How Content Practitioners Can Help With Disaster Response

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Sweta Baniya explains how technical communications practitioners can use their skills to assist with disaster management and disaster response.

Airdate: October 14, 2020

Season 1 Episode 8 | 48 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:13.240] – Liz Fraley

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to room 42. I’m Liz Fraley, from Single-Sourcing Solutions. And I’m your moderator. This is Janice Summers, our interviewer. And welcome to Sweta Baniya, today’s guest in room 42.

[00:00:28.780] – Janice Summers

So excited.

[00:00:29.050] – Sweta Baniya

So excited to be here.

[00:00:34.270] – Liz Fraley

Let me do a little, let me at least tell folks all about you. She’s an assistant professor of Rhetoric professional and technical writing at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her scholarship centers around the ever-evolving, changing and challenging global issue of natural and man-made disasters like earthquakes and climate change. And she draws upon non-Western paradigms into dialogue with contemporary, rhetorical framings of these disasters to support local and global communities facing these kinds of events.

[00:01:07.720] – Liz Fraley

She’s working on a book project now. It’s very–I love the title, Social Justice Oriented Technical Communication in Global Disaster Management, to demonstrate how local knowledge and trans-cultural practices of recognizing, highlighting and valuing marginalized perspectives during or after crisis can create opportunities for tackling social injustices in post-disaster situations. That’s a lot

[00:01:37.720] – Janice Summers


[00:01:37.720] – Liz Fraley

But it’s going to be… It’s fertile ground for us to talk today and start answering the question on how content practitioners can help with disaster response. 

[00:01:47.710] – Liz Fraley

Welcome Sweta. 

[00:01:49.270] – Sweta Baniya

Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:01:51.770] – Janice Summers

It’s so nice to have you here. So Sweta, I’m curious, what started you on this path for your focus? What inspired you?

[00:02:04.490] – Sweta Baniya

Well, thank you so much for that question. I have to go back to all the way to 2015 when…I’m originally from Nepal. I was born in Kathmandu and raised there. So in 2015, we suffered through a huge earthquake. Actually, there were two earthquakes that came in between April 25th and May and a lot of aftershocks, and during that time I was already working as a journalist as well as communication practitioner. 

[00:02:42.550] – Janice Summers


[00:02:43.000] – Sweta Baniya

So my role as a journalist was with Nepal’s National Radio called Radio Nepal and I was their English newsreader as well as editor, and so right after a good hit, the first thing I did was went to my office and read news about how many people were suffering through, and how many people were dying and you know, in my other job, which was where a small non-profit organization. I had to start just like immediately create various content about and awaring people about like what’s going on and like addressing audiences.

[00:03:31.010] – Janice Summers

So you had to disseminate all of the information that is coming to you as a journalist, and then you had to then take that and translate that into consumable content for people who are experiencing…

[00:03:45.630] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, those were two different jobs at two different institutions. But one job informed the other, obviously.

[00:03:50.960] – Janice Summers

Right, right, right. OK, so go on. 

[00:03:55.240] – Sweta Baniya

Yes. So after that, again in, so peer issue was always a problem for me, but I think earthquake brought this huge, you know I wouldn’t say enlightenment, but it forced me to think about the ways I have communicated for the past eight years and how did I communicate during the earthquake and post-earthquake. So after the earthquake, I was working with one specific non-profit, but then I changed my job to work in an international non-profit.

[00:04:30.550] – Janice Summers


[00:04:31.360] – Sweta Baniya

So for that, I needed to interview people who we were supporting via a lot of like millions of money from…We received from European Union. So I was interviewing people who were direct beneficiaries and I was asking them questions to impress the donors and to, you know, to kind of like to hear what I wanted to listen. So, and then I wrote one blog post it was about a woman, it was not like, the interview was not false, but it was mostly like I was asking her questions that I wanted to hear.

[00:05:16.830] – Janice Summers


[00:05:17.240] – Sweta Baniya

So when I wrote and published that article, there were four hundred thousand views and twenty-five thousand responses.

