Heath Schultz wrote last year about the sadness he felt living in these times. (See the full and excellent dialogue with Sarah Kanouse: Sarah Kanouse & Heath Schultz (2013) “Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange,” Parallax 19:2, 7-20.) Heath reflected:
[S]adness is not a neurosis stemming from my ‘personal’ life. Instead I’d like to insist, as others have before, on recognizing it as a political condition, a by-product of our lives under capitalism. The personal is political, as it has always been. Our time, bodies and minds are inscribed with capitalist competitiveness (we hustle to live, if some more than others), rhythms (cybertime, or hyper-speed) and productivity (more & more & more). We know that the American, and increasingly global, way of life is a farce, a tale told to keep us moving. These are the rhythms of our everyday, the geography of our psyches and the landscape that produces our political depression in the form of sadness, fear, boredom, ambivalence, loneliness, depression, impotence and anxiety.
Every day there have been horrible and tragic events unfolding around the globe, but this semester seemed especially to foster despair: Even before the term began, the University of Illinois Chancellor, Phyllis Wise, reneged on the hiring of Professor Steven Salaita. (See my three previous posts.) On August 9, 18-year-old Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri; there were 43 students murdered in September in the Mexican state of Guerrero. On November 24 a grand jury refused to indict (former) Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mike Brown; on December 3, a Staten Island, NY, grand jury refused to indict any of the police officers involved in the July 2014 death of Eric Garner. So much injustice, so many people and places I have not even mentioned. But once a week I gathered with nine graduate students at the University of Illinois in a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC), “Collaborations in Feminism and Technology,” and for three hours we discussed feminist technoculture and benefited from FemTechNet resources. This was a respite for me, building some solidarity in a place of alienation.
Here are some highlights:
- We hosted the artist Bonnie Fortune (Denmark via Chicago) early in the term. She shared her research about feminist hacker spaces.
- We edited Wikipedia, after learning from the late Adrianne Wadewitz about the ins and outs of that huge endeavor. One student wrote and illustrated entries for women who are often categorized as “outsider” artists: Mollie Jenson, Annie Hooper, and Kea Tawana. He took advantage of materials at Intuit Center.
- Three of the students participated in HASTAC, writing introductory blog posts and, together with another student, submitting a proposal for the HASTAC conference in May.
- Another student created a LibGuide for teen librarians to learn about resources available related to teens with disabilities. She also compiled a bibliography on books related to suffragettes, artists and pilots (Oh My!), together with a display in the Center for Children’s Books. Did you know about the Amelia Bloomer Project? I didn’t, but now I do, thanks to this DOCC seminar!
- One participant took to the road and attended a number of workshops on youth and technology, in Champaign and in Chicago, and wrote three lesson plans to be used in the local FabLab or MakerSpace.
- A doctoral student attended the Digital Labor conference at The New School in New York City and reported back about the “long table” discussion about FemTechNet that took place there.
- A couple of students made videos that communicated their research, whether on early video technology and masculinity or on video games for youth. The youth focus materialized in a Minecraft workshop at the local public library.
- Another continued her research on the Coursera MOOC class on sustainable development taught by Jeffrey Sachs, analyzing the course material in relation to global gender equality.
- International online education and women’s varied engagements with it were the topics of another student project.
- A couple of us attended via Skype a panel discussion on Open Education: Condition Critical, held at Coventry University.
- A seasoned Wikipedian joined the Wikipedia Page Curation task force, reviewing over 250 pages in a month.
- We all learned about Li Shuang (b. 1957), included in a doctoral student presentation about contemporary Chinese female artists in the global context.
- We also learned about a local artist’s involvement with experimental music in New York and Illinois through an oral interview conducted by one student.
- Cricket Keating, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Ohio State, met online with our class and discussed her articles on coalition building as well as her activity with La Escuela Popular Norteña. I met with Cricket’s class via Skype to discuss Place.
- We started a glossary of terms that helped us work through some of the readings and FemTechNet videos.
- We joined two Open Online Office Hours (OOOHs) with other FemTechNet-ers to discuss Archives and Bodies with, at various times, TL Cowan, Karl Surkan, Veronica Paredes, Rachel Kuo, and others.
- At the suggestion of Melissa Meade and Cricket Keating, we used Today’s Meet a couple of times, learning a rhythm of interacting with others at a distance when sync-watching a Video Dialogue on Race.
- The Situated Knowledges Map came up in our discussions several times and at least one student contributed to it.
