Saturday, September 20, 2014

On Conversations Surrounding the Humanitarian Crisis at the Mexico/U.S Border

                  One of the biggest new stories from this summer was on the influx of more than 59,000 Central American unaccompanied crossing the U.S/Mexico border. This new story was widely reported national news sources such as NPR, NYTimes, Time, etc. According to the United Nations High Comission on Refugees, nearly 60% of refugees say that they are fleeing violence in their home countries. I recently came across a statistic from Amnesty International which states that an estimated 60% of all Central American girls crossing the U.S/Mexico border report having been assaulted en route. This is a staggering statistic because not only because of the traumatic effects which being sexually assaulted wreaks havoc on a person physically and emotionally, but because it illuminates the urgency of the circumstance which these children are fleeing. Rape and sexual assault are the realities which they are met, I think this is evidence that no child would choose to deal with such atrocities, an argument have been made by some political pundits.
It seems as if this is now a salient topic of conversation because it can no longer be ignored. For a long time, the U.S has had a fraught relationship with Latin American countries as it relates to immigration rights and citizenship. As a naturalized American citizen, the topic of immigration policy is one which is very important to me because it’s not just policy; immigration effects the lived realities of my aunts, cousins, and nieces and nephews.  Although Haitian immigration policy is a topic which warrants its own analysis, I think it’s important to not look at immigration policy as being ahistorical. Critiquing the neoliberal effects of American foreign policy, specifically U.S intervention in Latin and Central American wars in the 20th century is something that is not done enough outside of the world of academia. For example, of the many op-eds and columns which I’ve read on this topic, very view delve into this history and how it’s affected the current economic  policies of these countries. It seems backwards to aim to fix a problem of which the causes are not examined.  I don’t think there is one answer to resolving this issue but I do think whatever proposed solutions being created should be looked at with a sober understanding of how U.S foreign policy has shaped the lived realities of these Central American children in the 21st century.
On a more cynical note, I can’t help but think that the upcoming Senate elections this November and presidential election in 2016 is coloring the ways in which politicians are choosing to respond to this topic. The Latino voting bloc is a large and continues to grow. According to the Pew Research poll,    where politicians choose to situate themselves on this topic will likely have a great effect on election outcomes. I understand that immigration and human rights abuses such as rape are not ‘sexy’ topics of conversation but nonetheless, the national conversation needs to be expanded so that the experiences of these people can be better understood. I think in doing so, we can have a more sympathetic and full view of the effects of immigration on the lived experiences of people every day.  


Thursday, September 18, 2014

American Promise

On September 16, Michéle Stephenson, film maker and former rights attorney, discussed her documentary American Promise.

The documentary explores the experiences of two boys of color in their pursuit of a "good" education. Michéle Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster followed their son Idris and his best friend, Seun, for thirteen years as they navigated their way through Dalton School, one of the most prestigious, and predominantly white private schools located in New York City. American Promise complicates and engages how issues of race and meritocracy shaped the trajectory of each boy from preparatory school to graduation.

Prior to the screening I was able to sit down with Stephenson along with a few students, staff, and faculty members and students to discuss the film over lunch. Stephenson started the conversation by asking us to contextualize Colgate for her. Most of our comments were centered on Colgate's racial climate and how issues of race are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, weaved throughout our courses and social interactions. Through that conversation we were able to highlight some of the issues students of color face attending an institution like Colgate University.

After watching the film and listening to Stephenson's Q&A, I found the parallels between Dalton and Colgate apparent and applicable to addressing issues of race on campus. Dalton and Colgate are both predominantly white institutions that are filled with racial bias and micro aggressions that are pertinent to address.

While the film was great and expressed how race remains a pertinent issue, I found the lack of intersectionality throughout the film made it limiting. During the Q&A, a student asked how young girls navigated preparatory schools like Dalton. Stephenson expressed that while academically they perform well, there are other ways in which these issues effect young girls of color which I wish was explored more. I also found that class wasn't addressed throughout the film. As a family that belongs to middle class, how boys of color navigate schools such as Dalton or Colgate differ from boys of color belonging to the lower class.

