It’s everyone’s favorite time of year: the first brown bag at the Center for Women’s Studies! And that's not an exaggeration, since there was such an incredible turn out for our annual kick-off topic “The F Word.” Each year, Colgate students on this panel discuss their views of feminism, how it effects their identity, and their experience as part of the Colgate community.
Since I've been a student, this has been one of my favorite topics because I'm always interested in personal stories when it comes to feminist ideology and work. This time was a little different, though, because I actually had to be part of this year's five-person panel. A little nerve wracking at first, but I like to think I got through it with something resembling grace; it became less of a stress as I was sitting alongside my astonishing peers: Andrew Hoadley '13, Faith Benson '14, Griffin O'Shea '13, and Drea Finley '13. Each of us had a particular way of describing how we "do feminism" as Colgate students, whether it was describing how we gained comfort with the label itself, experiences during time spent abroad, or just criticizing the climate of the campus itself. The point of having this brown bag is to open up discussion about the many faces that feminist work can take on; it emphasizes the ways, in which, this work becomes personalized and the different ways individuals can fit feminism into their goals and actions.
During the Q&A, audience members seemed very interested in addressing the challenges that come with being an advocate for equality in this society. And there were questions from the first-year students about "how bad" Colgate is in terms of these issues. The panelists addressing this question were careful to reiterate that they did not want to frighten newcomers but remained honest in saying that Colgate has some significant problems that are constantly being worked on. Being mindful that Colgate as an institution spent its early years as a space for elite White males (much like the country itself), this is a legacy that continues to influence the culture of this school. Yes, female and trans* students are now part of the community, so are people of color, and those from various countries and sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds; progress has been made, but we also know from the Campus Climate Survey that racism, sexism, cissexism, and heterosexism still need to be addressed. Colgate also has a reputation of being a partying and drinking school, and we also know from the Campus Climate Survey that sexual assault is an issue on this campus.From this standpoint, it is possible to deconstruct the ways, in which, Colgate remains an institution that is for the elite White male (again, much like the country itself), and it is for these very reasons that things like the Office for LGBTQ Initiatives exists, the Center for Women's Studies, ALST, student groups like the Network, Men at Colgate, SORT, and so many others exist. And that is one of the great things about this institution, the ability of its concerned, vocal, and active members to create spaces that push against generally accepted notions of who this environment belongs to and what it is about. That is a job crucial to anyone identifying as a feminist no matter what faction of this society they happen to find themselves in. And this is also crucial to the point of having this brown bag topic at the beginning of the year, because there always needs to be a reminder that anyone at this institution who has an inkling of concern about these problems needs to and can do what is within their power to work against those oppressive and destructive aspects of the culture. It is tough, but necessary work.
This is a discussion that needs to be constantly happening and shifting on this campus and, also, beyond it, which makes it awesome that the Center for Women's Studies is now recording all of its brown bags! You can find the link for this week's topic here, so that you can engage with these ideas even more.
- Che J. Hatter