Friday, December 9, 2011

A Victory in Trans* Legitimacy

When you’re not part of a marginalized group then there are certain things that you may take for granted; things that may seem commonplace or trivial, but really aren’t if you have certain kinds of identities that restrict your access to those “simple” things.

One of these things is safe and accurate healthcare. Do you ever have anxiety about a doctor’s appointment because you don’t want to deal with potential discrimination? What if they’re dismissive about a problem that you bring up because they don’t “understand” it? I mean, how do you know they’ve been trained to handle someone with your identity?

This week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement addressing these fears from the trans* community and pushing for doctors to provide adequate services for individuals with these identities. Part of the reason for this improvement  is a discrimination survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force that found “nearly 30% of transgender and gender-nonconforming patients postpone care due to discrimination concerns.” The ACOG is now expecting its doctors the be knowledgeable of the health issues  that trans* individuals face. A Denver ob-gyn  sums up well what type of impact these changes implicate: “[b]y increasing the number of ob-gyns providing care to transgender patients, we can help improve the overall health of the transgender community.

by Che J. Hatter

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Power of WMST - Reflection by WMST 202 student Faith Benson

I have always been interested in women's studies and issues, so taking the class was a no brainer. And it's true, most people who set foot in the center are people who are already feminists or aware of women's studies. However, taking WMST 202 last year with Prof Loe really changed me so I can't imagine what kind of effect the class can have on someone totally indifferent to the subject. So I asked Prof Loe to refer a student in her class this semester who experienced just that:

I enrolled in Women's Studies this semester largely because it was the only class I could get into during registration. My attitude towards feminism has always been passive at least, if not strongly anti-feminist. I was dreading a semester full of man-hating women telling me to burn my bras, stop listening to Beyonce and (God forbid) chop off all of my hair. I did not want to talk about how men are the evil race or how my actions perpetuate sexism. As a matter of fact, I did not want to address that sexism existed at all.
However, as the semester progressed, Women's Studies quickly became my favorite class. I was able to candidly share my thoughts about what it means to be a woman, especially at Colgate, without feeling like I would be labled a man-hating feminist. I began working events at the Women's Studies Center into my weekly schedule, and they were often what I looked forward to the most during the week.
One of the major turning points for me during the semester happened around midterms in a different class of mine. The class was having a discussion about the role of a woman in one of the texts we read, and I was very outspoken (as I always am) about the ways in which she was oppressed by the patriarchal society that was present in the storyline. After class, one of my classmates approached me and said, "Wow, Faith, I didn't know that you were such a feminist until now." I had a minor mental breakdown after that - what was happening to me?! Was I really stepping to the bad side and standing with the feminists?
After this experience, I was home for Thanksgiving break and spending time with my six best friends from home, all of whom are male. I told them what my classmate said to me and how I was terrified that I was being converted to feminism. I thought that they, of all people, would be able to feel my pain. However, they all seemed extremely confused. They told me that they had all thought of me as not only a feminist, but an OUTSPOKEN one since second grade when I made them read the chapter in our history book about women's suffrage. They then proceeded to recount every incident in our lives that proved me to be a feminist. How could these six men know more about what feminism truly is at the heart than I as a woman did? They made me understand that I had been so blinded by all of the stereotypes surrounding feminism that I couldn't see how I was defining it for myself. Taking a class in Women's Studies made me realize that it isn't feminists who are wrong, but instead their false portrayals; most people would sympathize with the feminist fight if they only knew what it was.
I am now proud to say that I can call myself a feminist without feeling at all guilty or ashamed, and I am working on building a Center for Women's Empowerment in South Sudan through my non-profit called The Women's Worth Project. Taking Women's Studies at Colgate has truly changed my life.

by Faith Benson

- posted by Catherine Yeh

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12/6 BB Response: Body Talk: Messages Behind Mainstream Dance Moves

Today's brown bag was certainly different than most others, taking place in Ryan 212 instead of the Center.  Instead of a presentation per se, the attendees participated by doing dance moves as instructed by Tehmekah MacPherson '02 to show how we use our bodies to communicate and the gendered aspects of these communications.

As a trans woman, I'm very aware of body epistemology: what do we know about people and how from the way they are bodied and physically oriented?  Tehmekah had everyone demonstrate either a hyper-"masculine" or hyper-"feminine" image to show what physical cues we associate with those genders, with the implication that there are other cues that are less explicitly gendered, and therefore there exists language-- body language-- outside this binary...a transgender body language?

