Through a partnership with the Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Edu), students in this semester’s “Feminist Theory” seminar have produced a body of work spanning the past, present and future of feminism.
In Women’s Studies 300, the core theory course for majors and minors, students “delve into the terms of feminist theory to appreciate their emergence and the struggles women were trying to resolve in creating feminist theory,” says Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer.
Throughout the fall semester, the students researched and wrote reference articles in consultation with Wiki Edu, which describes itself “as the bridge between academia and Wikipedia,” working with U.S. and Canadian college and university instructors since 2010 to develop content to course-related articles on Wikipedia. Bayer developed the course after learning, through the National Women’s Studies Association, about Wiki Edu’s project linking women’s studies courses to Wikipedia. The HWS seminar was one of 29 courses working with the nonprofit this semester to produce in total nearly 400 reference articles about topics in women’s studies.
To engage students, as Bayer puts it, in “the practicality of feminist theory and its use as a tool to think through and create change,” she framed the course around the 1977 National Women’s Conference, in Houston, Texas, where nearly 20,000 attendees gathered to address issues including the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive rights, child care and sexual orientation, among others. The conference, considered a landmark event in modern feminism, was the first meeting of its kind in the U.S. since the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., not far from Hobart and William Smith.
As students researched the conference, looking “at the terms of the struggle and the terrain on which feminists were trying to create change,” the partnership with Wiki Edu offered “a way to zero in and learn to write in a voice that is factual,” Bayer continues. “I wanted them to experience this sense of what it means to put themselves in the public sphere, to allow the challenges and disagreements to exist and learn how to navigate the dimensions of the issue.”
“We got to display all of our work on public domains so that we could contribute to feminist discourse in a greater context,” says Caroline Connor ’16. “Between grappling with theorists, engaging with a variety of media sources and publishing our knowledge on the Internet, there was rarely a dull moment.”
For Kim Gutierrez ’17, “Feminist Theory” was her first seminar-style course and she found “that the size of the seminar (about 10 people) truly fostered an environment for meaningful dialogue.”
In the latter stages of the course, students drew on their research and the course dialogue to bring an analytical approach to their topics and “look critically through the lenses of feminist theory they’ve been studying all semester,” Bayer explains. “They started to appreciate theory as a tool to think through and create change.”
In December, at the Women’s Rights National Park, the class presented their projects, as well as the digital story map that tracks the torch relay run from Seneca Falls to Houston to inaugurate the 1977 conference.
The story map offers “an interactive way to trace the relay to the conference and supply a mass amount of information that we worked the entire semester for and combine it all into one,” says Shelby Chase ’16. “Because it’s online, it will allow others to discover the same knowledge we did throughout this entire semester easier access.”
And through Wikipedia, she adds, “we have the ability to influence thought not just locally or nationally but world wide.”
The students were joined for the presentations in Seneca Falls by HWS faculty and staff as well as local leaders, including Marilyn Tedeschi, president of the board of Friends of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Inc., and former president of the Greater Rochester American Association of University Women; Marilyn Bero, former president of the National Women’s Hall of Fame; and Merrill Amos ’11, curator and educator at the Hall, who brought with her the famous torch from relay and other conference memorabilia. In addition, Bayer serves as the vice president of Friends of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Inc., and on the board of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Now at the end of the semester, having examined the theory both in the abstract and in its application, Connor is enthusiastic about the course’s emphasis on “becoming not just feminist scholars, but public intellectuals. We got to display all of our work on public domains so that we could contribute to feminist discourse in a greater context. Though the work was challenging, in the end it was very rewarding.”
“After talking through the concepts,” Gutierrez says, “feminist theories helped me make sense of some things in my life, and these recurring connections never failed to surprise me. We brought events, theories, movements, tactics from feminist thinkers into a more public platform. ?I appreciated the opportunity to experience firsthand what making a difference feels like.”
Visit the Wiki pages the course created and curated: