Samantha Hankins: ‘But Wait, Is Your Last Name Filipino?’

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I’ve never met my dad and to this day I’ve never seen a photo of him or even discussed him with my mom. From what I’ve gathered, my mom and dad were married, and they were divorced before I was born. I know this because we both still have his last name, Hankins.

My mom was a single parent, and we lived with my aunt and my uncle in an affluent, predominantly white suburb of Chicago. She struggled with the cultural differences between the Philippines and America and therefore prioritized making sure I had a connection to our Filipino heritage. I grew up learning how to speak Visayan, spending summers in Cebu, and making friends and learning traditional Filipino dances with kids whose parents were also in the Chicago Filipino doctors’ association. Through and through I was raised 100% Filipino.

My mom did everything she could while working full-time to ensure I had a happy childhood. For that I was never left wondering what life would be like with two parents. However, as early as I can remember I recall struggling to explain my last name when I told people I was Filipino (and it was painfully obvious that my last name was not). Because kids will be kids, the questions I regularly faced were extremely direct and would come rapid fire as it would become clear just how different my upbringing had been from theirs. I regularly felt unsafe sharing my story growing up, but this experience taught me the importance of sensitivity and asking the right questions.

Still today when asked about any portion of my identity, I always experience a brief moment of pause that reconnects me with just how complicated identity really is and how difficult it can be to talk about or articulate. Answering these types of questions is rarely simple, especially when there is an natural inclination to put a label on things for the purposes of “simplicity.”

I’ve encountered similar complications in other areas of identity in my life:

  • I identify as female, yet accept getting called “sir” almost daily as part of my gender presentation.
  • I identify as queer because it feels like the simplest way for me to honor who I am today, while also honoring the authenticity of my previous relationships with men and sincere questioning surrounding being asexual for a period of time.

In realizing the complexities of my own identity at such a young age, early on I developed a curiosity and respect for the nuances of others, and have made a life of creating safe spaces for those struggling with to get comfortable with their own. This is what motivated me to get my law degree and work with local human rights issues. It is why I went on to work in diversity and inclusion with students of color at a New York City area law school. These experiences inform my voice, process, and values as a designer and is what ultimately drew me to working with The Coral Project.

The shocking conclusion of 2016 highlighted the existence of filter bubbles and just how disconnected people were from anyone outside of those bubbles. It called into question the trustworthiness and diversity in journalism as people realized the news they had been digesting didn’t completely square with the realities in our nation. At the center of The Coral Project is a belief that restoring that trust begins with being much better at actively building meaningful relationships between newsrooms and readers and working together to improve the stories that are told. Simply stated, journalism needs everyone.

We are creating open-source products and guides that make it easier for newsrooms around the world connect with their audiences, and for audiences to connect with their newsrooms. To build these tools we are learning from the experiences of commenters, non-commenters, non-comment readers, trolls, and people who have been harassed out of the comments across a spectrum of identities, to better understand what motivates participation (or nonparticipation), and how to create safer spaces. One key finding from our research has shown that women’s voices often go underrepresented as they participate in news comments in much lower numbers than their male counterparts. Additionally, in an area that has gone completely unstudied, we are partnering with the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas to create Having Our Say: Online News Consumption and Commenting Behaviors Among Women and Non-Binary/Non-Gender Conforming People of Color.

In what ways can we rethink the open-ended text box at the bottom of the article and the features surrounding it to create a more safe and inviting environment for these diverse voices to participate? We have designed our products Ask and Talk with a commitment and eye toward this very question, and built mechanisms for newsrooms to easily structure the conversations they are having with their readers.

We are also studying the workflows and needs of comment moderators, engagement editors, and journalists to identify opportunities where better design can improve efficiency and seamlessly integrate modern engagement techniques into the work they are already doing. Also we recognize how communities may differ in culture, values, and needs from organization to organization, therefore we have made our products open source so that newsrooms can easily build on additional features and plugins that are tailored to their own communities.

The need for newsrooms to listen to and equally highlight the diverse perspectives of their readers has become more important than ever. Journalism must be the platform that elevates the voices of those that have long gone unheard and must create safe spaces for dialog and constructive disagreement to thrive. Through our tools and guides we hope to help newsrooms get to that place, exposing people to perspectives outside their filter bubbles and ushering in a renewed spirit of empathy and respect for the nuances surrounding identity. I look forward to sharing my experiences in those spaces, and am eager to learn from the stories of others.


❔ Whois

Samantha Hankins is a New York City based designer with The Coral Project. The Coral Project is a collaboration between the Mozilla Foundation, the New York Times, and the Washington Post funded by the Knight Foundation to create open-source tools for newsrooms around the world better engage with their communities. Prior to joining The Coral Project she completed a UX design apprenticeship with Bloc. She previously was the Assistant Director of International Law Programs and Multicultural Affairs at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Creighton University and a JD from Gonzaga University School of Law. Born and raised just outside of Chicago she is a lifelong Cubs fan.

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