Editors at a LUC Women Scientists Workshop.

The Women Scientists Workshop Development IEG [1] is a project aimed at empowering women college students by encouraging them to create content about women scientists on English Wikipedia.

We worked tirelessly through the cold Chicago winter, motivated by the desire to address Wikipedia’s gender gap. We held a series of seven workshops in addition to three that were held the previous semester. We’ve since gained valuable insight as we move into the next phase of developing a best-practice kit for countering systemic bias in institutions.
Many important principles were discerned from the workshops we held in our first semester. We spent weeks categorizing this information into a trial kit for other institutions to use. Of the 23 individuals who attended the first semester workshops, two were male and 21 (91%) were female. Five (22%) came to more than one workshop. 30 different articles were created or significantly improved. Interestingly, only one participant found out about the workshop through flyers placed in high-traffic areas throughout the school. The rest of the attendants found out through word of mouth (friends, Facebook, email etc). This was not what we expected. One of the workshops was not promoted on social media channels and consequently experienced a low attendance rate because of it.

Food is a huge motivator for college students!

Several common threads were apparent when students were asked questions regarding the motivation behind their attendance. The most common factors are food, social environment and social justice. These motivations held steady through the second semester workshops. We believe that there are several different elements that help encourage new editors, especially women, to join and work on systemic bias issues. Incentives like free food from popular local restaurants and unique merchandise from the Wikimedia Foundation were a big draw for students, but many women were also motivated by the fun and friendly social environment and the opportunity to learn something interesting. We have found that advertisements that emphasize all of these factors are the most effective, especially when distributed via popular social media channels and direct email to participants who have already signed up.
We have finalized the kit and will be working with a student graphic designer to make the kit more visually appealing. We are also setting up alpha tests – if you are interested in participating, please contact me at keilanawiki@gmail.com. The mid point report for this project provided detailed metrics on this pilot phase of the program. Metrics from alpha testers will be made public as soon as we have them. In our workshops, more than 70 articles were created or expanded and there was a core group of women that returned to the workshops each week and forged strong friendships that have continued beyond the workshops.

I asked the women who attended most regularly to share their thoughts on this blog post. The reflections that follow are in their own words.

When I was growing up as a homeschooler, I had a lot of internet time. This time was, theoretically, to be spent doing online coursework. However, when I got bored of my coursework, but not bored of learning, I would turn to Google. Before too long, I stumbled upon Wikipedia. I loved reading Wikipedia articles. It was my homeschooler-kid dream — unfettered access to pretty much anything I wanted to know. Having been homeschooled for academic reasons (rather than religious reasons), Wikipedia quickly became very important to me as a free source of information that was perfectly suited to my autodidactic tendencies. At age 15 I even wrote a short (and horribly mediocre) song about reading the Wikipedia article about Bernoulli’s principle. This article was ideal reference material to fuel my Richard Feynman obsession, which also began after reading his Wikipedia article.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2013. I was 20 years old, at least year older than my fellow sophomores, and trying to figure out a place for myself at my university. When I heard that there were going to be workshops to write about women scientists on Wikipedia, I was thrilled. Finally, I thought, I could contribute to Wikipedia. I had considered doing so before, but did not want to risk messing anything up on the website I so revered. I picked up the style and coding conventions quickly. Then I wrote and wrote and wrote. I continued the workshops during the following Spring semester, which was also (finally) my first semester as a full-time college student.

Although I have not written too many articles yet, I look forward to these workshops resuming in the Fall. Currently I count 11 articles to which I have contributed. I am deeply thankful to Emily Temple-Wood for the opportunity to pursue Wikipedia editing. Although perhaps not my biggest dream, editing and writing new articles on Wikipedia was certainly a dream of mine. From homeschooled nerd to successful college student, Wikipedia has been hugely important to me. I expect it to remain equally important in the future.”

— Emma Highland, computer science major

“Attending Wikipedia workshops has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have always been a strong proponent for females in the STEM fields but I have become much more passionate about it by attending Wikipedia workshops and being exposed to the injustice. Every time I write an article about an important female scientist, I feel like I’m making the word a better place; I get to help a fellow female scientist get the recognition she deserves.

I also feel like I am now part of a Wikipedia editing community on campus. There is a steady group of people who come to almost every workshop and throughout the year, we have bonded over fighting injustice and systematic bias. We enjoy being in each other’s company and are all looking forward to more years of editing to come.”

