Wikipedia:Historically Black College and University recruitment

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Wikipedia has a number of systemic biases, mostly deriving from the demographics of our participant base, the heavy bias towards online research, and the (generally commendable) tendency to "write what you know". In other words, there are structural reasons why Wikipedia gives certain topics much better coverage than others. Over the last year or so, some of these biases have been partially redressed by the project on countering systemic bias, but that project has so far been focused mainly on getting the present participant base to re-examine some of their assumptions and to work in subject matter areas that were previously neglected.

However, some of us feel that a much more effective corrective would be the recruitment of contributors outside the present Wikipedia mainstream. In the United States, one of the most obvious sources of likely contributors who would bring a different perspective, and who are currently under-represented, is America's Historically Black colleges and universities and, perhaps to a lesser extent, African American studies at other colleges and universities.

This page exists both as a welcome to students and faculty from these institutions to participate in Wikipedia and as a location for suggestions as to what infrastructure might improve recruitment and retention of African American scholars as Wikipedians.

While faculty are eminently welcome to participate, it should be pointed out that academics generally have their own preferred outlets for their work, and that Wikipedia is largely a cooperative undertaking by laypeople: we are focused mainly on recruiting students and alumni of these institutions. In our experience, two of the best contributions faculty can make are (1) to encourage their students to participate, possibly for academic credit, and (2) to establish well-conceived student assignments involving Wikipedia.

The problem[edit]

As of this writing, Wikipedia is disproportionately white and male; disproportionately American; disproportionately written by people from white collar backgrounds. We do not think this is a result of a conspiracy — it is largely a result of self-selection — but it has effects not all of which are beneficial, and which need to be looked at and (in some cases) countered.

Wikipedia is biased toward over-inclusion of certain material pertaining to (for example) science fiction, contemporary youth culture, contemporary U.S. and UK culture in general, and anything already well covered in the English-language portion of the Internet. These excessive inclusions are relatively harmless: at worst, people look at some of these articles and say "this is silly, why is it in an encyclopedia?"

Of far greater (and more detrimental) consequence, these same biases lead to minimal or non-existent treatment of topics of great importance. For example, only after the establishment of the project on countering systemic bias did we finally get a decent article about the Second Congo War, possibly the largest war since World War II.

An example list of poor treatment due to this bias would include (in no particular order):

  • Africa and the 'Third World' generally, in all of its aspects
  • Asia – particularly 'underdeveloped' countries
  • Female oriented/dominated subjects
  • Foreign literature (particularly writers whose work is unavailable or not widely available in English)
  • Non-white figures in the U.S., UK, etc.

Wikipedia is an evolving project. While some of its biases — e.g. a preference for online sources — are probably inherent, others — generally the demographic ones — need not be. However, they will not be overcome by wishful thinking. We need to devote active effort to these matters, rather than keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Joining Wikipedia[edit]

You can start participating in the writing of Wikipedia by… participating in the writing of Wikipedia! This is a radically open project, although we do have some principles and rules. If you are unfamiliar with wikis, the Community Portal or the welcome page are good places to start learning.

If you have material to contribute to this page, you can edit it, just like any other page in Wikipedia; if you want to discuss this page, it has an associated talk page.



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