[00:05:26.650] – Janice Summers


[00:05:28.290] – Liz Fraley


[00:05:30.970] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, it was…But it really made me contemplate a lot on, did I do this right? Did I do…you know, like a lot of like, self-reflection on that. So I think when I came to get my Ph.D. here, I couldn’t let that go. One my roles as communication practitioners at two different venues and the way I communicated. But one thing I need to mention that I never received a degree in communications or technical communication back home. It was English and it was all learning by doing.

[00:06:11.380] – Janice Summers


[00:06:11.530] – Sweta Baniya

So I had no experiences of like…I know, like journalism ethics but organizational communication, it was mostly like what my boss wanted me to do. It was what my boss wanted me to do, and you know what the donor wants to hear. 

[00:06:33.810] – Janice Summers

Right. So its more of… Because you were learning as you were going, it puts you in more of a position of just taking guidance from other people rather than having that guidance in yourself. OK. Right, right, cause you were just getting started, you’re finding your way as you were going.

[00:06:57.850] – Sweta Baniya

And I was just doing my job. 

[00:07:00.820] – Janice Summers

Right, right. 

[00:07:02.560] – Liz Fraley


[00:07:03.430] – Janice Summers

And so many people do. 

[00:07:05.210] – Liz Fraley


[00:07:09.180] – Janice Summers


[00:07:09.220] – Sweta Baniya

The other part of me was I use a lot of social media back home and I still do, and I saw a lot of people and friends and, you know like my friends back home using Twitter to kind of respond to disaster in a way that nobody has ever seen. So it was like Twitter became this platform for a lot of Nepali advocates and activists who work together to reach out to like authorities to, kind of like, you know, question them and to you know, to actually do the work. So it also created a situation of where a lot of international actors would participate in responding to disaster in Nepal via Twitter. So it created that…I experienced that myself, and so I brought that all together with me and that’s how it set my path. It was a long answer to a very short question.

[00:08:18.430] – Janice Summers

No, it’s a good answer. You know, there’s so much richness in the background right, in knowing the roots of something. People can read research and they can read, you know, books. But having that candid conversation about what really inspired you, what influenced you? I think it adds a lot of richness to it and understanding the back-story for me, I always find it very interesting and enlightening because it does inform your future, like all of those experiences informs your future. So you took all of that and then you decided you wanted to go deeper, right? And expand, so tell us a little bit more about what your next step was, like you have all of this back-story and then that influenced you to look at how we ask questions, how we disseminate information, tell me more about that.

[00:09:18.010] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah. So after coming here, that question was always there. And I think I really wanted to explore the ways communications can be enhanced and the use of technologies could be enhanced in such situation.

[00:09:33.520] – Janice Summers


[00:09:34.380] – Sweta Baniya

So. Yeah, as I was exploring that in just like being a graduate student, you know, like just exploring and I have this idea of like I want to study something about Nepal and something about Nepal earthquake, but it was a very nascent idea until like my second year, but in my second year in 2017, Puerto Rico underwent through a massive hurricane.

[00:10:05.130] – Janice Summers


[00:10:05.820] – Sweta Baniya

So, since I was already interested in disaster. I was observing, reading and again seeing a lot of activism that was happening on Twitter and similarily, there was Mexico earthquake as well. So all these three disasters that happened one after another in various marginalized spaces, how people actually responded to that without trusting the authorities, without, you know, like and complaining a lot about them, but like actually doing the work. It really inspired me to think deeper about various, how various communities create their own network actions and how do they support their communities? What are their practices in terms of knowledge-making about disaster, actual disaster response, as well as how do they manage earthquake? And also the major question was how do they perform all these activities transnationally?

[00:11:20.710] – Sweta Baniya

So it’s not just that they are working together with them, but they are working with people around the globe, be it diaspora, be it people who really like, who really love Nepal or have worked in Nepal or visited Nepal in some ways. So in the case of Puerto Rico, people diaspora that’s in the U.S. or elsewhere around the world.

[00:11:48.160] – Sweta Baniya

So it felt to me like in around the world, there are various global communities that even their original country would be somewhere else, but they’re spread around the globe. So that’s how I kind of like noticed that when disaster happens locally, it’s not just a local event, but it’s a global event.

