A Checklist Toward Creating Anti-Oppressive Spaces Online

By Trish Oxford and Sarita Hernández

***

In early Autumn, nikhil trivedi organized a panel on “Creating Anti-Oppressive Spaces On-line” for the Museums Computer Network 2016 conference that was focused on “the human-centered museum.” Through this panel, we were in conversation with Sina Bahram (@SinaBahram), Eric Gardner (@ecgardner), Fari Nzinga (@fari_nzinga), and nikhil trivedi (@nikhiltri) with hopes of starting a checklist for concrete resources on creating anti-oppressive spaces on-line.

Before we describe how the checklist came into fruition, here’s a little bit on where we are coming from and why we are interested in this project.

Trish Oxford is the current conference program co-chair of MCN and has presented at the conference for the past three years. During her studies at California College of Arts, where she earned her MFA in Media Arts, Trish first began to explore how identity manifests online. This line of inquiry sprung from her previous experience in sales and project management in the technology sector at companies such as Yahoo! Inc. and Cisco Systems.

“Working in the marketplace of the internet, I quickly realized that the digital world isn’t a natural habitat for equity. Like the rules of e-commerce and requisite fierce competition, a community’s identity can be commodified to serve the desires of the consumer. My work focused on the search term filipina which retrieved website after website reinforcing the objectification of the Asian female.”

As Assistant Director of Marketing at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Trish led all digital initiatives at the museum, the first in her position.

“I loved working in a small museum because you quickly learned the macro-implications of creating a digital identity for an institution.”

Sarita Hernández is a graduate student at University of Illinois, Chicago in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program and the publication coordinator for the Fwd: Museums Journal. A femmeboi child of Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, Sarita is always thinking about QTPOC love, cycles of Chicano family violence and resistance, and xicanadyke resilience through digital storytelling, silkscreen printing and painting, and creative nonfiction writing.

“As a child, I remember being very nervous around computers and never attending tech summer camps or anything like that. When I started undergrad, I began to learn more about the barriers to STEM for girls of color. As a response, I started to engage an interest in digital & visual storytelling that honors hxstories often silenced.”

As the publication coordinator of the Fwd: Museums Journal, Sarita works with the publication team, contributors, and StepSister Press to produce each issue, which address cultural institutions and museums’ oppressive histories, sites of activisms, and responsive futures.

“When I began grad school, my cohort and program mates started a journal critiquing museums and reimagining the work inside and outside of them centering social justice. Fwd: Museums just released its first issue, which included some critical, cultural, digital work such as the Visitor of Color tumblr created by nikhil trivedi and Porchia Moore, #FERGUSON_SEA on social media and responsive programming by Leilani Lewis and Chieko Phillips, and Dilyana Ivanova’s Virtual Museum of Bulgarians in North America.”

When nikhil asked us to be part of this panel, we were excited and honored to be included as well as ready for what this checklist could spark. Ever since Trish heard nikhil’s MCN 2015 Ignite Talk, she has been inspired to creatively approach her museum work to leverage her interest in identity politics. While Sarita was extremely hesitant to join the panel because they are not as obviously involved in tech, but this led him to ask what sorts of anxieties arise from her relationship to tech.

“Although I am very inspired by various social media art/activism and digital storytelling avenues, I am often resistant to tech due to lack of access to the various realms of tech in my latino girlhood.”

Before we all started brainstorming for the panel, nikhil began by interviewing each panelist one-on-one and compiled our insights and interests. Next, we met weekly via Skype as a panel to discuss where we collectively wanted the direction of the presentation to go. After many big idea discussions, we determined that we wanted a concrete checklist that attendees could immediately utilize in and outside of their museum work.

The checklist was a distillation of the series of discussions and key takeaways that all of us had gathered from our personal experiences and professional expertises. It immediately became apparent that the value of the checklist came from the community that compiled its contents. As a result, panelist Eric Gardner suggested that we create a github repository to open up the checklist contents to a larger community in order to strengthen its relevance and efficacy.  Some of us were not familiar with github, so it was explained as a sort of “techy google docs” which was very helpful!

