Friday, February 28, 2014

BB Reflection: “Intersectionality, Introspection and Leadership”

Sisters of the Round Table (SORT) kicked off their annual Africana Women’s Week (AWW) with last Tuesday’s brown bag: “ Perspectives on Intersectionality, Introspection and Leadership.” The panelists included Melissa Melendez (Chairwoman of SORT), Hoa Bui (Tri-Chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition), Evan Chartier (LGBTQ Initiatives intern) and Che Hatter (Program Assistant at the Center). All of these individuals are highly involved in conversations surrounding social and political issues on and off the Colgate campus. As leaders and active participants of various social justice groups and spaces, they learn and attempt to be self-reflective and to be self-critical, an important component of social justice activism.
        As Melissa points out, being self-reflexive and self-critiquing is not an easy task, nor should it be. Whether we are leaders or participants of a social activist movement, we have to come to terms with our own privileges in order to continue to do the work that we want to do. Even if we are members of one or more marginalized groups, we all have privileges that others do not. And this may be a harsh reality we have to face and constantly be introspective about. This is important because by disregarding certain privileges, we may unintentionally perpetuate the institutions and systems we’re against, which in turn may end up further hurting and oppressing others.
        But a major component of this process is being vulnerable. As Meli said, being uncomfortable is good. It is a sign that we are being self-reflexive and working through the process. Everyone was asked to write down one thing they care about. Then we were asked to write down ways we are complicit in the issues we care about. Fortunately, many people were willing to share and open up about what they wrote on their note cards. Many of our community members were able to be vulnerable in a safe space and able to share several long, uncomfortable pauses.
        We do not want this conversation to end with the brown bag, but hope that they continue to occur. So for those of us that are social activist or are involved in social justice issues (at any level), here are some questions we can use to work through this process. You can think through this whether you are alone in your bed in the dark or with close friends or in a safe space/judgment free zone or within a social activist group (like SORT or ARC). Some questions to consider:
  • What are your various intersecting identities, based on class, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ability, religion etc.? Which of these identities are the most important to you? Why?
  • What are my privileges within systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, colorism, classism etc.?
  • How do you imagine your ideal society/world to look like? What are the various ways in which you work towards this goal (whether on a small or large scale)? What are some ways in which you live your life that work against the creation of this ideal world that you seek?
  • How do you negotiate your politics in different contexts? How do you continue to live your politics within spaces where they are not welcome (i.e. when your friends and/or family do not understand you because they may not have the same theoretical knowledge or language about certain issues)?
Remember, no one likes being vulnerable and uncomfortable, especially when it involves self-critiquing. But this process can be very beneficial for yourself, as well as the social justice activism that you embody.
On a different note, I want to share the poem Meli read aloud to close the Brown Bag:
Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races
By: Lorna Dee Cervantes
In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago.
The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields.
In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries.
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.
I am not a revolutionary.
I don’t even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races?
I can deny it.
I can forget about it
when I’m safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools…
(I know you don’t believe this.
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration.
But they
are not shooting at you.)
I’m marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
“excuse me” tongue, and this
nagging preoccupation
with the feeling of not being good enough.
These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I cannot reason these scars away.
Outside my door
there is a real enemy
who hates me.
I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn’t fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face.
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
my land
and this is my land.
I do not believe in the war between races
but in this country
there is war.
- Valerie Garcia ’15

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Black Identity at 'Gate

This week’s Brown Bag hosted by Black Student Union focused on Black Identity at Colgate. The group of the student panelists shared their experiences of how their racial identity affected them on the campus, in the classroom, and in the dating scene. All the students on the panel racially identified as Black. One of the common themes was the place where they realized their race and for most of them it was at Colgate and one of the statements was, “I became known as the Black guy, rather than Hashim.”  In addition, they expressed the hardship of being labeled by the color of their skin, which oftentimes stripped them of their individuality, their personality.   Joe Aiken mentioned that one the pressure that exists in the classroom for him as a student of color, is the expectation to speak on behalf of his race and to constantly speak in order to prove that he is educated on the subject. Aja Isler, revealed that one of the important ways for her to navigate and connect to her Black identity was by going natural.

The Brown Bag reveals how students how some students who racially identity as Black navigate on campus where they are not the majority.  This Brown Bag effectively demonstrates how race, class, and sexuality intersect, and this allows for ways to have conversation. As an African American student, listening the panelists, I connect with their stories about the classroom dynamic, going natural, and the hardship of dating at ‘Gate. Yet, there were moments, that I felt left out of the conversation because the panelists were people who identified as Black, and there was no representation for people who identify as both African American and Black, or who were biracial and identified as Black and much more.  By having a representation of these racial identities would allow for a more inclusive and honest discussion.  Furthermore, by having a more diverse panel would also bring students who usually do not partake in the Brown Bag discussions into the conversation of racial identity.  However, these discussions are only the beginning to understanding the implications of race at Colgate, a school where the majority of the students are white and most of them come from a higher socio- economic background.

