Category Archives: Teaching

Why We Need To Stop Questioning Women of Color

The most recent attack on Dr. Safiya Noble’s scholarship has led me to write this post. I wish I had written this post much sooner.

Not this, but this recent attack on Safiya’s scholarship over the past week involves yet another male computer science professor who used Twitter to openly attack the claims found in Safiya Noble’s most recent book, Algorithms of Oppression, which he also hadn’t read. The book was just published by NYU Press (go buy it).

For those interested in the details, please head on over to Twitter to read this thread for starters. However, the details of the attack are less important than the overall point I am trying to make here, which is this:

We as men (particularly White cisgender heterosexual able-bodied men in higher education) must stop questioning women of color (WOC) — particularly WOC scholars who continue to be silenced and oppressed by men — for having ideas that require us to think differently about what we know and how we know.

I should know why it’s important for men not to attack WOC scholars for having ideas: I was one of those men. More to the point, I was one of those men who questioned Safiya’s scholarship in the past.

I later learned I was wrong.

A few years back, Safiya and I were doctoral students and Information in Society Fellows together at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During this time, I was one of those men (among others at UIUC) who questioned Safiya’s important work about what search engines say about women.

I know there were reasons why I questioned Safiya’s work, but the reasons did not have anything to do with the quality of her work.

Rather, I questioned her work because of my social location. I am a White cisgender heterosexual man from a privileged background. As such, my social location has allowed me to exist in and navigate the world in such a way where I have not had to experience forms of oppression, where people constantly question what I say and do because of my race and gender. In other words, my social location has assigned to me a significant amount of power and privilege.

In continuing to think back, daily, to why I even questioned Safiya’s scholarship at all, I would add another important factor:

During that time in my doctoral program, I didn’t have any men, particularly male academic role models, in my life that stressed how important it is to learn to listen to women of color and try to understand their everyday experiences.

I first learned to question not only what I know but how I know when I first heard Dr. Virginia Eubanks come speak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, during my time as a doctoral student and teaching assistant. During her talk, about her research for her book, Digital Dead End, Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, she shared three of the most powerful words that I heard during my doctoral program: “I was wrong.”

In her talk at UIUC, Virginia Eubanks admitted that she was wrong in the early days of her work with women at the YWCA in Troy-Cohoes, New York (which you can read about in her book). In response, she learned how to think differently in order to more deeply understand and respond to the everyday technology experiences of the low-income women at the YWCA. Eubanks explained how this approach opened up possibilities to highlight what she referred to as “alternative articulations” of the digital divide, which continues to offer — particularly for those of us who care about digital equity — ways to look at the strengths of women of color as a starting point for digital equity initiatives.

Hearing these three words from an academic, also a female scholar, was incredibly powerful for me at this time. I am still indebted to another woman of color scholar, Dr. Seeta Peña Gangadharan for introducing me Virginia Eubanks’s work.

This was a profound experience for me, particularly as a White cisgender heterosexual male emerging scholar from a privileged background, because it allowed me to question not only what I knew, but how I came to know.

I then began questioning my own past experiences including my failures. I began asking myself many questions about whether the decisions I had made were fully informed, and thus the most correct or even ethical at the time. As a result, I now know more deeply that many of my past decisions were not correct, ethical, or respectful. And, to those who I have hurt in the past as a result, I am sorry.

How to Stop Questioning and Start Listening to Women of Color

After admitting and accepting that I was wrong, I discovered a few ways to move forward.

I began reading the work of Black feminist scholars who Safiya and other women of color were citing and discussing in their scholarship. Through this process, which continues today, I began learning that there are multiple ways of knowing about the world. By understanding the perspectives of women of color, I could begin to see why men continue to question women of color and why it needs to stop.

I also began to recognize that I, as a White cisgender heterosexual man from a privileged background in a position of power in higher education, can use the powerful platform that I have to work toward changing these stereotypes and addressing oppression in academia and beyond.

More recently, I have begun to assign Black feminist scholarship in my classes at Simmons. This is because, as Patricia Hill Collins (2000) explained, “It is more likely for Black women, as members of an oppressed group, to have critical insights into the condition of our oppression than it is for those who live outside this structures” (p. 39). Collins’s writing, as well as the writing of many other Black feminist scholars, can be an incredibly important starting point for library and information science students in learning to develop the tools, skills, and knowledge needed to challenge the oppressive systems and structures that continue to impact our profession and the communities we serve in harmful ways.

My hope in writing this post is that it will ultimately serve as a call to other men, like myself, to begin questioning not only what we know but how we know. More importantly, I hope this post will cause other men to stop questioning women of color and to start asking ourselves critical questions such as, “maybe what I know is wrong.”

In her book, titled Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Collins (2000) calls attention to other powerful Black women, such as Alice Walker and former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who embraced a humanist perspective in working to support Black women’s empowerment. Men can and must join this effort to resist common stereotypes of Black women and embrace “the oneness of all human life” (p. 46).

I also hope this post will inspire other men to share their own stories describing when they realized that their way of thinking, and thus their actions, were wrong, as well as the steps they continue to take everyday to actively challenge the oppression of women of color.

References

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Eubanks, V. (2011). Digital dead end: Fighting for social justice in the information age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Thank you to Vanessa Rhinesmith for encouraging me to write this post.

Social Informatics Spring 2018

I’m looking forward to teaching Social Informatics again this semester at Simmons SLIS. I’m using my module on Critical Informatics at the beginning of the course as an opportunity to incorporate a few new topics this year, including Feminist Theories of Technology, Black Cyberfeminism, and Design Justice, building on other critical theoretical perspectives in LIS.

Here is the link to the syllabus for this semester.

COURSE SUMMARY
“Social Informatics” refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization – including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe a variety of social, political, and economic contexts that shape information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their impact on society.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of social systems and how they interact with ICTs.
  • Discuss concepts that illuminate the intersections of race, class, gender, identity, ability, and ICTs.
  • Identify a range of ethical, legal, and policy issues that impact the design and use of ICTs.

The course syllabus is available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

LIS 421 Social Informatics

I’m excited to teach Social Informatics this semester at Simmons SLIS. I’ve built upon my colleague Dr. Lisa Hussey‘s excellent syllabus to include perspectives from the critical informatics and critical information studies literature. It was a real challenge to not include more readings. The course Moodle will include several additional suggested readings, as well. Overall, I’m quite pleased with the course, which definitely emphasizes more critical theoretical perspectives than I have previously incorporated. I believe the course will be much stronger, more timely and relevant, as a result.

Here is the link to the syllabus (v.10) for this semester.

COURSE SUMMARY
“Social Informatics” refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization – including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe a variety of social, political, and economic contexts that shape information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their impact on society.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of social systems and how they interact with ICTs.
  • Discuss concepts that illuminate the intersections of race, class, gender, identity, ability, and ICTs.
  • Identify a range of ethical, legal, and policy issues that impact the design and use of ICTs.

 

Joining the Faculty in Simmons SLIS

10474685_10152597869932448_367231851895940957_nI am thrilled to announce that I will be joining the faculty in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College as a Senior Lecturer beginning July 1st. Here is an excerpt from the Simmons SLIS press release:

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith comes to Simmons with a broad teaching portfolio that includes graduate and undergraduate courses, and teaching both face-to-face and online. He is a Faculty Research Fellow with the Benton Foundation, a private foundation that works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. Rhinesmith’s research interests are focused on the social, community, and policy aspects of information and communication technology, particularly in areas related to digital inclusion and broadband adoption. He is a co-Principal Investigator on an IMLS grant to study rural wifi hotspot lending programs in Kansas and Maine. You can learn more about him at http://crhinesmith.com.

Social Informatics @ OU Spring 2015

I’m teaching a new course next semester at the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies (OU SLIS), titled “Social Informatics.”  I had the great privilege of being able to support Professor Les Gasser as a Teaching Assistant for the past three years during my doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I look forward to building upon the course that we offered at Illinois for our undergraduate and graduate students, here at OU.

In the video below, I introduce the topic of social informatics and talk about how theories and methods from this sub-field within Library and Information Science can help us understand — and gain more control over — our interactions with information and communication technology in our everyday lives. For more information about the course LIS 4970, please visit the description on our website at OU SLIS.