A bit of a stretch? (oh look a pun!) Perhaps.  But that was the explicit goal of this workshop: to create body language (a "body vocabulary") that does not explicitly rely on normative gender assumptions.  Although the message of the final dance was explicitly feminist due to the inclusion of lyrics (adding another epistemic layer), the process of deriving the dance steps was narrative (descriptive, not normative) in nature; we charaded emotions, then stylized them into two-beat motions, then strung them together, refined the transitions, and threw in verbal and musical epistemic layers.  The dance was a translation of experience into art in a gender-neutral way; people across the gender and body spectrums participated and made no explicit reference to gender archetypes physically.

One participant said she found herself adapting the moves to her own experience, trying to make them sexy or more feminine.  I found this an interesting observation.  Is it possible, or even advisable, for dance to be gender-neutral?  The dance itself is, but it's performance depends on the particular bodies performing it, each of which have a different gender positionality.  Thus the same dance had feminine flares in some people, masculine in others; some made it sexier, some funnier, some more technical, some more artistic.  In this way the gendered was melded into the dance on a particular (personal) level, and not imposed upon the subjects by the dance's nature.

Xavia Publius

Monday, December 5, 2011

WMST Party!

This year’s Women’s Studies Department party will be on Thursday 12/8 from 8PM to Midnight in Donovans Pub. Hosted by students from WMST 202: An Introduction to Women’s Lives and Beyond, this celebration will feature catered desserts and multiple performers from Poetically Minded, Spoken Word artists, and musically talented students. Celebrate the end of the semester with your fellow Women Studies enthusiasts! A guest DJ will be spinning the jams all night for those of you who love to get your groove on. All faculty, staff, students, community members, and age groups are invited to Come As You Are! 

Last Brown Bag of the Semester

Join us for this semester's last BROWN BAG. In a change of scenery, this brown bag will be held in RYAN 212, but still on Tuesday (December 6th) at 11:30am.  This week's title is "Body Talk: Messages Behind Mainstream Dance Moves" and is co-sponsored by OUS (Office of Undergraduate Studies).  Our presenter is Tehmekah MacPherson, who graduated from Colgate in 2002 and is currently a professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Syracuse University.  She will be performing and discussing popular dance movies today and the messages they give off.  As always, there is FREE LUNCH and EVERYONE is welcome!

Rape Education...And Why it's Terrible

Since I seemed to be the only person who didn't love Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (i.e.: the most stressful show on Prime Time television) I decided this semester to start watching with my nifty Netflix account (thanks mom!). Since starting season 1 only a few weeks ago, I've officially gotten through 8 seasons (holding off on starting season 9 until after finals because the cliffhanger was just TOO good. those writers are GENIUS.) of the incredible crime fighting duo that is Detectives Benson and Stabler. I've always loved crime shows and police procedural dramas, but something about SVU is particularly appealing to me. SVU is one of very few successful crime shows that accurately depicts police procedure and our justice system. It's not always pretty and it's not always clear cut. That is especially true in the special victims unit where they deal with sensitive issues like rape and molestation. It's a running motif in the show that the SVU detectives are somewhat of pariahs within their professional community because they don't prefer their victims dead or because they choose to deal with heart breaking cases about dead children and mutilated sexual assault victims every day.

During the season when Benson was undercover with the FBI (read as: Mariska Hargitay on maternity leave),  Stabler got a new partner who was a rookie to the SVU. In one episode in particular, Stabler and his new partner were talking about a rape victim and they had a disagreement. His female partner was essentially asserting that women need to be aware of their surroundings so they don't become victims of rape and Stabler, an 8 year veteran of the SVU, took that as "victim blaming." She argued that this was not true, and I don't exactly disagree with her. I say this because of the way rape education is taught in our society. While telling someone to be aware of their surroundings so that they don't get mugged is one thing, telling a woman to be aware of her behavior so she does not get raped is a different thing entirely. Rape education is always targeted at women and generally goes as follows:

"Don't walk home alone at night."
"Don't wear revealing clothes."
"Don't lead him on."

Rape education for men goes as follows:


Why don't we tell men anything about rape?! It infuriates me that we teach the potential victims of a crime how to avoid it, but we don't tell the potential perpetrators anything. Not to say that all men are rapists and that all women are just sitting around waiting to be raped, but I can't think of any other crime that is discussed in this way. We encourage children not to steal just as often as we encourage people not to waive their cash around on a busy New York City street. College campuses are unfortunately overrun with sexual assault, but universities often think that a power point presentation during orientation is a deterrent. There is SO much more we could teach about rape that we simply don't. Many sexual assaults on college campuses are fueled by alcohol. Rape education makes men seem like unbridled monsters with no degree of self control. Let's give them just a little more credit. Don't lead him on? That's ridiculous. While I think that women need to know their boundaries before they put themselves in a situation where signals may get crossed, that's NOT AN EXCUSE FOR A MAN TO RAPE HER. No one wants to be raped. If you wanted it, that pretty much disqualifies it from being rape.