- Noufo Nabine' 16

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brown Bag Reflection 2/11: "MichFest: A Movement Through Music"

This week's Brown Bag panel consisted of Heather Dockstader, Interim Director of LGBTQ Initiatives, Professor Catherine Herne, Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics, and student Susan Miller '16.  They each shared their experiences and taught the audience about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, an international feminist gathering.  Started in 1976, this festival takes place on 650 acres of Michigan woodlands.  Visitors camp in the woods and get to form a unique community with fellow women during the few days of the festival.  The festival features live music performances, workshops, and an amazing sense of community and camaraderie.

Each of the panelists came back to the common theme of MichFest being a place unlike any other in the whole world.  They all described the community as being the safest and most comfortable they have ever felt.  Some women choose to wear minimal clothing throughout the festivities and many even choose to come early and work for free as they volunteer to set up the entire festival.  All of the panelists described how they looked forward to the event each summer, and how they highly recommended that any and all women try it out once.  This August, Professor Loe and Professor Simonson are planning on taking a Colgate contingency so contact them for further questions and mark off August 5 - 10 if you are interested in attending!

Lastly, this past week's Brown Bag lunch was unfortunately the final WMST Brown Bag catered by the local favorite Curtain Call.  Sadly, the catering company is going out of business.  Their delicious and nutritious food was a huge draw and helped feed many hungry Colgate students around campus.  They will be greatly missed, and we can only hope that something will be worked out in the future, because Colgate needs Curtain Call as much as they need our business, our help, and our friendship.

-Lindsey Skerker '14

Monday, February 10, 2014

How to Handle Your Conflicting Feminism(s) with Advice from bell hooks

Like many feminists or contemplating feminists, the journey is rough. Sometimes you'll be sitting in your bed watching T.V shows on hulu without blinking or noticing anything peculiar. Other times, you're the first one to start deconstructing the commercials in between by catching all the instances where it perpetuates stereotypical gender roles. Perhaps you're getting down to Lil' Wayne's Lollipop, but shake your head at Jason Derulo's Talkin' Dirty. Both these situations may leave you confused and have you wondering "What is the dividing line?" The question is "Should there even be a dividing line?"

I began struggling with these questions after reading the popular Onion article, Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show. So to answer these questions, I turned to none other than bell hooks for tips.
1."There is no one path to feminism"                                                                
Feminism looks different for everyone. There are simply some things that "erk" one person more than another. However if it helps, create some hard lines for yourself, but also understand that you're not perfect. For example, if watching Morning Joe just makes you want to break your T.V, yet  Hardball with Chris Matthews seems reasonable, don't watch watch Morning Joe and  don't think too hard (well maybe a little). Or if you love Scandal but can't stand Being Mary Jane, don't watch being Mary Jane; however, recognize that similar critiques can be made for both shows. The point is that if you're consciously deciding  to watch or listen to something  while knowing its gender biased flaws, you are using your agency and hopefully not internalizing what you see or hear.
2. “Feminists are made, not born”                                                                     
 It is important to understand feminism as both a movement and a lens, which is why I was confused when my brother said he couldn't identify himself as a feminist even though he supports the philosophies because he is a man and therefore will never fully understand the experience of being a woman. Well, feminism is for everybody. Even though you may not want to self-identify as an ally to a cause for marginalized peoples, feminism is for anyone who moves to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression  and as well as works towards the social and political equality of the sexes according to bell hooks and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The definition may be different for each person, but the foundation of feminism is that it is consciousness, and once you see, many times you can't "un-see". So don't be afraid to either identify as a feminist or say you believe in the feminist lens because you feel you either don't know enough yet, or you're not a marginalized gender or sex.

  • 3. 
  • “Feminist movement is advanced whenever any male or female of any age works on behalf of ending 
  • sexism. That work does not necessarily require us to join organizations; we can work on behalf of 
  • feminism right where we are”          

  • Lastly, feminism is not a competition. It took me a long time to learn this one when I would hear fellow feminists drop knowledge like it was nobody's business. Remember again that every feminist finds their feminism in different ways and therefore learns in different ways. If you are so compelled to learn more, feel free to check around the Center for Women's Studies Library. In addition, don't be afraid to take on more leadership in the feminist community if a certain issue moves you.
  • Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Brown Bag Reflection: “Birthing Stories” (2/4/14)

               When I found out that this week’s brown bag was on Birthing Stories, I was super excited. Is that weird?
                For this brown bag, several women on campus (Brenda Ice, Professor Jenna Reinbold and Professor Priscilla Van Wynsberghe) and Debbie Alt, a doula, happily shared their pregnancy and birthing stories. Each of their stories were unique, whether between their different childbirths or between the women themselves. While telling their stories, the audience would laugh at funny moments or cringe during certain graphic moments. At the end, some of my female friends were terrified. But this brown bag was not about scaring the audience, it was about sharing knowledge of a normal experience. This brown bag was also about encouraging people to talk about these things and ask questions, to be aware of the things that can occur during pregnancy or labor, and to do their research (when the time is right!), because first time parents are often under prepared.
                It was very interesting to hear how for one of the panelist, one of her labors took about 20 minutes. While another woman’s labor took over 24 hours. One Professor shared how her first labor experience was very difficult and painful, but her second birth was easier (but still painful). Another Professor shared her reasons for wanting a natural childbirth; she wanted to pass on her microbes to her child, since humans have millions of microbes in and on them, and microbes contribute to your overall health. By the end of this brown bag, I was amazed and awed by the stories these women told and I am grateful that they shared them with us. Although some of these stories scared some of my peers, I am excited to experience this myself (in about 10 years!).
                Debbie Alt, who was Professor Reinbold’s doula during her second pregnancy, also provided us with some knowledge about pregnancy and labor. A doula is a non-medical person who provides physical assistance and emotional support to women before, during and/or after childbirth. They also help advocate for mothers during labor and often work with midwives. During the brown bag, the panelist talked about the medicalization of childbirth, in regards to the increase in caesarian sections (one in three pregnant women in the U.S. get caesarian sections). Debbie provided examples of alternative settings used during childbirth, whether it is in a hospital or a home birth with or without a pool, with doctors or with midwives.
                You may have heard this once or twice before, but women and women’s bodies are amazing! Can you imagine what our mother went through? I encourage you all to talk with your mothers, if possible, and ask them about their experience while being pregnant with you and what is their birthing story? As the panelist all agreed, labor is an experience a women never forgets, whether good or bad. Talk to your moms, and don’t forget to thank them! I know I am grateful for my mom.

    -Valerie Garcia ’15

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014


    This past weekend, we celebrated America's best (unofficial) national, not Groundhog's Day! It was Super Bowl Sunday! That one Sunday of the year is an excuse to eat every unhealthy food known to humankind as we laze around all day and watch some of the top athletes in football compete for the sporting world's ultimate prize: a Super Bowl Championship. Of course, over the years, the event has become a sort of pageant, as even people who have no interest in sports tune in for this one game to see the musical performances, celebrities, and of course, the commercials.  Normally, I for one cannot stand commercials and in my house, my family calls me a "serial switcher" for constantly switching channels in order to avoid sitting through two minutes of brainwashing and subliminal messages.  However, during the Super Bowl, it is essentially sacrilegious to ignore the commercials.  Although some of these commercials are admittedly funny as well as poignant, many of these ads have become notorious for being incredibly sexist (i.e.  Even though some might claim that this year's ads were less sexist than last year's, there was still some sexism (and of course racism, ageism, classism, etc.) sprinkled in throughout the night, both on TV and on social media (just look at the response to Coca Cola's ad).

    That was why it was even that much more refreshing to see the GoldieBlox commercial.  GoldieBlox is a startup toy company based in Oakland, California founded by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer.  The company's goal is to make toys for future innovators while working to "disrupt the pink aisle" and prove that girls can build, too.  Since men still largely outnumber women in STEM fields (science, engineering, math and technology), GoldieBlox is seeking to level the playing field by keeping girls interested and excited about these fields while they are still young.

    GoldieBlox won a competition and beat out 20,000 rival startups to win a free 30-second ad in the second half of the game thanks to a contest sponsored by Intuit.  It was a truly historic moment as Goldieblox was the first smalltime business to land an ad in the Super Bowl, where 30-second spots go for around $4 million.  The commercial featured a catchy tune as girls proudly used their pink toys (including kitchen sets, dollhouses, stuffed animals, princesses...) to make a rocket.  The ad worked to challenge societal norms, offset sexist ads, and empower young girls and women.

    I for one can hardly recall playing with more than blocks when I was little, as my main toys were definitely the stereotypical girly toys.  However, if Goldieblox had been around when I was younger, would I have become more interested in STEM subjects?  Throughout my education, I always found math and science difficult, first because I didn't find it interesting, and then later on I became discouraged when I started to fall behind.  Would I really have been more interested had I owned GoldieBlox?  It seems like it is tough to give a definitive answer since the company is so new, but I think they could be on to something.  These toys are already starting to catch on as they are now being sold in Toys R Us and Target, and hopefully, they can start this toy-world trend of working to break the mold.

    -Lindsey Skerker '14