Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Reflections: Empowering Women, Technology, and (Feminist) Institutional Changes

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

Reflections: Empowering Women, Technology, and (Feminist) Institutional Changes

Article excerpt

In 1998, we wrote a grant to support our desires for educational change at our university. (1) Our teaching experiences indicated that women, especially women of color, arrive at our working-class urban university lacking basic computer skills, that is, knowledge about how to use a computer and how to run basic word-processing, Web browsing, and e-mail programs. (2) Laurie Fuller's introductory Web-enhanced women's studies courses often enrolled first-generation women university students, fresh from the urban public school system, with limited knowledge of the use of computers. (3) Erica Meiners' graduate educational theory classes consisted of returning adult students, predominantly women, who entered the university after years outside educational contexts; in addition to anxiety about returning to school, they worried about all the "new" technological skills that courses assumed they possessed.

Fueled by this problem in our everyday context and feeling energetic after participating in a grant-writing seminar at our university, we started research for a proposal to access resources to intervene. Researching and writing this proposal shifted us, as feminist academics and organizers, from our relatively familiar epistemological terrain populated by antiracist feminist theories and praxes and by queer theories and communities to a landscape inhabited by frameworks of liberal multiculturalism, positivism, and a "politically and ideologically neutral" language of educational reform. We quickly found that literature in the area of the problem of women and minorities in the science pipeline frequently signified what we observed at our institution: women continue to be underrepresented in technology, especially in professions that require computer expertise. (4) In science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET), women learn better in a single-sex environment (5) and where relationships are involved, as in cooperative-learning groups. (6) Additionally, research frames the absence of people of color, white women, or both in SMET as an economic problem for the nation-state. (7) We used this discussion of the potential negative consequences for "our" U.S. economic (and military) dominance in our proposal as funding sources often state that based on this rationale, they would fund research to identify strategies to recruit and retain women and minorities in SMET fields. (8) Our library check-out lists shifted from cyberfeminist theories (9) and works by transnational antiracist feminist theorists that question the inherent "good" of technology (10) to government-funded reports, research studies, and texts that used frameworks to construct technology as inherently "good" or "neutral."

Based on the language of the official request for proposals (RFP) of the granting agency we targeted, it was clear that successful proposals originated from a positivistic and a (mythic) politically neutral epistemological terrain. We acquired a vocabulary that worked with this paradigm (empowerment, lifelong learning, assessment and evaluation, curricular transformation, quantitative data gathering) and jettisoned familiar terms that signified discourses of poststructuralism, feminism, or critical (race) theory, and we eliminated language that could be perceived as postmodern (dialogues, discussions of power imbalances between students or subjects and professor or principal investigator, reciprocity) or political (feminist, white supremacy). This desire to pass with a "neutral ideology" also influenced our visions of educational change, as the RFP clearly stated that projects could not discriminate against anyone. (Note, of course, that this requirement for nondiscrimination comes from the critical work of earlier paradigm changers). Our visions of a (feminist) "women only" project could not be explicitly named or advertised as for "women only," even though the purpose of our study and intervention was to create a single-sex classroom environment for women. …

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