[00:12:18.050] – Janice Summers

Has a global interest because, you know, I mean, we’re a global community, and…

[00:12:25.280] – Sweta Baniya

it’s not just in the level of people, but also level of the government, and you know, like various international organizations and again like there are various levels of those global interactions.

[00:12:38.220] – Janice Summers


[00:12:38.910] – Sweta Baniya

That happened such that a lot of people around the world responded to Nepal. But in the case of Puerto Rico, it’s slightly different because Puerto Rico is still considered part of the U.S., so U.S. handles a little bit differently, you know, like Nepal opened its border for a lot of supporters, but it didn’t happen here. So they’re…

[00:13:04.330] – Janice Summers

interesting. I did not realize that.

[00:13:09.680] – Liz Fraley

 Yeah. I was going to ask what patterns you were seeing. 

[00:13:13.790] – Janice Summers


[00:13:15.510] – Sweta Baniya

So in terms of what, Nepal or…

[00:13:18.510] – Liz Fraley

Well, just in terms of what you’re observing, like what are you starting to see? Differences, similarities…like that was the first one. You’re like they didn’t respond the same way.

[00:13:31.240] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, the striking similarity is that they reach out to their respective diaspora around the world and they use social media as well as various platforms like Facebook, Twitter to actually advocate and bring all these people together. And the differences is like obviously these are like these two disaster was completely different. It was Hurricane and it was Earthquake. So what I found interesting to me was hurricanes are slightly predictable, earthquakes are not.

[00:14:12.120] – Liz Fraley

 Yeah, OK. 

[00:14:13.530] – Sweta Baniya

So like technically speaking and also people in Puerto Rico have already faced smaller and bigger some bigger hurricanes in the past, and they know how to prepare for it, like stock up food, and even though they were prepared they were not ready for that level of devastating… So they knew that what to do, what happens after a hurricane. But in Nepal, it was not that. There were a lot of PSAs in Nepal like how to do what happens in the earthquake. You know, like how yeah, like we always knew, a big earthquake will come, but there is no early warning system for earthquakes.

[00:15:04.530] – Janice Summers

There isn’t.

[00:15:05.790] – Liz Fraley

We are that way in California, right, so we get that Hey! Right now along the highway there are big billboards. Have your pack and this is what should be in it.

[00:15:17.550] – Sweta Baniya


[00:15:21.120] – Janice Summers


[00:15:21.190] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, it suddenly hit us and a lot of like actually the dark cover one. There were a lot of bodies that were found in such a position it’s very sad.

[00:15:35.550] – Liz Fraley

It is.

[00:15:36.560] – Sweta Baniya

So yeah in the communities, practices were slightly different, I think. In Nepal, I saw a lot of people, people use both Facebook and Twitter equally, but in Puerto Rico the most…Because Puerto Rico didn’t have electricity and Internet for a long time and they use WhatsApp more as well as Facebook. So those were the two prominent technologies that were used. 

[00:16:15.210] – Liz Fraley

I was going to ask why do you think it was Twitter and now you’re telling me it’s not. At least for this one you know, that’s interesting.

[00:16:22.890] – Sweta Baniya

So Twitter in the context of Nepal, I think was very… So I think it’s the context of the community and how the community used this specific software or technology and how that community has adapted to this certain technology. So in Puerto Rico, it was mostly Facebook because that was the easier way to access information for people. In Nepal, it was both. And I saw like there were a lot of people, especially very young people, who were really using Twitter for like purpose of fun and, you know, like some activism, but earthquake kind of shifted that, and it was so much of activism and it became like the tool.

[00:17:13.350] – Sweta Baniya

And there were also like a lot of data visualizations and stuff like that, that had happened during the earthquake, so these were like people who had their other jobs right, and they were just taking out some time to devote to the community. So that’s something that’s different as well.

[00:17:36.910] – Liz Fraley

Is that mostly communicators or people who are trained or just anybody who had, Wow. 

[00:17:43.150] – Sweta Baniya

Anybody. Yep. So there were people who would work in non-profit, who are engineers, who are, you know just students in the U.S. and yeah, they had like multiple different roles in their day job, but they were like, you know, mostly advocating for the communities and doing a lot of relief work and stuff like that, and same in Puerto Rico as well.

