Toward a Digital Ethnic Studies:Race, Technology, and the Classroom
Race and the Digital
What might a critically engaged classroom exploring the connections between the digital humanities and ethnic studies look like within contemporary American studies? Consider, for instance, that African Americans and Latino/a/xs are significantly less likely to have regular internet access than those who identify as Asian American or white.1 As places with unique technology resources and digital literacy training, spaces of higher education become promising sites where students of color can counter these inequities. Yet access to digital technologies and literacy remains highly uneven and precarious in even the best-resourced settings, where formal digital humanities programs, funding, and high-end technologies are more readily available than in non-Anglophone, rural, and community college settings.2 Although many universities provide students with on-campus access to computers and wireless internet, there are still uneven levels of training and production of new media resources by students of color.3 Race and the Digital, an undergraduate research seminar and multimedia site I first designed at UCLA with student collaborators in the spring of 2016, addresses these challenges as a praxis in bridging the digital divide with three goals: engaging American studies and ethnic studies students in an interdisciplinary conversation about the ways racial formation is embedded in twenty-first-century technologies, building students' digital literacies through new media training, and producing online content for a diverse public audience concerned with questions of race and ethnicity.4
Uneven access to digital literacy training has created a critical ground for American studies and ethnic studies students to apply engaged practice in order to investigate the power relations embedded in the digital realm. Consider, for instance, White Violence, Black Resistance, a collaborative classroom project designed to recover and curate histories of racial violence while teaching college students digitization skills. Rather than situate violence and resistance [End Page 613] solely in the past or for an academic audience, the project was driven by a desire to expand the digital canon by uncovering archives of Black resistance and underscoring their link to the post-Ferguson moment.5 Likewise, another collaborative class project, The Chicana/o Gothic, prompted Chicana/o studies students to connect Chicana/o literature and gothic literature in a public blog and final multimedia assignment. In doing so, the course challenged the boundaries of each genre while teaching students digital writing techniques and proficiency with open source platforms, like Tumblr and WordPress.6 In each of these examples, educators and students collaborated to question how knowledge is shaped, to expand the availability of ethnic studies resources online, and to link the classroom with a digital public. As noted by Adeline Koh and Viola Lasama, "The digital [is] a tremendous space of possibility for humanities scholars … [one that] actively expands the boundaries of the humanities and humanities pedagogy beyond the academy itself, demonstrating the value of humanities questions to a larger public."7 Similarly dedicated to expanding students' digital literacy and prompting critically engaged digital practice, Race and the Digital situates the digital humanities within an explicitly ethnic studies framework intent on investigating digital and racial divides.
Focusing on the praxis of bridging digital divides, I aimed to increase engagement beyond the classroom and to shift the ways students understood racial formation in cyberspace by asking them to enter an online conversation interrogating the major themes examined by our course authors. This included work by an interdisciplinary set of scholars concerned with the demographics of technology users and laborers, infrastructural inequities affecting people of color's internet access, online community and identity making, cyberfeminism, and transmedia organizing. Race and the Digital, a collaborative website I designed for the course on an open-source publishing platform with eBook and blogging qualities called Scalar, was the forum for our conversation. UCLA undergraduates, all students of color, provided the content for the site. As a practice in engaged scholarship intent on building students' digital literacies, each contributor wrote three original entries: a blog post interpreting an academic article alongside an issue of contemporary import; a research paper discussing the digital divide; and a digital ethnography examining how activists engage social media. Thus Race and the Digital allowed students the opportunity to put desired course outcomes into practice. Consider the Race and the Digital blog, in which students commented on one another's multimedia entries and received responses from the scholars and organizations they examined via social media. Through this online exchange, students simultaneously created [End Page 614] an online community while reading about communication, embodiment, and organizing on the internet.8 Further building on course themes, their larger research projects and digital ethnography interrogated the ways that racial formation is reinforced and challenged in the use of twenty-first-century technologies, from investigating how tablets are used by English-Learning Students to address language barriers in the elementary school classroom to examining the transmedia organizing strategies of activists involved in the food justice movement in multiracial communities. These types of projects help counteract a prevailing "participation divide," in which first-generation young adults of working-class backgrounds have been found unlikely to write creative online content. By providing students the training and opportunity to use online publishing tools, they contribute to the conversation about digital divides while also, as described by one student, building a "digital footprint as a collective."9 At the end of the course, a dozen students had created 282 pages of content, uploaded 336 pieces of embedded media, and designed digital portfolios for professional use.
