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Wikipedia Lacks Profiles Of Women. These College Students Are Changing That

Earlham College Senior Jerilyn Gillenwater and Associate Professor Rachael Reavis hold images of women profiled on Wikipedia by Earlham students.
Courtesy of Earlham College
Earlham College Senior Jerilyn Gillenwater and Associate Professor Rachael Reavis hold images of women profiled on Wikipedia by Earlham students.

Wikipedia is a well-known first stop on the internet when it comes to researching just about anything - except, perhaps, notable women. Not only are 84% to 92% of editors on the site male, but the vast majority of Wikipedia profiles are about men, with fewer than 20% of pages devoted to women.

Women in Red, a cohort of editors from across the world dedicated to improving systemic bias, points out "only 308,131 of our 1,687,277 biographies are about women."

"Women deserve to be recognized for all the amazing work they've done," says Earlham College Associate Professor of Psychology Rachael Reavis. "When people have questions about various topics, I want the women who have done that work to show up and for that work to be part of the general knowledge."

Reavis leads a research lab (think independent study but students can earn credit or do paid research) in which students are researching and publishing profiles about prominent women on Wikipedia. Her students have published 10 profiles so far. While originally focused on women in psychology and neuroscience, Reavis is opening the lab up to students from across the college to write about notable women from other fields of study.

The group has a list of women yet to be profiled but Reavis also encourages the students to be constantly looking for additional ideas in their individual areas of study.

"There are so many women who meet the qualifications (for being on Wikipedia) who aren't there that the list is effectively endless at this point."

The timeline for getting a profile from idea to publication can take anywhere from a week to a few months. Seven profiles have been included on Wikipedia's "Did you know?" section. Reavis says her students take pains to make sure their entries meet all the notability and other Wikipedia requirements so their work won't be nominated for deletion, a problem other editors say they've encountered when adding women to Wikipedia.

Senior Jerilyn Gillenwater, a neuroscience major, authored an entry on neuroscientist Joanne Berger-Sweeney, the first African American president of Trinity College. Gillenwater learned about Berger-Sweeney while searching the internet for African American women in neuroscience.

"Being able to add important women into Wikipedia - specifically women who look like me because you don't really see that within STEM fields, especially within neuroscience fields - I thought was pretty important."

She says she'd like to continue editing Wikipedia after graduation. She hopes her work will inspire others to write about black women in STEM fields.

"There's not many well-known women within STEM fields and being able to get that research out there - and the correct research out there - about these women to inspire black children and other children of color to become anything that they want to become; or being able to feel as if they could go into STEM research and not be discouraged by the lack of representation that they have at the moment is something that's really important to me."

Wikipedia Profiles Authored By Earlham College Students

  • American neuroscientist Joanne Berger-Sweeney: Known for her work on a popular Alzheimer's drug; president of Trinity College.
  • American developmental psychologist Cynthia García Coll: associate director of the Institutional Center for Scientific Research at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico; former editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journalChild Development.
  • American academic and researcher Leslie Leve: University of Oregon professor in the Counseling Psychology and Human Services Department and associate director of the university's Prevention Science Institute.
  • Canadian social psychologist Kerry Kawakami: professor of social psychology at York University in Toronto; editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • South Korean psychologist Heejung Kim: professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara; co-editor of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
  • South African educational psychologist Catriona Ida Macleod: professor of psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Rhodes University.
  • American behavior geneticist Jenae Neiderhiser: distinguished professor of psychology and human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University; co-director at PSU's Gene Environment Research Initiative.
  • American psychologist Paula R. Pietromonaco: principal investigator of the Growth in Early Marriage Project at the University of Massachusetts; editor-in-chief of the journal Emotion; associate editor of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes section.
  • American psychologist Karen Saywitz: developmental and clinical psychologist and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry and Development.
  • American psychologist Marion Underwood: dean of Purdue University's College of Health and Human Sciences; leading researcher in social aggression.

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Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.