Class of 2020: Anthony Wheeler, Digital Humanist Who Studies Race and Identity, on Staying a Part of the GC Community

May 27, 2020

The master's graduate will start a Graduate Center Ph.D. program this fall in pursuit of his ultimate goal: design games and digital solutions to make education more inclusive.

Anthony Wheeler (Photo courtesy of Wheeler)
Anthony Wheeler (Photo courtesy of Wheeler)


Anthony Wheeler (M.A. ’20, Digital Humanities) found a home for his wide-ranging interests — which include race, identity, open projects, and the accessibility of education — in The Graduate Center’s M.A. Program in Digital Humanities. And as he earned his degree, he served in a variety of CUNY roles, working as an assistant for his own program and for the M.S. Program in Data Analysis and Visualization, a community facilitator for the CUNY Academic Commons, and as an adjunct instructor of English at the New York City College of Technology and of Communication Studies at LaGuardia Community College.

Wheeler is graduating next week, but he is staying a part of The Graduate Center community — this fall, he will begin the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education. We spoke to Wheeler during his break between semesters:

The Graduate Center: Your research focuses on race and identity as they relate to education. How did you explore those topics through the medium of gaming?

Wheeler: My digital capstone project is based on a game that my classmate and friend, Raven Gomez, and I built at the end of our first semester in the program and have been working on since. It’s a text-based game built using Twine, which is a web-based open-source platform that is used to create interactive fiction games, similar to choose-your-own-adventure style gaming. 

Our game utilizes Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality as a game mechanic, allowing for players to explore the protagonist’s identity as they work with a writing tutor to write a reflective essay at the game’s Writing Center, with your decisions determining the feedback you receive from your professor at the end. The game tells a story about the experience of marginalized voices in the classroom and how we as instructors (and peers) perpetuate the exclusion of intersecting identities through the Western literary canon and curriculum. 

Identity is very important to me and my scholarship because it is the foundation of who we are and how the world interacts with us. Why shouldn’t we learn from one another’s experience in correlation to systematic structures such as higher education? Or mold our curriculum in a way that would specifically benefit the people in the class? CUNY has the most diverse student body I have ever seen, so I plan to continue celebrating that within my classroom.

GC: How do you define “digital humanities,” which seems like such an abstract and academic term? And how did you become interested in it?

Wheeler: This is one of my favorite questions because there isn’t a specific correct answer. I would say that DH is the approach to technology and computer science from the perspective of a humanist. We are so used to the definitive nature of STEM-subjects, but digital humanists aim to explore the gray areas of the digital world. My form of DH focuses on how technology can be used to increase equity and implement social justice initiatives within education (through things such as game-building), but it can also take the form of interactive mapping or researching data privacy and surveillance of students. For someone else, it could take on a significantly different form such as archiving or text analysis, it all depends!

I became involved with this field during my junior year of my undergraduate study when my former English professor, Joanna (Annie) Swafford, taught a class called Digital Lyric, which approached poetry from a DH-perspective. We made a poetry bot, collaborated on a digital archive, and more. This one semester of DH wasn’t enough for me. Fortunately, Swafford knew [Professor] Matt Gold and recommended me to the program at The Graduate Center, and here I am!

GC: Does your work as a program assistant for the DH program and a community facilitator on the CUNY Academic Commons relate to your research interests and career goals?

Wheeler: Yes, in many, many ways! What’s been wonderful about working for the DH program is the amount of immersion I have had in The Graduate Center community. I’ve met so many inspiring scholars through events we’ve held over the past couple of years, in addition to the experience of seeing what goes into running a program. 

The experience I’ve gained working with the Commons team has been immeasurable. I’ve wanted to break into the field of educational technology for some time, and with every meeting we have I am learning more and more about open educational resources and the politics behind them. This includes the conversations that go into all changes, accessibility, user experience design, and more. In my role specifically, I’ve gotten to connect with and interview Commons users around CUNY, picking up new tricks from all of them. Overall, working with so many seasoned ed tech/DH scholars has greatly reinforced my interest in open projects and the accessibility of education. 

GC: You are starting the Urban Education Ph.D. Program, with a funding package and Provost's Enhancement Grant — congrats! What do you hope to do in the program, and afterward?

Wheeler: Thank you! My current goal through the Urban Education Program and eventual postdoctoral work is to pursue a professorship while continuing to create new pedagogies and digital tools for students who feel displaced within the classroom and even their communities. What form(s) will this take? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out! I also very much hope that my interdisciplinary knowledge of technology, education, and digital humanities can bring a new introspective lens to my peers within the program as we grow as leading educators and scholars.

GC: Do you have any advice for aspiring DH scholars, or students in other fields who might be considering applying to an M.A. program?

Wheeler: A huge aspect of DH is about hitting walls or dead ends as we experiment with new software and/or programming, so do not be afraid to struggle: It’s part of the process and will pay off. I also urge current and future students to attend some of the labs that are hosted at The Graduate Center. They are an excellent space to try dipping your toes into new digital tools and technologies to see what you enjoy or have an interest in pursuing with the help of fellow GC students. Lastly, attend program events! You will meet so many great people with amazing project ideas.

More generally speaking, The Graduate Center is a wonderful community with people who care and are aiming for greater social change. I’ve had such an immense amount of support from faculty members! Between the Digital Humanities M.A. and the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate programs (and even programs I wasn’t affiliated with), I have established a truly wonderful support system that has encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. and continue to be a member of the GC community.