Dear Data: Challenging Data One Post at a Time

CP’s Note: This story about my collaboration with the course, Race, Racism, and Power originally appears in my department’s ‘Teaching with LITS’ nook on the College’s website. I've edited it slightly to fit the style of this site.

Caro Pinto worked with the course Race, Racism, and Power taught by Assistant Professor Vanessa Rosa of the Department of Spanish, Latina/o and Latin American Studies during the fall 2017 semester. The class includes an assignment known as 'Dear Data.' For this assignment, students generate data visualizations of their readings several times throughout the semester. They use numbers, drawings, dotted lines, and other forms of visual communication to frame their posts. This assignment is modeled after the project and subsequent book Dear Data by Gioriga Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. The assignment grew out of informal hallway conversations between Pinto and Rosa in 2016 and continues to evolve each semester Rosa offers the course.

The assignment interrupts naturalized and calcified conceptions of what 'data' is or is not. It creates space for new forms of engagement with course readings and for student interactions. Why is a two page response paper the main way students engage with readings? Must academic communication simply be limited to writing? This assignment liberates students to imagine new forms of engagement with knowledge production.

Excited about the new possibilities this assignment afforded them, students wanted to share their posts more broadly. They organized an exhibition of their Dear Data posts in atrium of Williston Library and created a zine of their posts for viewers to take with them to reflect on their work. The exhibit created a space for the campus to engage with their visualizations and consider how much ‘data’ encompasses. Selections from the Dear Data Exhibit in the Williston Library Atirum