Tags

, , , ,

When I first became an editor at Wikipedia, I noticed that other new editors had welcome messages on their editor pages. Other, more senior editors had thanked them for their recent contributions, welcomed them to the community, offered them some useful links to have a look at, and let them know that if they had any questions or difficulties, they could contact the senior editor about it at any time. I had been editing for a little while at this point and had still not received a welcome message, and seeing them on the pages of editors who were newer than I was made me feel ignored, if not straight-up ostracized. Clearly people cared about the presence of these other new Wiki editors in a way that they did not care about me.

Or so it seemed.

Image of the "special barnstar," from the Wikipedia tradition of giving out differently-themed five-pointed stars to other editors as a sign of appreciation.

One day I realized that the wording in these welcome messages was, with a few tiny differences, exactly the same. After some googling, I learned that what seemed to be such warm, carefully worded welcome messages were in fact a welcome template, complete with a space for editors to insert their usernames. The presence of a template does not cancel out the sincere intentions of senior editors to welcome new editors to the community, but it gave me a funny thought: if the warm welcome was just a template, I didn’t have to wait for another editor to write it for me. I could stick it on my own page.

I could welcome myself.

I do not know if it is common to feel that you need an invitation to join an existing group, but I have a hunch that people who have experienced marginalization are especially vulnerable to it. When the world spends so much time pushing you to the periphery, it’s not your imagination that there are people who want you to stay there. Yet despite their wishes, you and I do not need their permission to speak.  And we have important things to say.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that deciding to turn around and walk back into the mainstream can be terrifying. And it is not necessarily the healthy choice for everyone. The conversations taking place at the center can be exhausting and infuriating, especially when some of the people talking the loudest have never even thought about the periphery, let alone been there.

I think that is part of why a warm welcome from current community members can be so important. When a community expresses welcome, they offer new members the emotional and practical resources to stay and to build their identities within that community. On the practical side of things, the Wikipedia welcome template provides new users with the links to some very useful, introductory how-to pages that you would never know existed unless you knew how and where to look. On the emotional side, the Welcome lets you know that there are friendly people who care about the work you’re doing and the things you have to say, who will be there to laugh and shake their heads with you throughout the long haul of making Wikipedia a more neutral, accurate place. There are certainly correlates to this in real-world communities. Missing out on these resources, whether how-to advice or simple encouragement, can make it exhausting or impossible to persevere in the places we have been marginalized from.

This is why I would like to continue this Wikipedia series by extending a warm welcome, from myself and from all the other Wiki editors who are excited for you to join us. Whether or not you decide that Wikipedia is a community you want to be a part of, whether you drop in from time to time or become a frequent editor, you have an inherent right to be here and to speak. You don’t need anyone’s permission or sanctions to do so.  However, it’s important to recognize the benefit of having a current member of the community let you know that you have a place here.  So, to the extent that it helps to hear it from someone else:

Hello, Welcome, and welcome to Wikipedia! Thank you for your contributions. I hope you like the place and decide to stay. Here are a few links to pages you might find helpful:

Please remember to sign your messages on talk pages by typing four tildes (~~~~); this will automatically insert your username and the date. If you need help, check out Wikipedia:Questions, ask me on my talk page, or ask your question on this page and then place {{Help me}} before the question. Again, welcome!