- One student joined FemTechNet’s Student Committee; another joined the Communication Committee–thank you!
- In between all these activities, we had wide-ranging conversations in which I learned and learned and learned: about locker baby syndrome, “speaking pain,” Tumblr, challenges of gender-neutral language in Spanish, Patchwork Girl, Wu Tsang, the meanings of “motorcycle” in Taiwan, Anne Elizabeth Moore, multiple apps and on and on!
Of course, we talked about Steve Salaita, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and others, because in some form they were in our classroom too.
I am reading Glen Sean Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks (2014). One strategy I use when I am confused and trying to figure out next steps in politico-cultural action is to pick a book like Coulthard’s and find passages in it that help me understand what might be going on. Not that Coulthard is or should be the last word, or that he speaks for all First Nations people, or that he speaks for all Dene or Weledeh Dene people, but nevertheless there is much I am learning from him about Indigenous studies and colonial relations. And, Indigenous studies is at the center of my anguish about the undermining and disrespect of American Indian Studies and the unconscionable treatment of Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois.
The University of Illinois is a colonial enterprise. A land-grant institution, it sits on stolen land, exploits resources inequitably, and profits from and reinforces a long history of racism. That could be said of many institutions and agencies in the United States, of course, but I am trying to name and describe the situation at my “home” institution since I feel so angry and alienated here. Coulthard writes: “Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element….[C]olonialism [is] a form of structured dispossession” (p. 7).
We are not going to “get over” the Salaita debacle until we “get” some very fundamental problems with current university priorities. And these priorities are very slippery—Public Relations spins them in a mind-boggling number of ways. Coulthard again: “[A]ny strategy geared toward authentic decolonization must directly confront more than mere economic relations; it has to account for the multifarious ways in which capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the totalizing character of state power interact with one another to form the constellation of power relations that sustain colonial patterns of behavior, structures, and relationships” (p. 14). This convergence of relations seems like a brick wall, though assuredly there are cracks. One crack is that some have started to mis-behave: some are no longer acting like “colonized subjects.” This behavior appears rude and uncivil to those in power, and even to some of us watching from positions of less power.
Coulthard identifies time as a major axis along which Western views align; this aids in a linear assessment that declares many oppressions to be in the past. Viewed as a “legacy,” racism is far easier to discuss (even though we don’t even do that) than it is to face the attitudes and structures that support our institutions and lives in the present. Quoting Vine Deloria, Jr., Coulthard notes the gulf between these approaches: “‘When one group is concerned with the philosophical problem of space and the other with the philosophical problem of time, then the statements of either group do not make much sense when transferred from one context to the other without proper consideration of what is taking place.’” And yet the University seems to be uninterested in having Indigenous viewpoints ‘make sense’ within the institution, insisting that they be “reconcilable with one political formation—namely, colonial sovereignty—and one mode of production—namely, capitalism” (p. 66).
The University administration would like Salaita’s de-hiring and their egregious treatment of American Indian Studies to be in the past, so that “we” can move on. “[R]econciliation becomes temporally framed as the process of individually and collectively overcoming the harmful ‘legacy’ left in the wake of this past abuse,” writes Coulthard, “while leaving the present structure…largely unscathed…. In the context of ongoing settler-colonial injustice, Indigenous peoples’ anger and resentment can indicate a sign of moral protest and political outrage that we ought to at least take seriously, if not embrace as a sign of our critical consciousness” (p. 22).
In response to the Salaita de-hiring and its many implications, there have been valuable panels about academic freedom; important forums about Israel and Palestine; perhaps-useful listening sessions with faculty about governance. I acknowledge the hard work of organizing these opportunities for discussion, these small steps that are significant nonetheless. These events are also not frequent enough–despite people’s exhaustion at organizing and attending forums, panels and meetings–because time-consuming interactions around these issues are crucial to witness each other’s responses. At these events, may we feel the tension, experience the hostility, and stay with the moments of embodied discomfort. That is compassion: being with each other, often in pain. The constant “background field” for these University events is “the reproduction of hierarchical social relations that facilitate the dispossession of…lands and self-determining capacities” (pp. 14-15).
I want to stand with those unwilling or unable to “move on.” I want to “take seriously” the anger and resentment. I believe I must embrace these emotional and intersectional analyses. They point not only to negative conditions now, but also offer “invaluable glimpses into the ethical practices and preconditions required for the construction of a more just and sustainable world order” (p. 12). I don’t have any ready answers to what my “stand” looks like…yet.
