.”
This absence of in-depth women’s history and perspective Younger called “sexism.” She also said she believes critics of this course and program, including Fox News, have a “misunderstanding of feminism.”
She pointed out that by “interviewing a woman (Fox News) suggests or gives the viewers the idea that they care what women think.”
Younger furthered her thoughts on their misunderstanding of feminism by saying that, “It suggests that they conflate being a woman with being a feminist, which is also absurd and essentializing.”
Younger said she feels Fox News has a definite “bias” with regard to women’s rights and feminist thinking.
A quick Google search reveals this to be just the latest in a series of occurrences involving the ridicule and detraction of feminist thinking by the network.
With little to no coverage of this story being offered by other news networks, one has to contemplate the true intentions behind this news company’s decision to make such a fervent detraction of a course which describes one of its goals as being to encourage “feminists, academics and activists to contribute to Wikipedia and help revolutionize its culture.”