— Leia A., physics and math major

“Upon telling people that I plan to go to graduate school, I sometimes receive confused and disgusted reactions. ‘But why do you want to spend SIX MORE YEARS in school?! Don’t you want to have kids?’ While I am interested in starting a family one day, I came to college to get an education- not to find a husband. It’s sad that it’s abnormal for women to value their education and career over bearing children, but that’s what drove me to participate in the Women in Science and Math Wikipedia workshops. Just as I have experienced gender inequality in person, I experienced it on the Internet. Wikipedia users attempted to delete our articles on the grounds that they lacked credibility. In other words, on the grounds that women lack credibility. Despite the further injustice I came across, I learned more about prominent women in my field of study, psychology, and shared that knowledge with Wikipedia readers. While it’s true that women still experience discrimination, I believe that writing these articles has helped to promote gender equality by educating people about the importance of women scientists.”

— Melissa Haggerty, psychology major

“When I heard about the Wikipedia Workshops, I thought it was some kind of presentation on historical women found by clicking the “random article” button on the Wikipedia page. But as soon as I stepped into that room, guided by an energetic girl going on about feminism and the beauty of online encyclopedias, I found myself entrenched in a new, mind-expanding world. That was the start of my life as a Wikipedia Feminist.

I learned a lot that day. I learned how to maneuver this strange new formatting for creating articles, how to find the best sources to create the most well-written articles, and, most surprisingly, the tie between Wikipedia and Feminism. Before this workshop, I had no idea of the misogyny that went on in this website. Not only are there substantially less women who have articles, but many women are actually deleted from the website! Along the way, I found one of the first women to graduate from Harvard had her article deleted, an organic chemist whose work was equal to her husbands, yet her name only linked to her husband’s article, and many women who had done outstanding work in the field of science with no article to their name in the first place!

I was shocked. But not only that, I was inspired. For so long, I had found myself in dialogue after dialogue about feminism and the patriarchy and all the problems I face as a woman today. But I had yet to find somewhere I could help fix that problem. This was my sword in the stone. For the first time, I found myself feeling like I could make an impact on the world to better it. I can give these women the credit they deserve. Not only that, but with the power of Wikipedia Zero, a new app taking away data charges for internet access in poorer countries, those who cannot afford data charges still have the capability to learn about these powerful women, and find themselves as inspired as me. Because there are encyclopedias on top of encyclopedias of women scientists, artists, authors, activists, engineers, you name it. And each of these women deserve a chance to be remembered, and to continue their legacy of progress for women onto future generations.

I went to every workshop I could. And a month after school ended, I’m still finding myself putting together new articles. This isn’t just a new hobby. This is a way for me to make an impact on the world. And I plan to take full advantage of it.”

— Liz Bajjalieh, human services major

“I loved being a part of the Wikipedia workshops this year for so many reasons. With such a busy schedule, the workshops were a much-welcomed time to relax and do something that I truly enjoyed. Learning about different notable women scientists every week was always exciting and exposing myself to the wide variety of fields and topics that each woman dedicated her life to was fascinating. Over the past year, I learned about a Norwegian zoologist who studied sponges, a biochemist who faced severe discrimination in the hospital in which she worked, and an anesthesiologist who went on to co-found the Anesthesia History Association. Studying each woman in order to write the best article possible has given me such a great appreciation for all the women scientists who have come before me, paving the way in the male-dominated field even amongst discrimination and prejudice.

In addition to learning about the amazing women scientists, I also looked forward to attending the Wiki workshops because of the environment they offered and the other attendees. While different people showed up to different workshops, I always knew that those in attendance would have the same passions and interests as myself, even if we were different majors or years in school. The Wiki workshops offered a place where we could gather and expand and write articles about women scientists, but they also offered a forum for us (in many cases, future women scientists) to marvel at our findings during research or just to talk about a recent Buzzfeed article we stumbled upon. The Wiki workshops presented by Women in Science and Math at Loyola University Chicago have, if nothing else, affirmed my desire to continue my journey as a Biochemistry major and pre-med hopeful. The people that make up each workshop, both the attendees and fabulous women we’re studying, never fail to inspire me during each workshop and I wholeheartedly look forward to continuing to attend each workshop to come.”

–Ashley Iannantone, biochemistry major

If you are interested in running your own program, check out the Systemic Bias Workshop Kit located at en:Wikipedia:Systemic bias kit or email me at keilanawiki at gmail.com for more information. I look forward to expanding the program!
Emily Temple-Wood, 2014 IEG grantee