In September 2013, I was privileged to be part of a conversation with four former members of the Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) group, which was active at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign through most of the 1990s. Here is the video recording of our conversation.
And here is the transcript to download.
For about a year I have been following FemTechNet and now I have joined a group committed to teaching a course on feminism and technology this next fall, distributed over about 20 campuses. When Chip Bruce was in town recently, he reminded me of the Women, Information Technology and Scholarship (WITS) colloquium that met at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). WITS helps connect those of us in FemTechNet with an earlier effort.
WITS began in 1991, twenty-two years ago! The impetus for the group was provided by Australian author and educator Dale Spender, who gave a talk on the UIUC campus in 1991: “Feminism Does Not Compute: The Computer Age—Implications for Feminism.” WITS was an invitation-only group, proposed by Dale Spender, Cheris Kramerae, then professor of Speech Communication at UIUC, and Jeanie Taylor, then Associate Director of the UIUC Center for Advanced Study (CAS). CAS supported the group for five years, until 1996. The aim was to explore gender equity and information technology among various disciplines, represented by about 35 people identified across campus. By the second year, 1992, WITS had an advisory group, its own electronic mailing list, and T-shirts! That summer, Jeanie and Cheris presented the WITS idea to a Gender, Technology and Ethics conference in Sweden. During the spring of 1993, there was a WITS reading group about “Women in Architectural Space” and the following year, several WITS women joined with women in Chicago to prepare for the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in September of 1995. After 1996, the group met for another two years at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). The spirit of collaboration and innovation still thrives at GSLIS, if I do say so myself (since I work there)!
What I had not known before my conversation with Chip was that WITS published an edited book in 1993 reflecting on their discussions about “the politics of information technologies processes.”  They asked how “gender, race and class hierarchies are made part of the circuitry in new information technologies.” “We know,” they wrote, “that many campus discussions about new information technologies are actually discussions about the reconstitution of race, sex and class hierarchies in the new systems.” (3) The WITS group of faculty and academic professionals initially met at least once a month, sponsored speakers, and organized workshops. In the book, in addition to lists of colloquium presentations, electronic resources, and publications, there were articles about access, training, pedagogy, and publishing. I learned about the Electronic Salon at Lewis and Clark College, held in April 1992, an early example of a “cyberspace of our own.” Another effort was that by Judy Smith, project director for Women’s Opportunity Resource Development (WORD) in Missoula, Montana, in 1992; she introduced many “reluctant users” to IT. WITS members noted that “very little of the research on women and minorities is included in existing and developing electronic databases of the humanities and social and behavioral sciences…. If women aren’t involved in the classification systems of the new electronic publishing, women will be excluded not only in the texts but also in the meta-texts.” (23) Jo Kibbee, who went to England in 1992 to research the Joint Academic Network (JANET) there, noted the importance of WITS in studying this early electronic network, providing “an enthusiastic and supportive environment in which intellectual (and technological) curiosity can prosper.” (75) JANET was “one of the first networks to target libraries,” according to Jo.
In 1996, Betsy Kruger and Jo Kibbee co-authored “The Women, Information, Technology, and Scholarship (WITS) Colloquium at UIUC: Feminist Model for Education and Activism on Campus,” in Feminist Collections, 17:2, pp. 38-39. In addition to explaining the programs and structure of the group, the article mentioned a brochure that WITS developed and distributed in 1995, “Gender Equity in Global Communication Networks: A Global Alert.” The WITS group launched a website as well in 1995, called the WITS Policy Quilt, and other groups were invited to share their policy recommendations online.
This post on WITS was a great excuse to connect or re-connect with friends about WITS: thanks to Jo Kibbee, Bea Nettles, and Jeanie Taylor. Jo lent me her transparencies (remember overhead projectors?) from a talk she gave about WITS. Apparently there was initial difficulty bridging between women in science and engineering and those in the humanities and social sciences; WITS members worked to develop programming that would meet the needs of a range of disciplines.