- Natasha Torres

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

WMST Brown Bag: Colgate At MichFest

On Tuesday, for Brown Bag “Colgate at Michfest", Panelists Prof. Meika Loe, Prof. Mary Simonson and students Susan Miller ‘16 and Sarah Wooton ’15 spoke about their personal experiences attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this summer. 
Sarah Wooton started the Brown Bag explaining to the crowd about the big controversy in this year’s MichFest in particular: whether or not to let trans women attend the festival. While the issue caught a lot of press over the summer having been debated vigorously for years, it has yet to come to a resolution. On the one hand, some people argue that the “safe” nature of the space for women-born women can be threatened by the presence of trans women, especially ones who have not “fully transitioned.” On the other, the festival is seen as an inclusive space, trusting and accepting of all women. One of the arguments Sarah explained, made by some of the women in the latter group: giving into the huge pressure to transition that trans women receive might be considered a sign of giving into the patriarchy itself, was something I had never heard or considered before. However, it does not seem fair, to me, that a group that already deals with so much oppression, hate crimes and pain on a daily basis be subject to more punishment for not being radical enough. Especially to strip them of one of the few safe spaces that is supposedly welcome and available to all women is almost absurd.
Susan Miller, who had been to the festival twice before, talked about how she has seen it change and how she has seen herself change, especially in trying new things in the festival. Prof. Simonson then talked about her experience helping in the kitchen with its high standard for safety and hygiene protocols, even for a festival that gathers 9,000 attendees! Finally, Prof. Loe shed light on her attendance as a mom—going to the festival with her 7 year old daughter Levi. She was amazed at the “full spectrum of gender play” and its acceptance in the festival. Coming in as a Women’s Studies professor, she revelled on how it was almost an idealized space to her—this level of lack of judgment, and total liberation of expression and motion. Being there with her young daughter, who got to see such radical expressions—everything from people with beards to people in costumes and everything in between—and grew to appreciate it, and who Prof. Loe was able to just let wander and trust to a group of individuals she’d never met before to watch over, was to her, like no other. “Only in Michigan Womyn’s Festival,” she said. 

The festival, almost 40 years old and with humble roots of establishment by a 19 year old Lisa Vogel, enjoys a level of prestige and popularity that is quite astounding. While the future of the festival is still in question given declining revenues from music shows and the controversies surrounding it, it is one of the few spaces women today and in the past have had that is just for them, accepts them and indeed, celebrates them. This is especially meaningful and significant for traditionally marginalised slices within the woman demographic, including the trans population. Thus, to many regular attendees (and our panelists seem to agree!) MichFest means "home.”

-Liza Paudel

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WMST Concentrators Brown Bags Parts I and II: Big Questions Feminist Ask

The Wmst Concentrator Brown Bag challenged attendees to really think about big and encompassing questions that relate to a plethora of realms, such as coalition building, Asian feminisms, learned sexism language, identity, reception, and expansion. Each concentrator presented his/hers/hirs own project and elaborated on its significance to feminist discourse.

One question asked, " What does coalition building feel like?" Evan Chartier used his praxis project as an opportunity to lean back rather than lean in to support the feminist groups on campus that he had already built connections with.

Another asked how even language can affect how people receive feminism and its purpose. Lindsey Skerker examined how the name of the women's studies center and perhaps the depart  is received by students,staff,and faculty on campus. In addition, she posed options to the community about a potential change to the name. Options included Women's Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Gender Studies, Women and Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Feminist Studies. The idea is interesting, based on statistics, that a name spoke to certain groups and not others. The name also speaks to the question of whether or not it is inclusive or exclusive.

 Two questions I would like to pose to readers that were mentioned in the Brown are

  1. How is sexism learned in the home?
  2. What is feminine/masculine/ feminist leadership?
  3. How is masculinity shaped and how can it be reshaped?

Friday, April 18, 2014

WMST Brown Bag: Inverting the Dominant Discourses: Queering Education

Have you notice how many of advertisements, TV shows, and books are hetero-normative? In addition, they often lack visible racial diversity. Today at the Women's Studies Brown Bag, students from Queering Education( EDUC 242)  presented their poster projects that sought to invert dominant narratives such as the "ideal woman," and  heterosexual coupling.

Many projects challenged  the norm of what the ideal woman looks like and how she is represented. When many people imagine the ideal woman, they unconsciously think of blonde hair, blue eyes, thin waist, very feminine, white, and cisgendered. Many presenters challenged that norm by pointing out that women can be racially diverse and still be women as well as pointing out that oftentimes the "ideal woman" is only ideal in the context of being appealing within a heterosexual man's gaze.

Another norm that was challenged by multiple projects was the idea of what is socially acceptable positions or actions for women. The dominate narrative dictates that women and girls not only be cisgendered and heterosexual, but also submissive, domestic, small, and silent. Denying this narrative sometimes automatically makes girls "tomboys." The project challenged the audience to expand their ideas of femininity as well as what constitutes womanhood/girlhood.

In addition, some projects challenged society's idea and construction of masculinity.

In what ways have you been socialized to believe gender stereotypes?

How do you perhaps perpetuate gender stereotypes and heteronormativity?

- Aidan Davis