The Feminist Digital Center: The Launch of YEARS and YEARS of Collaborative Feminist Praxis

By Dr. Julie Shayne | Teaching Professor, IAS Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Global Studies | 2022-2023 Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellow

My Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellows (DSFF) grant was a tremendous success for UWB as an institution, the UWB library, and my students. I worked with IAS student Tessa Denton to build and curate a hub for student centered, open-access, feminist research and writing projects called the Feminist Digital Center (FDC). The FDC hosts my three signature digital research projects: The Feminist Community Archive of Washington; The Feminist Archive Exhibits; The Badass Womxn & Enbies Zines; and feminist writing more generally. Nearly all of the student efforts housed in the site are the result of research they did with the support of Head of Digital Scholarship Denise Hattwig and GWSS librarian Penelope Wood, with some of the assignments collaboratively designed by the three of us.

In addition to the students’ scholarship and reflections, there is media coverage and publications – some co-authored, some solo – about our work, the assignments in particular, or feminist scholarship and activism more broadly. Like everything else on the site, these publications are all open access.

Denise Hattwig and I have been working on pieces of the site for years, with different student assignments designed to create what we knew would ultimately be the Feminist Digital Center. This DSFF finally allowed me to fund a student to pull the pieces together and bring our vision to life. The most exciting part of the entire site is that almost every tab or link a visitor clicks leads them to students’ work and words.

Concretely, the grant funded student research assistant Tessa Denton. Tessa was a Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies (GWSS) and Culture, Literature & the Arts (CLA) double major. She graduated in spring! In winter quarter Tessa worked with students in my class Histories and Movements of Gender & Sexuality (BISGWS 302) to support students who were building their feminist archive exhibits. This is a project that Denise, Penelope, and I created in 2021 and Tessa was a student in the course during the first iteration of the project. The following year, she supported the students as they learned the digital platform Omeka which is needed to build their exhibits as well as helped them learn public writing, a skill fundamental to the project but rarely taught in college classes.

In spring quarter Tessa worked closely with Denise. Tessa’s tasks included writing her own and collecting other student reflections of projects’ impacts; co-writing the introduction to the site with me; structuring the site for future growth and development; formatting the website with consistent aesthetics; researching relevant press and publications; embedding each link throughout the site; and other structural work. Tessa was especially well positioned to do the work because she had been involved in three of the four featured projects, so it was all personally meaningful to her.

The site hasn’t even been live for a month, and I know there has already been an impact. On an incredibly personal level, Tessa and I have been in touch about it nearly every day, including since the quarter ended, simply to tell each other some version of how proud we are and how grateful we are to have worked together on this project. This was a High Impact Project at its highest and an incredibly meaningful send-off to a graduating senior who enriched UWB so much while a student here.

On a more professional and academic level, this site has given me a tool to use to inspire students to take themselves and their work seriously; I have a concrete place to show them where their work will land, a site that they can then share easily with anyone they want. I know many of the students who have work here have already done this.

Additionally, Tessa presented about the site at UWB’s Student Academic Showcase within a couple of weeks of it going live. The panel was perfect because the first three presentations were about individual projects housed on the site and she was able to conclude sharing the one location where they all are and showing the significance of open access feminist collaborative scholarship. It was deeply impactful not just for Tessa but for all of the student presenters.

I worked with Tessa and Denise to launch this site because I am beyond proud of my students’ work and I want the world to see it. Open access allows that to happen. And as much as I personally am a “book person” I know the majority of people like devices and sharing links. Now my students’ research, their names (if they wanted them there), their passions, their communities’ histories, are there to share with whoever they want – including future employers and graduate school admissions committee.

From a social justice perspective – everything Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies does is about justice – the site is about documenting and sharing marginalized histories and empowering minoritized students to be the historians who curate the knowledge. When BIPOC/women/queer/trans students are able to research and share their own histories for the first time ever, that gives them power; power that cannot be taken away. I do this work for those students. This work has never been so urgent, and my students are grateful for this platform.

I hope others will use this as a resource for their own research. There is data housed in this site; histories of local and global feminist, queer & trans activism; interdisciplinary sources; models of scholarship that should be emulated. My hope is that this site inspires other undergraduate students to realize that they too are researchers. I hope they embrace their research projects and class assignments the way the students represented in this site did. And I hope if they are even slightly intrigued by what they see, they will seek out my classes! Contact me at jshayne@uw.edu to learn about the classes that generated the projects housed in the Feminist Digital Center.

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