Starting Where We Are


Sharon Irish (SI), one of FemTechNet’s co-facilitators for 2014-16, recently interviewed Ivette Bayo Urban (IBU) about the course she is teaching this term in Seattle, “Community Technology Literacy and You.”  Ivette is a doctoral candidate in Information Science at the University of Washington.  She obtained support for Starting Where We Are, a project funded by City of Seattle Technology Match on behalf of Casa Latina. Together with members of Casa Latina, university students from the University of Washington and library partners, she is working together across differences with shared goals of 1) increasing digital and information resources for adults as well as 2) early literacy and imaginative play for youth.  She also received support from the Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity to offer a for-credit course to students at UW and a community course to people involved with Casa Latina. Sharon was curious how this worked. UPDATE: In June 2015, Ivette shared this video about her work.

Graphic for Starting Where We Are

IBU: Last quarter I had seven students on the project, most of whom were master’s candidates in LIS, including one distance-learner in a predominantly Spanish-speaking rural area with limited access to the Internet and one master’s of information management. An anthropology major took an independent study and served as our project manager (but is actually so much more!) We worked to be non-hierarchical and come to agreement on our goals so that we could be ready for our activities in 2015. This term I am working with five students officially, but others are involved doing their capstone projects in connection with the class. Another four students are building a Little Free Library at Casa Latina.

SI: How often and where do you meet?

IBU: We meet on campus once a week from 3-4:20PM and then we carpool to our community partners, and work with them from 5PM to 7PM. The funding from the Center for Experiential Learning enables us to provide a van to transport people from Casa Latina to branches of King County Public Library and Seattle Public Library. The program started in January and goes through July of 2015. While attendance varies, we usually have six to seven women from the community.

SI: How are the sessions in community locations structured?

IBU: We have a theme each session; last week was email. The Advisory Group, made up of women from Casa Latina, helps guide decisions about programming. Members of the Group also rotate handling logistics for each meeting, and they get paid $15 an hour (for 2 hours) to set up and coordinate sessions, which are conducted in Spanish.

I was able to get additional funding from the Information and Society Center  to provide programming for children while their parents are involved with our digital literacy sessions. UW students either provide childcare, or work in small groups with the Latina women who want to expand their digital skills. The grant to support childcare allowed us to buy a puppet theatre and some iPad minis. We have had up to seven children, including three babies!

SI: How does FemTechNet mesh with your work?

IBU: FemTechNet is a source of inspiration for the collaboration between university and community. Despite learning about FemTechNet after the grant was approved, every aspect of the participatory framework and vision was etched with some of FemTechNet’s manifesto, which is why it is appropriate that this project be offered as FemTechNet node.

All of us have read the FemTechNet manifesto, either in English or in Spanish. We share the work in terms of grant administration, course readings, and community programming. We explore together socially-defined identities and are using Blogger for our reflections. We also have a Weebly site (built by an informatics student) for sharing readings, announcements and reminders across our groups. We are committed to the Toltec Four Agreements.

SI: Tell me more about the Toltec Four Agreements.

IBU: The Casa Latina women’s leadership group has used the Toltec 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz as ground rules and for leadership development.  Therefore we are also using them.  Our handout consists of the agreements on one side and the FemTechNet manifesto in Spanish on the other.

The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

The women from Casa Latina have added a 5th – Listen with power (or intent) 

SI: Ivette, thank you so much for sharing your vision and practice! I invite people to explore the link to your website for further information.

IBU: You are welcome! Martin Nakata (2002) reminds us of the importance of developing scholarship in “contested spaces of cultural interface.” My activism happens in classrooms, attentive to the complex and uneven relations that exist as we travel and share social and cultural spaces with universities, organizations and individuals. Please check out Starting Where We Are!