Duke University Is Training Feminist Bloggers

Duke University has suffered some blows over the years as an academically prestigious school with a bad rep towards women. There was the infamous Duke lacrosse rape accusation of 2006 (which was later found to be false) and more recently, embarrassing fratboy shenanigans. Finally, some really positive news: Duke Women’s Center has created a program during the spring semester called Write(H)ers, which will train 23 students on how to be feminist bloggers.

As reported by the Duke Chronicle, the student newspaper, the participants — 22 women and one man — must attend workshops throughout the semester, including four dinners with visiting feminist bloggers and journalists: Jill Filipovic of Feministe, Irin Carmon of Salon.com, Heather Havrilesky formerly of Salon.com and now a New York Times contributor, and Rebecca Traitster, formerly of Salon.com. Throughout the semester, participants will be required to write three blog posts to be published on either the Women’s Center blog or Duke’s feminist student blog, Develle Dish.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, namely that the theory behind this program is awesome. Gawker was snarking on the fact that students pay upwards of $40K a year to attend Duke and learning how to blog is completely free, calling this program a “scam.” But as far as I know, Write(H)ers is an extracurricular, just like the student newspaper or the dodgeball team, and anyone who wants to be involved is only investing their free time. That’s something to be lauded and supported, not mocked. The point is to equip these young folks with the skills on how to blog and then encourage them to continue doing it.  Mentoring the next generation is one of the most essential skills needed in progressive movements and it’s not always an aspect that third-wave feminism has excelled.

But I have to give this particular group of feminist bloggers the side-eye. They’re very … white. And … straight. That’s not an accurate reflection of the wide range of actual feminist bloggers. Whether Duke tried to bring a more diverse group of feminist bloggers to campus, I don’t know. But considering three out of their four guests all came from Salon.com’s loins in some fashion, I’m not really convinced they tried especially hard.  But it’s not that hard to find feminist bloggers of color or LGBTQ feminist bloggers. It is doing a disservice to the young blogger students to portray “feminist blogging” as the province of telegenic young white girls. Hopefully additional names will be added later in the semester.

I also think the requirements could be a bit more rigorous. Three blog posts is nothing!  I write three blog posts before lunch. The blogosphere moves fast and most bloggers, whether they’re professional or not, churn out posts more quickly. While I can understand the need to ease these young people into all the various skills that blogging entails — finding story ideas, writing your piece, SEO, creating art, promoting your posts — and to emphasize quality over quantity, it seems like the program is treating blog posts as if they’re similar to term papers. Blog posts are not like term papers. At least, the good ones aren’t.

It’s a good start for Write(H)ers and I hope it succeeds. And hey, maybe when these kids are done with their program, they’ll put those three (!) blog posts in a cover letter and apply for a Frisky internship.

[Duke Chronicle]
[Duke University: Develle Dish]

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