[00:18:17.740] – Sweta Baniya

So and there were people like a lot of interviews in Puerto Rico. Oh I just posted on my Facebook that I needed X many tarps and the tarps arrived from Australia, you know, like those kind of multinational connections. So it was… It made me kind of realize that people are, with these tools, that we have technological tools, people are powerful and people have created various contents that actual content producers and technical communicators now need to pay attention to it, I think. 

[00:19:01.150] – Janice Summers

So the more non-traditional methods of communicating are becoming the more powerful methods for communicating.

[00:19:09.980] – Sweta Baniya

Yes, especially in the case of disaster I think it’s… And we have seen this trend in various… In Arab Spring Rising, Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street and stuff like that, I think the first movement, I think, also motivated a lot of people because we see these world trends going on and we have this platform where we can connect with a lot of people and a lot people can reach out to stakeholders quickly. We can ask questions quickly, we can like, make them accountable and stuff like that I think, so It’s kind of like this citizenry activism space.

[00:19:56.880] – Sweta Baniya

And as technical communicators, I think listening to that, reading into those specifically in the context of disaster will help us recognize what are they practicing, what’s going on? What are the…How is marginalization happening in post-disaster situation? And also like what kind of new social injustices that’s happening? Is somebody getting more relief in some areas? So in Nepal, there was one specific area where people got a lot of relief materials and same in the case of Puerto Rico, because some spaces and places were highlighted more than the others. 

[00:20:46.060] – Sweta Baniya

So in one example I remember from Food Bank in Puerto Rico was there were tons and tons of materials that were in the ships and in the dock and there were so many like other… There were no truck drivers who could transport food from food bank to other places within the Puerto Rico. But there were so many drivers who were supposed to work with the government, but were engaged in that, but not doing any work because there were a lot of paperwork to fill out. There were a lot of… The ships were sitting there doing nothing.

[00:21:30.290] – Sweta Baniya

So those kind of like social situations also with a lot of like, complex situation arises in post-disaster situation, especially regarding social injustices. So I think as technical communicators, I think we really need to investigate, and understand what kinds of social injustices are happening and explore that more and write about it, communicate about it, bring the stakeholders together and amplify the voices of marginalized people in such situation. 

[00:22:13.890] – Liz Fraley

Well, last week we heard from one of your colleagues, actually, Carlos Evia, and he was telling us how one of the things that started him down his path was he assisted with some construction workers who didn’t speak English. And so they didn’t have access to understanding the forms or dealing with like there were a lot of things that were just out of reach, inaccessible, because nobody really, nobody focused on that or added support for that for everyone. So are you finding similar places where technical communicators can help increase accessibility in situations like in Puerto Rico? Right, there’s a lot of paperwork. It probably wasn’t, it may have been in multiple languages, but it may have been a complex language like are people looking at that? Is that where we can go and help out? Like, is that where our skills can be useful?

[00:23:16.910] – Sweta Baniya

I do think so, I think reaching out, like I said before, finding the spaces and exploring the spaces where potential social injustices can happen is the key in I think putting public as a key stakeholder in that communication process is also really important. And I think as technical communicators, we also need to understand the position of privileges that we are equipped with, we have ability to write, we have ability to communicate. One specific example that I can give is, there were a lot of paperwork to fill out for housing purposes in Puerto Rico but a lot of house, I have I…This is like kind of off the record, but I think people… A lot of housing there do not have papers or, you know, because that’s handed over from one person to another. 

[00:24:27.100] – Janice Summers


[00:24:27.760] – Liz Fraley


[00:24:28.800] – Sweta Baniya

I don’t want to use the word illegal, but–

[00:24:32.900] – Janice Summers

No, go on.

[00:24:33.880] – Liz Fraley

It grew up as a colony like the stuff has been there.

[00:24:37.740] – Sweta Baniya


[00:24:38.670] – Janice Summers

It’s less formal. 

[00:24:41.460] – Sweta Baniya

  1. It was very difficult for those people to get relief and funding from FEMA because they do not have the paperwork. So they had to go through a different route. 

