July 18, 2019 | 85° F

Students add feminist views to Wikipedia

Photo by Devon Judge |

Elaine Zundl, dean at Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering, explains feminist perspectives on Wikipedia yesterday at Mabel Smith Douglass Library.

Stephen Colbert once joked about how easily Wikipedia could be edited and how quickly those edits could become fact, said Elaine Zundl, dean at the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering.

But despite Wikipedia’s reputation, many issues are fought via the game of edits and articles, including that of feminism. 

Students gathered yesterday in the Mabel Smith Douglass Library to learn about adding their feminist perspectives to Wikipedia articles.

The Wikipedia editing event taught attendees about identifying feminism-related pages on Wikipedia that need improvement and how to fix them. 

Zundl showed a clip from the Colbert Report about Wikipedia. People who are serious about editing Wikipedia were upset about Colbert making fun of the website and encouraging others to change anything they want for fun, Zundl said.

Colbert’s humor draws attention to how often people consider Wikipedia an unreliable source, she said. 

“Teachers always tell you not to use it, but the reality is that everybody uses it,” she said. 

But Wikipedia needs to have standards because it is not just a forum for people to go to voice their opinions, Zundl said. The online encyclopedia is supposed to be dynamic and keep up with current events.

Wikipedia users must abide by five “pillars” or principles, one of which is that it must be written from a neutral point of view. 

The second pillar can be controversial because not everyone recognizes that he or she is biased to at least some degree, Zundl said.

Actually, bias is usually very subtle, not blatantly obvious, said Laura Stiltz, director of Research Programs and Advising for Undergraduate Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the Douglass Project. 

“Most of the people that edit Wikipedia think their position is neutral and they are just adhering to the standards, but the reality is, everyone has some bias,” Zundl said. 

Each edit has the potential to be disputed as well, she said. 

“You could change something and six months later come back and it could be different,” Zundl said. 

Anyone can change what others have written, but if an experienced editor changes something, he or she has to give his or her reason in the “talk” tab, Zundl said. The talk tab is on every Wikipedia page, and it contains an evaluation on that specific article. 

The tab has an explanation of how accurate the article is and the specific grade it received, which is evaluated based on the content in general and the sources the information came from, Zundl said. 

On Wikipedia’s “Feminism” page, the sidebar lists specific articles that need to be addressed, either because they are inaccurate or they lack content, Zundl said.

Some of the articles in need of editing are “Domestic Violence,” “Femininity,” “Feminism in the United States” and “Women’s Suffrage.”

Less than 15 percent of Wikipedia contributors are women, according to an article in The New York Times. The rest are men in their twenties and thirties, who might not be knowledgeable about these topics, Zundl said. 

Zundl encouraged the students to add to the articles using the information they learned in their class because some students at the event were taking “Knowledge and Power.”

Editing does not always mean taking out and adding information, Zundl said. It is also looking at an article, realizing it is inaccurate and flagging it for others to fix. 

Mathew Abhati, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, has now realized feminism is not what he thought it was.

“I have learned that you can be a feminist without being a man-hater,” Abhati said. 

In the future, Abhati would like to do some research and possibly edit articles. 

Wikipedia, along with the rest of history, has traditionally been written by and from the perspective of the “winner,” Stiltz said.

“Wikipedia is our opportunity to make sure our voices are heard,” Stiltz said. 

Kelsey Weidmann

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