Later on, we collaborated with Incluseum, who was working on a similar checklist. Weaving together our different experiences with community organizing, museum work, and digital strategizing, we continued conversations around anti-oppression and on-line spaces while looking ahead to concrete, action steps for interventions in digital (and all aspects of) museum work.

Before our MCN panel session, we met over a delicious po’ boy lunch and pecan pralines (thanks MCN!). The room was arranged with wooden, red, velveted chairs for the panelists, which we found to be strange, so we shifted the fancy fabricated chairs into the audience. We initiated the panel conversation by dispelling some common myths about museums.

This is a photo tweet by @AMST_Anni. The tweet text reads, “Thinking about today’s #MuseumWorkersSpeak theme at #MCN2016.” In the photo, a sheet of white butcher paper is pasted on a window stating, “It would be my honor to work for free” with “MYTH” written toward the top left corner of the sheet.

We wrote the myths on butcher paper and pasted them all around the room, which stayed up for the remainder of the conference. The myths helped position our conversation and interventions, while bringing awareness of these myths for folks walking into the space without the context of the panel or checklist.

This is a photo tweet by @futuresites. The tweet text reads, “Understanding #intersectionality: using gendered, raced, or abled user icons is highly problematic @FwdMuseums @fari_nzinga #MCN2016.” At the top of the photo, the powerpoint slide states “Checklist / Do icons, photos, etc. assume things about gender, race or ability of users?” Five icones from various media and digital spaces are lined up with the text at the bottom saying, “Use non-gendered, raced, or abled user icons.”

The MCN session was well-attended with active participants who were interested in how they could make their digital museum work more equitable.  This session continued to illuminate the need for this type of engagement in digital museum work. It was a physical place offline where we could find accomplices to conspire with when our institutions tend to hinder this type of engagement in the museum workplace.

Here are some responses via Twitter:

Emilia McKenzie  @McKenzie_Emilia

How to create anti-oppressive spaces online – being reminded of the responsibility I have as a producer of content for young people #MCN2016       [https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?in_reply_to=793884556944433153&related=storify]

Jenny Kidd @jenkidd

What’s the point in all we are thinking about this week in a world that is falling apart? Fab intro: anti-oppressive online spaces #MCN2016  [https://twitter.com/jenkidd/status/793880473403621378]

Andrea Ledesma @am_ledesma

We are technologists & museum workers, and above all human. Use our position to build a more inclusive, anti-oppressive future #MCN2016  [https://twitter.com/am_ledesma/status/793880324077920256]

Greg Albers @geealbers

Some amazing anti-oppression resources for you –> https://github.com/the-incluseum/anti-oppressive-spaces … #MCN2016  [https://twitter.com/geealbers/status/793885689259651072]

These are various tweets responding to the panel and checklist. There are four responses with their names and twitter handles accompanied by their written reactions.

With the recent, public unveiling of the racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, transphobic, islamophobic, homophobic, white supremacist president elect, it is vital for all of us to continue creating and imagining what this checklist aspires to provoke: action. Creating anti-oppressive spaces has always been necessary and we are constantly building from and with the work that various communities in the margins have been doing on and offline.

Our intention and hope is that the checklist remains a dynamic repository for new strategies and tools to create anti-oppressive spaces online in the museum sector and beyond. We hope that the community involved in editing, reimagining, and activating the checklist will continue the discussion of the importance and significance of our work in the digital spaces of cultural institutions.

This is a photo tweet by @kbayans. The tweet text reads, “Speaker power huddle bf Creating Anti-Oppressive Spaces session #MCN2016.” On the right side of the photo, Trish, Sarita, Eric, Sina, Fari, and nikhil are huddling before the panel starts. In the background towards the left, the powerpoint slide illuminates a definition for intersectionality.

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