Other WITS participants—there were about 35, but membership rose to 50 in the mid-nineties–are still in Urbana-Champaign: Kathryn Anthony, Jenny Barrett, Colleen Bushell, C. L. Cole, Ramona Curry, Leigh Estabrook, Nan Goggin, Frances (Jacobson) Harris, Gail Hawisher, Christine Jenkins, Vicki Jones, Betsy Kruger, Melanie Loots, Radha Nandkumar, Kathy Perkins, Celeste Quinn, Shang-Fen Ren, Dianne Rothenberg, Linda Smith, Beth Stafford-Vaughan, Angharad Valdivia, Liesel Wildhagen, Marianne Winslett, and Joyce Wright. Sadly, WITS members Kate Cloud and Leigh Star died in 2010; Jean Peterson died in 1998. (These names were taken from the WITS directory of 1994-95, supplied to me by Jo Kibbee.) These women represented fields from anthropology, architecture, and atmospheric sciences to radio and theatre, from cinema studies, graphic design, and library science to photography, physics, psychology and writing studies.
Jeanie noted that “one of the great things about WITS is that it continued to have impact beyond those years–WITS folks serving on university technology committees and books published….” Given that I am co-teaching the FemTechNet course with Sharra Vostral and C.L. Cole (Cole was part of WITS), the impact of WITS endures still.
 H. Jeanie Taylor, Cheris Kramarae, and Maureen Ebben, eds. Women, Information Technology + Scholarship: Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship Colloquium (Urbana, IL: Center for Advanced Study, 1993).
I know that I am comparing apples and oranges when I complain that the University of Illinois is paying $175,000 to Lisa Troyer to leave but that it cannot find $5,000 to pay dues to maintain UIUC membership in Imagining America. Troyer is former chief of staff to former UI President Michael Hogan, and now a tenured professor in the UI Department of Psychology; she has agreed to drop her complaint against UI and go away. Despite the fact that these are very different decisions at at very large institution, I am still really angry that my institution chooses not to participate formally in Imagining America, which, to my mind, offers useful insights and promising directions forward for public universities. The UI membership just expired July 1, 2012. UIUC has been a member since 2001; membership for our institution costs a mere $5,000.
Imagining America (IA) http://imaginingamerica.org/ is a consortium of about 85 U.S. institutions of higher education founded in 1999 that foregrounds arts and humanities to foster “mutually beneficial campus-community partnerships that advance democratic scholarship and practice.” This spring, I gathered signatures on a letter to the upper administration asking that we pay our dues. Ruth Nicole Brown and I worked hard to make the case. For UIUC to lose the benefits of this nationally important network would not only deprive us of collective insights on community-university partnerships, but also remove a significant forum for us to share our work, from Action.Research Illinois, to Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truth (SOLHOT), from hip-hop activism to public humanities.
While we assembled a few numbers to help the argument that Imagining America membership “pays off,” the qualitative and experiential aspects of participating in Imagining America better reflect its impact. One area of strategic involvement for the University of Illinois has been our campus-community relationships. In May 2009, the Civic Commitment Task Force published “Integrating Civic Commitment with the University’s Strategic Plan.” This document identified 10 goals in four areas—teaching, research, resources, and assessment. This three-year effort by a group of campus and community leaders addressed the need to prepare our students to be global citizens while at the same time affirming that civic commitment offers important, indeed crucial, research opportunities. Further, the task force argued that these efforts must bring in resources to sustain them, and methods to evaluate them. Imagining America recognizes that long-term involvement and responsive and responsible engagement are essential to collaborations that lead to high and positive impacts in people’s lives, whether through coursework, research or social change. Key questions demand ongoing investigation: What has worked, what has not worked, and why? This examination of the university and its publics is an enormous and generative opportunity; Imagining America fosters and supports these dialogues.
An Imagining America group recommended that an institution “evaluate and document community partnerships and public projects thoroughly, regularly, and using a range of appropriate methods.” Past efforts at UI have included Partnership Illinois, Urban Exchange, Civitas, and other projects as far back as the Community Advocacy Depot of 1969, but there have been few forums for assessing these projects.
IA’s 2008 Tenure Team Report, linked from their website made recommendations for supporting engaged scholarship. The team also noted that faculty of color, often from activist-oriented fields, indicated a “strong sense that pursuing academic public engagement was an unorthodox and risky early career option” for them. Meaningful, reciprocal engagement is critical to attract local young people and retain and promote underrepresented faculty. As Dr. Brown noted, Imagining America has provided her and her students “training, instruction, and professional development in performance studies,” for example, which is otherwise unavailable on this campus. Further, Imagining America provides valuable networking opportunities and tangible resources for career advancement in public scholarship.
Ruth Nicole Brown has articulated a vision and practice with SOLHOT that inspires me. I want to be part of the engaged scholarship that she describes, and I view Imagining America as one means to that goal. Really, is $5,000 too much to pay to help keep us/get us back on track? I think not.