[00:24:55.550] – Liz Fraley


[00:24:56.570] – Sweta Baniya

In that process. So I think those kind of specific examples are where technical communication teachers can help. In the case of Nepal, I think the other thing that I really think about a lot as well as I think happens in disaster is we have some specific technical communication tools and resources, but I think those tools and resources need to be contextualized in such a way that technical communicators can listen to the voices of people who are actually at the receiving end, like I said, this should be, public should be the key stakeholders in such a communication process. 

[00:25:45.740] – Sweta Baniya

Well, in that publics culture, background, knowledge also come together. So I think like recognizing that intercultural, across our transcultural, whatever we call it, those practices will help a lot because even in like, not just communication purpose, but also like disaster relief and management propose. Because there are a lot of specific examples for Nepal, as one of my interviews had shared was there were…I cannot remember which government an international country provided one truck full of sparkling water to send it to a village in a very rural population.

[00:26:34.650] – Sweta Baniya

And when they opened the bottle, people got very scared and disregarded that water because they have never seen sparkling water. 

[00:26:41.940] – Janice Summers

They don’t drink sparkling water. 

[00:26:44.940] – Sweta Baniya

They don’t drink sparkling water and it scared them. 

[00:26:47.370] – Liz Fraley


[00:26:48.300] – Sweta Baniya

So that’s a very prime example of how, yes, the motive there is to help the motive is to support people, right, but people at the receiving end, what’s their, what kind of support do they need? What kind of… Does this particular communication, if we think about communication, does this communication material help them to navigate the process or help them to understand?

[00:27:29.300] – Janice Summers

Understand right. Like that’s a good situation.

[00:27:33.170] – Liz Fraley

That was a good exampe.

[00:27:33.170] – Janice Summers

Because this water, which the company was generally showing them mineral rich water. It happened to have effervescence, but there was no communication to the people who were receiving it to understand what this is. And you can let the carbonation go, just open it and it will fizz out and it’ll go flat if they don’t want to drink it fizzy, but without explaining to them where it is coming from, it’s kind of like understanding the receiver. It’s OK to give the gift that’s wonderful and to give generously, that’s wonderful, but make sure that you’ve got the communication in place so that the receiver understands from a cultural place what that is, so they can use appropriately. 

[00:28:21.080] – Sweta Baniya

They were not able read the labels as well, because…

[00:28:23.160] – Janice Summers

 Right no you can’t…

[00:28:25.950] – Sweta Baniya

The illiteracy rate is six in six person in Nepal.

[00:28:27.420] – Janice Summers

Right. So that might be a good information for large companies that want to donate is be aware of the community that you’re donating to and if this is going direct to the people, which is wonderful that it went directly to the people who needed some kind of support. But make sure you’ve got good technical communications that takes into consideration the community that you’re donating to so that they understand what product or service this is, so that it doesn’t upset them and it doesn’t cause fear because they’re already in a state of fear right?

[00:29:07.100] – Sweta Baniya

I think another thing is one specific cultural approach will never be applicable to all community.

[00:29:14.520] – Janice Summers


[00:29:14.520] – Sweta Baniya

So I think technical communicators should recognise and understand that and actually implement that. I think they understand that already. But I think actually implementing that and really working with the community. Because post-disaster situations are very stressful and high pressure in that kind of communication. It will actually save lives of people, right? Here we are, we’re thinking about life and death situation.

[00:29:47.260] – Sweta Baniya

So it’s a very high pressure environment and stressful in that ways. I know people want to do good and want to help and you know but seeing that  while preparing for future disaster, I think it’s really important to understand that when you go to somewhere else, when you go to some other places to help, even as a volunteer, as a decorator or a content creator, I think you really need to learn about, learn and explore and investigate and work with the community to understand what will be applicable. What’s the need of the community during that hour? Is it information need? Is it material need? Is it like are there any rumors that need to be you know, because there were so many rumors during Nepal earthquake.

