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FemTechNet Hopes to Revolutionize SA’s Higher Education Possibilities

Photo: Donte Griffin, License: N/A

Donte Griffin

Geeks who think: FemTechNet San Antonio’s Laura Varela (left) and Penelope Boyer at Geekdom

The makings of a revolution in higher education just might be forming here in San Antonio, but not at UTSA, or Trinity, or Incarnate Word, or any of the other colleges in the area. In order to witness this grand experiment, you’ll have to head over to tech-friendly co-work space Geekdom on Tuesday evenings.

There, instead of professors and students, there’s facilitators and participants, instead of one-directional lectures, you have discussions, and instead of tests and quizzes you create projects and artifacts. If it all sounds too squishy and feel-good, make no mistake, this is serious learning, tackling the amazingly heady topic of feminism and technology and created by bona fide, longtime professors in their fields. It’s rigorous, complex and in San Antonio, you don’t need to be a college student (past or present) or even own a computer to access it.

That’s the new international network FemTechNet in a nutshell, one of those ideas that seems to have suddenly arrived fully formed, like Athena springing out of Zeus’ head. Obviously a lot more work went into it than that, but the actual creation timeline for the Network took a little more than a year-and-a-half according to co-creators Anne Balsamo and Alexandra Juhasz, Dean of the New School’s Media Studies program and professor of media studies at Pitzer College, respectively.

At its core, FTN (as its creators call it) is “an activated network of scholars, artists and students who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science and feminism in a variety of fields including STS, Media and Visual Studies, Art, Women’s, Queer and Ethnic Studies.” FTN grew out of a coffee klatch between Balsamo and Juhasz, both of whom have written extensively on women and feminist pedagogy in technology. The pair shared concerns that women’s contributions to technology, from academia to art, weren’t being recognized, or even documented, and female representation in the field suffered for it.

While the FTN web site illustrates this concern with a story The New York Times ran in June 2012 that stated “Men invented the internet,” there’s even more recent cause for alarm. In late August, the Silicon Valley gossip site Valleywag reported on the innocuous term “culture fit” and its use by tech startups to deny jobs to those who don’t “fit” the (male) tech nerd stereotype. It sparked an avalanche of reader comments, mainly from women, describing experiences of abject, gender-based discrimination in not just start-ups, but computer science university programs and major technology firms, so much so that Valleywag ran a follow-up post on August 29 titled “This Is Why There Aren’t Enough Women in Tech.” Just last week, TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the technology industry’s best-regarded conferences, came under fire for highlighting two lewd apps, one memorably titled “Titstare.” Also last week, Business Insider’s Chief Technology Officer was forced out after his racist and sexist tweets were made public, one defending the offensive TechCrunch Disrupt presentations.

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