Center Enters Third Decade, Third Millennium
by Beth Willinger, Director

One year ago, I was sitting at a keyboard in a room full of approximately 150 computers and users exchanging e-mail messages with April Brayfield. Professor Brayfield was here at Tulane; I was attending the NGO Forum on Women in Huairou, China. Our exchange served as a reality check. April wrote to me about the U.S. media coverage highlighting sensationalized aspects of the conference. I was able to write back about a different kind of experience.

While it is true that rain turned the hastily built Huairou site into a mudbowl; that it took one-and-one-half hours to get to the Huairou site by rickety buses that ran to and from our hotel only once each day; that several thousand of us waited in the rain, and in vain, to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton; that we got "crowd controlled" twice; and that China is a repressive country; it is also true that the conference was about women throughout the world; that the mud and rain had an amusing way of unifying us; that the round-trip Beijing-Huairou ride gave us the opportunity to reflect on Chinese culture: the trees newly planted for our visit, workers still painting road posts, flags and banners pronouncing the unity of the world's women and streams of cyclists going about the work of living, some as curious about us as we were about them.

The actual experience of being one of 30,000 women to live, eat and learn with women of all ages, colors, cultures, religions, economic means and political perspectives will remain with me. But the goal of the conference was to move us to take action on behalf of women and girls, and in thinking about that charge, the phenomenon summoning me is symbolized in the exchange between April and me across thousands of miles and ten time zones. I am intrigued by the potential of technology to connect women and to give expression to previously unheard global voices. I marvel that even in a country such as China where store clerks still use abacuses to tally purchases the technology exists to provide limitless opportunities for women to exchange knowledge and experiences with others world-wide.

It is this potential for information technologies to open new ways of learning and new sources of knowledge that is at the heart of our mission to build the Center's technology infrastructure. This year we will launch several new projects. Among them is a project connecting feminist and international perspectives on technology. The project, Gendering Technologies in International Contexts, emerges from a Ford Foundation initiative to strengthen links between women's studies and international studies programs in higher education and is funded by the Ford Foundation as well as the Newcomb Foundation. At the core of the project is a study group of 15 faculty members who will spend the year exploring various debates concerning reproductive and information technologies as they both are constructed by and construct cultural definitions of gender. An ancillary theme of the study group, "using technology to teach technology," will involve faculty in the use of the Internet for developing curriculum materials. In this way, our undertaking also serves as a conceptual launching pad for the integration of information technology into our women's studies classes.

The project makes use of a World Wide Web site and an e-mail list to involve local, national and international scholars in the exchange of information. We hope this exchange will broaden our cross-cultural understanding of women's experiences of and perspectives on technology as we share with others the insights of the study group. The Gendering Technologies in International Contexts Web-site will contain a description of the project, the study group syllabus, directions on how to subscribe to the e-mail list, lists of hypertext links to related on-line resources, and links to the homepages and e-mail boxes of study group members.

We also will post session reports along with questions generated at each session, and invite e-mail discussion on these topics. We invite you to participate in these discussions by joining the "gendertechintl" electronic conference. Send the following e- mail message to listserv@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu: subscribe gendertechintl [your name]. Readings for each session will be available for photocopying at the Vorhoff Library ($0.05 per page).

Our initiative also includes greater use of the Internet to provide you with increased access to the Center's resources and programs. We will be expanding and updating the Center's homepage on the World Wide Web, created last year by Susan Tucker. This year, with the creative input of self-professed "geekgirl" Crystal Kile and a new Power Macintosh computer we've named "Sophie B. Wired," we will regularly up-date our listing of programs and include additional information such as library acquisitions, on-line versions of this Newsletter, and exhibits of our photo and scrapbook collections. Looking ahead to the future, we are currently in pursuit of funding for a cluster of 12-15 networked computers for use by women's studies classes and library patrons. Such a cluster could also be used to assist the technological empowerment of alumnae and community women.

With these and other new and ongoing projects you will read about in this issue, we are bursting at the seams. Thus, we were overjoyed and relieved to learn that our request to assume all of Caroline Richardson Hall has been approved. During the next several months we will begin using the first floor for programs and classes. Within the year, we will be launching a capital campaign to help fund the renovation. The renovation will include expanded space for the library and archives, offices for faculty and researchers, Ethernet connections to all Center offices and classrooms, and an additional classroom. We begin our third decade with new challenges, new opportunities and the prospect of change. As we seek to enhance our resources, to diversify our methods of learning about women's lives and experiences, and to participate in the production of new knowledge, we want especially to be mindful of the promise and virtual meaning of the "World Wide Web" as a connection between real women throughout the world. We look forward to visiting with you on-line and in person.


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