[00:30:47.770] – Janice Summers

The era of the social media, that’s how a lot of untruths come out. Right, and then people think it’s true. So being able to communicate and being the voice of truth is important in those times. And you brought up another good point. Are there communications in place for volunteers who show up? Because there’s people who volunteer to go help out these communities. What’s the communication like for those people? Are there communications saying, OK, you’re stepping into this region? Here’s some information about the people that you need to understand their culture, their way, how they are, are there things like that, that are in place? 

[00:31:35.110] – Sweta Baniya

Maybe those things are now coming into places, but I don’t think, I don’t remember those specific guidelines or steps to follow specifically during the earthquake. But I think as we navigated through that, those practices have now become a practice. And I think I really want to highlight this, so World Health Organization recently created this package called Risk Communication Community Engagement, so in that they have…it’s specifically for Covid and specifically related with how and they coined the word ‘Infodemic’ because there is a lot of like informational crisis ongoing. So they created this immense framework that can be used by people who maybe want to do risk communication in such environment. 

[00:32:42.790] – Liz Fraley

Now, and I remember when we were talking in prep, you were talking about…trying to remember how it all was, but how in particular women are mis-served, if that’s the right way to think about it, for disaster communication and relief.

[00:33:03.910] – Sweta Baniya

I think misrepresented might be or are not recognised might be a good word. So the thing that I noticed, yes women and children and old people are the vulnerable category in various spaces, specifically in Nepal and Puerto Rico as well. But there were women, my interviewees were these brave women who were like communicating, managing and creating connections and responding to disaster. So kind of this shift, this vulnerability rhetoric that’s ongoing and, you know, if you see all these pictures on a big organizations website, you see very vulnerable women carrying children who are lifting heavy weights, you know, and are working in the field. So that’s a very like developmental communication.

[00:34:09.730] – Liz Fraley

 That’s a very specific picture.

[00:34:12.190] – Sweta Baniya

Specific picture. And again, like thinking back to when I was a communication practitioner. That’s kind of like a picture that I wanted to use in the communications to attract the donors to see like, OK, these people are vulnerable and just, you know. And also, like a lot of those pictures would have to display the logos of the donor. Yeah, that’s a different thing anyways, so a lot of time women are represented as being vulnerable. But during these two disasters, I saw a lot of women practitioners kind of having that civic responsibility towards their community, working a lot in communicating, distributing materials, making connections around the world and having that agency, I call it a rethorical agency, having that agency to serve their community with the resources they have, using their resources they have and in some cases creating their own resources as well.

[00:35:29.750] – Sweta Baniya

And these women were really devoted to the community and in Nepal, I can specifically tell one example that one woman practitioner says specifically mobilized the resources that she had to create a radio program that talks about earthquake. But it’s not like the experts speaking like, oh, this is what you need to do during earthquake, or wash your hands or stuff like that, but in the form of storytelling by the community member. 

[00:36:09.600] – Sweta Baniya

So actually going to the community and making them talk and making them tell their story. And it was very powerful and it was distributed via national radio and it became really popular and it was very, very short. I think it was like in between ten minutes or even shorter. So in that short period of time, they would tell a story, about how to… Like Issues like how to drink clean water, you know, how to manage stuff during earthquake and what happens, stuff like that. So I think highlighting that kind of like the example is that she had resources and she had the ways to do that, she could invite any expert around the world, but she went back to the community, brought their stories and distributed via public medium.

[00:37:05.140] – Sweta Baniya

So those kind of stuff, as well as a lot of women made a lot of transactional connections and used again, going back to social media, used a lot of platforms and some even created platforms in the case of Puerto Rico. There was this application called Connect Relief, and the manager was a woman who kind of like basically she called herself ‘I was a human robot’ because she would connect volunteers to the people who needed help. And she was just continually doing that.

[00:37:45.850] – Sweta Baniya

But then with the use of applications, she just trained a lot of people. One by one, they go into the churches and training them and the church faster will train another 10 or 15 people. So just creating those kind of networks. We saw a lot of that. So I think like the women are… A lot of women broke boundaries to help their community in these two disasters.  