One collaborative result of Race and the Digital is a student-authored Statement of Values for Digital Ethnic Studies. This vision of the field's influences and aspirations builds on the work of the digital humanist Lisa Spiro, who first proposed a list of digital humanities values aimed at generating a conversation about the DH community's priorities.10 Other scholars have since built on this list, for instance "A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights" developed by the UCLA Digital Humanities program, while the genre of the manifesto has a long history in the digital realm. Yet, in a keyword search of over two hundred statements curated at the Digital Manifesto Archive, none explicitly engage American ethnic studies.11 Addressing this gap, the Statement of Values designed by student contributors promotes a digital humanities engaged with the central questions of American studies and ethnic studies. It proposes priorities including intersectionality, collaboration, collegiality, connectedness and diversity, experimentation, openness, bottom-up data gathering, race as technology, action-based research, and confronting the digital divide. Further drawing on an American studies framework, site-wide tagging promotes intersectional thinking by grouping related items by categories such as gender and class.12 Taken together, course assignments, the Statement of Values, and tagging asks students to consider key questions related to the digital humanities and American studies: How are structures of race embedded in new technologies, in both their cyber and physical forms? How might students harness digital platforms to engage cultural production in the cyber realm? And, how might a [End Page 615] digital ethnic studies help address prevalent digital divides? Building a collaborative digital project, students of color harnessed preexisting digital platforms to examine where racial production, technology, and interdisciplinary study meet.
Genevieve Carpio is assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her interests include relational ethnic studies, twentieth-century US history, space and place, and the digital humanities. Her book, Collisions at the Crossroads: How Place and Mobility Make Race, is forthcoming by the University of California Press in 2019. Her previous digital humanities work can be found in Information, Communication and Society and Boom California.
I am thankful to Sara Fingal and Jessica Kim for their thoughtful feedback on previous drafts of this project. And I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers and editors for their insightful comments and suggestions, which have helped strengthen this piece. Finally, none of this would be possible without the talented students enrolled in Race and the Digital at UCLA, from whom I have learned a great deal.
1. Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaskan Natives, and Pacific Islanders are omitted from these reports. See Thom File, "Computer and Internet Use in the United States," US Census Bureau, May 2013; Surveys of Asian American internet users fail to account for segments of the Asian American population that are far less likely to have internet access than the aggregate. See Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
2. Chris Alen Sula and S. E. Hackney, "A Survey of Digital Humanities Programs," Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, no. 11 (May 24, 2017); Sheila Cavanaugh, "'All Corners of the World': The Possibilities and Challenges of International Electronic Education," Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, no. 6 (November 30, 2014).
3. Steve Jones, "The Internet Goes to College: How Students Are Living in the Future with Today's Technology," Pew Internet and American Life Project, Washington, DC, September 15, 2002; Steve Jones, Camille Johnson-Yale, Sarah Millermaier, and Francisco Seoane Perez, "Everyday Life, Online: U.S. College Students Use of the Internet," First Monday 14.10 (2009).
4. Genevieve Carpio, Alan Evangelista, Eduardo D. Garcia, Reginald Joes, Ashley Martinez-Muñoz, Yesenia Melgoza-Fernandez, Michelle Ortiz, Ebony Paramo, Arturo Sotelo, Ana Vicky, Addie Vielmas, "Race and the Digital," accessed April 2018, scalar.usc.edu/works/race-and-the-digital/index.
5. Amy E. Earhart and Toniesha L. Taylor, "Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson," in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
7. Adeline Koh and Viola Lasama, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments (New York: Modern Language Association, forthcoming), github.com/curateteaching/digitalpedagogy/blob/master/keywords/race.md.
8. See Alex Sayf Cummings and Jonathan Jarrett, "Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy," in Writing History in the Digital Age, ed. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013); Steven Goodman and Carolyn Cocca, "Youth Voices for Change: Building Political Efficacy and Civic Engagement through Digital Media Literacy," Journal of Digital and Media Literacy 1.1 (2013); Sasha Constanza-Chock, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014).
9. Eszter Hargittai and Gina Walejko, "The Participation Divide: Content Creation and Sharing in the Digital Age," Information, Communication and Society 11.2 (2008): 239–56; Chicana/o Studies 291: Race and the Digital, Course evaluations, University of California, Los Angeles, Spring 2016.
10. Lisa Spiro, "This Is Why We Fight? Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities," in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 16–35.
11. Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Miriam Posner, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt, with contributions from Roderic Crooks, Megan Driscoll, Amy Earhart, Spencer Keralis, Tiffany Naiman, and Todd Presner, "A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights," Center for the Digital Humanities Blog, University of California, Los Angeles, last modified June 8, 2015, cdh.ucla.edu/news/a-student-collaborators-bill-of-rights/; Matt Applegate, "About Our Project," Digital Manifesto Archive, last modified 2016, www.digitalmanifesto.net/about/.
12. Genevieve Carpio, Sarmista Das, George Hoagland, Michael Mirer, and Christofer Rodelo, "Intersectionality: An Intersectional Approach," in "Femtechnet Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Pedagogy Workbook," ed. FemTechNet Critical Race and Media Committee, last modified 2017, scalar.usc.edu/works/ftn-ethnic-studies-pedagogy-workbook-/intersectionality.