Leia Yen on Humanistic Design and Digital Access

By The Digital Humanities Editorial Team

Leia Yen is an English student minoring in global studies and digital humanities.

What brought you to digital humanities?
I used to be a computer science major, and I worked in web development for a while. One of the narratives that comes out of silicon valley is that technology can solve all of the world’s problems – but this always kind of bothered me and made me question the technology itself. That narrative can hide a lot of the norms that technology has harmed and should be held accountable for.

That’s really interesting! How did you go about searching for some answers?
I didn’t know what DH was when I arrived at UCLA. As a transfer student you get thrown right into a new environment and are expected to find a lot of resources on your own. I lucked out I had an English Professor (Danny Snelson) who knew about DH recommended it to me.

When I finally switched to english and digital humanities, I could actually ask questions of technology in a productive and functional way while using technology for purposes that I found meaningful.

Did you have any reservations about the minor?
I’m really grateful to Prof. Garcia because she did a great job in her first introduction to the class and encouraged us to go into DH101 with a playful attitude. And, in that first day I had a lot of my questions addressed. There’s always anxiety of doing a group project [as in DH101]. Being able to create a group project of that kind of scale is daunting, but the way the class is structured where you have broken-up tasks within your group, specialized roles, and set deadlines is really beneficial. This gives you training for the workforce and and a greater perspective on group projects overall.

I was also worried because as a transfer student you have to finish all your coursework in two years. The speed and the pace can be daunting. I knew going in what I wanted to do and learn. It was really important to plan ahead, but DH makes it flexible because the skills and topics overlap with so many other areas. The interdisciplinary nature of DH meant I could take classes that fit both my major and the minor.

Glad you stayed! What was the most rewarding experience?
DH 101 gave me a lot of the technical skills to conduct independent research to help me address those intersectional questions. I’m doing the first digital humanities thesis for the English department. It’s an analysis of digital representations of the Syrian refugee crisis. I like how the internet can allow for a multiplicity of voices to be represented, but the internet can also hide its biases. I wanted to find a way to show these voices, and digital humanities gave me the tools to conceive of this kind of project and conduct it.

Has being a digital humanities minor changed your path at all?
A large part of DH is learning about the functionality and accessibility. While the idea of social and cultural access to the internet has always been a concern of mine, DH broadened my definition of accessibility. Professor Garcia invited Travis Lee and Sal Santa Ana from the Disabilities and Computing Program to speak to our DH101 class about accessible design. They demonstrated the challenges of navigating web page if it’s not thoughtfully configured with the applications and technologies that allow students with disabilities to access information. This knowledge played a big part of my DH101 project. I reached out to the the Disabilities and Computing Program to learn more about the intersection of accessibility and technology to see how we can make tools and forms of information more accessible.

Do you have any advice for people interested in the minor?
Nobody ever knows what digital humanities is before they get into it. It takes an opportunity to see it in action to understand its importance.

Going to office hours is under appreciated – you’ll learn a lot from the people on the frontline of DH research and build relationships for mentoring. You can get a better picture of what to do through their example and it makes the subject more approachable. If you’re afraid of the technical skills and the levels of difficulty, don’t worry, DH101 is a great opportunity to see how you can take any part of DH and apply it to your personal studies or career interests.