[00:38:17.240] – Janice Summers

I think that’s really interesting and it’s contrasting to the portrayal, because you talked a little bit about the portrayal of women historically being somewhat in need. Instead of looking at them as powerful sources for networking. So how we can change our communication and our focus to disseminate information to these powerhouses that can then help make change at a very local scale and get their local communities. So you’re actually finding that they were movers and shakers on the ground and making things happen versus needing things to be given to them. Right, so that’s a complete shift of what other people would think.

[00:39:13.530] – Sweta Baniya


[00:39:14.900] – Janice Summers

On the outside. So what are some things that you’re finding these patterns that repeat in all the disaster areas and the marginalized communities that you’ve looked at?

[00:39:30.970] – Sweta Baniya

Can you say that again?

[00:39:32.320] – Janice Summers

So the pattern of… The difference in the fact that, you know, we often see these women being portrayed as being kind of in need, right. So that means you just shove things to them. But in reality, what you were finding in Puerto Rico and in Nepal, and I may ask if you’re finding that in other places, the other is true, they actually make things happen and they are powerhouses to create, disseminate information, correct information to their communities and empower people to come together. Are you finding that in other areas as well, in other communities that you’re looking at? 

[00:40:19.100] – Sweta Baniya

I think specifically during the current Covid situation, I think I see a lot of these women, again, doing such kind of practice, but since I just finished my dissertation, which was mostly focused on these stoop spaces. I haven’t explored other disaster but having said that, what I have seen is like a lot of various feminist based organization and grassroots movement, a lot of women have used their platform for raising awareness about issues of Covid and how it impacts… The impact of Covid in domestic violence or gender-based violence and stuff like that. So I have seen that train that’s going on in various places, especially in cases of China as well as in Nepal.

[00:41:27.630] – Sweta Baniya

And I think that’s going to be my next project on how do feminists, how do women resist, cope and manage disaster. Specifically in post-covid area, so that’s going to be my next research project. 

[00:41:48.080] – Liz Fraley


[00:41:50.680] – Janice Summers

Because that’s an interesting discovery and how can we change how we serve these communities in times of disaster? We just as a general out there, global community, how can we improve when places, especially places that are traditionally marginalized, are in the throes of a disaster. How can we better serve?

[00:42:15.260] – Sweta Baniya

I think a lot of institutions does have exclusionary practices that exclude certain group of people and certain marginalized people and during disaster, those who suffer are the most vulnerable and most marginalized. So we already know this and I think within… As technical communicators, within our respective institutions, within our respective workplaces or spaces that we work in, I think we need to explore one of the practices that has been marginalizing the doggeded audiences or have marginalized or maybe have slight chance of marginalization in the case of disaster and replacing those exclusionary practices with inclusion I think is important and it happens in terms of writing and designing documents, producing webinars, inviting women in talks and stuff like that.

[00:43:23.350] – Sweta Baniya

So another thing that’s on going training about is we have seen all these people who organize webinars and everything, they have a lot of what we call “Manuals”, only male speakers, so every time you have like all-male speakers, as if there is no women to speak on those specific topics. So there is a movement going on to reject “Manuals” in Nepal and specifically feminist who are feminist activists who are working on that. 

[00:43:58.450] – Sweta Baniya

So those kind of, sometimes I think it’s like people do not recognize women and their contribution in various spaces and that’s seen in specifically in public spaces in Nepal. So we have been advocating a lot of kind of like, you know, making them more inclusive and calling them out and saying, like, hey, you are repeating the same thing. So the topic would be gender-based violence against women and speakers will all be male. That’s just a typical example. So it’s just…

[00:44:40.660] – Janice Summers

An obvious one.

[00:44:43.240] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, so and that has happened. And so it’s mostly exclusionary. I think as technical communicators, we need to recognize what are those exclusionary practices, place it with specific steps of inclusion.

[00:44:59.740] – Janice Summers

And how people can improve. Because I think technical writers, they have more of a critical eye to things right, they pay attention to the fine details, whereas a lot of people, they don’t necessarily, we are all influenced by society around us. So we just fall into a pattern as a culture and without those critical eyes that help guide us gently but firmly in a new direction. I mean, I think that’s one of the rare gifts that technical communicators offer, is like they can really look at things from a critical perspective and the little details that might be missed, like, you know, some heads of companies they didn’t realize, but if you’ve got somebody that’s taking a look at this and gently and firmly steering them towards inclusionary practices and accessibility and pulling this into every aspect of the company. I think that helps make everybody aware, don’t you?

