- 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...