As easy as it was to make that power point telling women to live their lives looking over their shoulder, you could add a slide that lists all the things that don't count as consent like alcohol, short skirts and one's previous sexual activity...or we could continue this rape "education" that results in low reporting of assault because the survivor thought she asked for it.

-Renyelle Jimenez

Friday, December 2, 2011

How do we encourage positive sexuality on campus?

Recently, there was a Brown Bag where a some members of Colgate's Conduct Board discussed the role of the Board. The panel included students, professors, an administrator. The Brown Bag's topic coincided with a project I did this semester for Professor Darby's Language and Gender class (Prof Darby was also one of the panelists).
For this Colgate Workplace Gender Styles paper, I had interview someone who works at Colgate and discuss how language and gender is related to their work on this campus. I interviewed Kim Taylor, Dean of the Sophomore Year Experience, also a panelist.
My initial focus of the project was strictly focused on the language of Colgate's Policy on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment and the issue of "what is consent?" However, talking to Kim, she raised a very interesting idea that I believe is key to effective consent and prevention of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.
Kim talked about her experience being involved with Yes Means Yes, a positive sexuality discussion group. She described a group of mostly women discussing sexual desire saying that "I really don't know, I've never really felt that way, I've never felt a single desire, I don't know what that means, I just know what I'm supposed to do." Kim connects the issue that this lack of talk about sex to sexual misconduct by saying that "you can't give good consent if you don't know what it is you want."
To know what it is you want, you need to be educated about it, and education requires talk. But before we think about how we talk about sex, we need to figure out how make it safe and comfortable for people on this campus to talk about sex.
Culturally and socially, there is a taboo around sex. Nobody really wants to talk about it because it is very personal. And amongst college students, and especially incoming freshman, peoples' experiences and personal beliefs about sex and what is appropriate to discuss varies greatly. Being involved in Yes Means Yes before, I found the experience really enlightening and liberating. However, everyone who participated were more or less already interested in gender, sex, and sexuality. This culture of positive sexuality needs to spread beyond those who take women's studies classes or go to women's studies Brown Bags, it needs to permeate throughout the whole campus.
Besides posters and pamphlets people don't usually read and You Decide during freshman orientation, what else can we do that is perhaps more effective? I don't really have any solid answer but one idea I really like is that at some other colleges, there are peer sex educators/mentors, students who advise other students. I see the benefit in this that students are more likely to listen to other students who have experiences they can relate to or students who understand what the campus culture is like.
So what do you think, how do we encourage positive sexuality at Colgate?

- by Catherine Yeh

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Behind the Scenes of the Student Conduct Board Reflection

The Student Conduct Board Brown Bag on November 29th was more informative than emotional; it was nonetheless very useful. It became clear in the beginning of the panel discussion, that hardly anyone in the audience knew what the Conduct Board did let alone what their responsibility was on campus. People only seemed to understand that one was in “trouble” if they had to meet with the board. To help the audience understand more of what the board did, faculty, staff, and students on the board talked about what they did and what happens when the board meets to discuss disciplinary violations. They discussed how the room was configured, what types of questions they ask the violator, and how they decide on sanctions. It seemed that the case they get most often pertains to plagiarism, but they also talked about how the setup would be different if it was a sexual misconduct case. Overall, the audience walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation of how disciplinary cases are handled in the Colgate community.

During the second half of the discussion while talking about sexual misconduct, Dean Taylor mentioned the TIP form. Every year, colleges and universities have to report how many cases of sexual misconduct occur on campus to government officials. Colgate derives its numbers from the TIP forms. However, almost no one in the audience had ever heard of this form, so this is my attempt to get that information out there.

After Dean Taylor hears about sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, bias-related conduct, possible or planned crimes, law/policy violations, and/or other crime information, she is required to fill out a TIP form online or call campus safety and inform them of the incident. It is as anonymous as you want it to be and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are pressing charges. However, Dean Taylor isn’t the only one required to fill this out, EVERYONE should do it. All you have to do is identify the TIP as either sexual misconduct, harassment, theft lead, weapon violation, etc. and also provide details/description of the situation or incident. Optional information includes name, phone, email, and other helpful information. This is simply a way for Colgate to track what is actually happening on campus and possibly address repeated offenses. Thus, I encourage everyone to take a look at the form and get the word out to others about this option. Here is the link to the form. 

-Michelle Van Veen