[00:46:03.320] – Sweta Baniya

I think we do have power to amplify those voices, to research, you know, like to talk and to advocate for people, and I think as technical communicators, that’s a gift. As you mentioned, I think we do have that gift and we also do have civic responsibility. 

[00:46:25.910] – Janice Summers


[00:46:26.360] – Sweta Baniya

To intervene and to make change. Yeah, and I think to be more, to advocate more for people who are suffering. 

[00:46:37.510] – Liz Fraley

Well, we’re particularly glad you could join us.

[00:46:40.710] – Sweta Baniya

Thank you. 

[00:46:41.910] – Liz Fraley

As someone joked in the chat, if I had a dime for every techcomm from Nepal that I heard on an interview.

[00:46:49.690] – Janice Summers

You’re joking.

[00:46:52.830] – Liz Fraley

Right, we’re super glad that you could be here with us.

[00:46:56.010] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah, I am also really glad. Thank you so much for having me here. 

[00:47:01.180] – Liz Fraley

Thank you for being on. And everyone you can connect with her, I put the links in the chat window. You can send her an email, you can connect to her on LinkedIn, see her faculty page, you know, she’s easy to talk to, as you can tell and interested to hear stories.

[00:47:17.340] – Sweta Baniya

Thank you. 

[00:47:19.770] – Liz Fraley

Thank you for your work. Thank you.

[00:47:20.710] – Janice Summers

 I love it. Thank you again, its just delightful to talk to you.

[00:47:25.800] – Sweta Baniya

Thank you so much for having me and talking to me and making me rethink about my work and why I started on this path and everything it was really, really wonderful to be here.

[00:47:37.770] – Janice Summers

And keep going, I can’t wait for your next book. 

[00:47:40.990] – Liz Fraley


[00:47:41.350] – Sweta Baniya

Yeah. It will come on sooner.

[00:47:46.070] – Liz Fraley

All right. Well, yeah, folks, keep an eye on the event page, when we get the link to the book, we’ll put it up there. 

[00:47:52.190] – Janice Summers

Yeah, absolutely.

[00:47:54.150] – Sweta Baniya

And feel free to communicate and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail anywhere.

[00:48:00.720] – Janice Summers

All the communication channels you’re tapped into.

[00:48:04.050] – Liz Fraley

She’s there.

[00:48:06.300] – Janice Summers

 Are you on Discord yet?

[00:48:10.890] – Liz Fraley

All right, everyone, thanks for coming and we’ll see you next time.

[00:48:14.350] – Janice Summers

All right bye.

In this episode

Sweta Baniya, is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Professional and Technical writing at Virginia Tech University. Her scholarship centers around the ever evolving, changing, and challenging global issue of natural and man-made disasters, such as earthquakes or climate change. Her research draws upon non-western paradigms into dialogue with contemporary rhetorical framings of natural and man-made disasters to support local and global communities faced with responding to such events. Her work has appeared in Enculturation, Journal of Business and Technical Communications, Journal of Technological Studies.

In Room 42, Sweta Baniya will be discussing the role of transnational publics as well as women in disaster management and disaster response. A former communication practitioner, she shares on how public voices, actions, and transnational activism is something technical communication practitioners can collaborate with in order to support communities suffering during and after a disaster.

Currently, she is working on a book project, Social Justice Oriented Technical Communication in Global Disaster Management, which demonstrates how local knowledge and transcultural practices of recognizing, highlighting, and valuing marginalized perspectives during or after a crisis create opportunities for tackling social injustices in post-disaster situations. With case studies of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake & 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, this book provides social justice and transcultural frameworks for researchers and practitioners in rethinking digitally complex and varied modes of crisis communications in global disaster management. Additionally, her research also demonstrates how social media platforms, such as Twitter, can be used to mobilize networks for additional philanthropic actions.



Faculty page:


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