Ghosts of the Past, Voices of the Present

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On November 29th, twenty-nine Introduction to Gender Studies students presented their work on a variety of issues related to gender and diversity, in both historic and current cultural contexts. With presentations ranging from Harvey Milk to the rise of the alt right to the Stonewall Riots to the triumphs and challenges of the LGBTQIA+ community, the students and faculty members who attended the presentations had a plethora of ‘hot topics’ to learn about. During the second week of the semester, the student presenters-to-be were able to choose from a list of topics provided by Cindy LaCom, based on information covered throughout the semester. They were then given the freedom to research and explore their topics.

“I chose to present on Angela Davis because I like learning about prominent female figures throughout history and I am interested in intersectional feminism,” shared Cierra Naglowsky, a junior Gender and Diversity Studies major. “I prepared for my presentation by really getting to know her and what she’s done in her life. I did some extensive research to understand who she is and why she supports and opposes certain political issues.” Likewise, Allie Peterson, a junior Public Health major, spent a lot of time outside the classroom looking for more information on abortion, which was her topic. “It is such a controversial issue, so I thought it would be beneficial to share actual, factual information,” she said. As she was putting the final touches on her presentation and handouts about politics surrounding abortion, her topic became even ‘hotter’ when the Ohio House of Representatives passed new laws.

In addition to having one-on-one conferences with Dr. LaCom to steer them towards the most effective information for their posters and handouts, the students were able to have “mock presentations” in front of the Gender Studies Club. Both Peterson and Naglowsky were surprised by how many attendees the presentations had and by how many questions they were asked. The presentations were “much more relaxed, comfortable, and conversational” than Peterson thought they would be, and Naglowsky was “glad to be able to share her knowledge with them.”

This is the ninth time for the presentations, and Dr. LaCom looks forward to offering them again next spring.  She praised her students, saying, “They worked incredibly hard on these posters, and for most, they ended up presenting on topics and figures with which they were initially unfamiliar.  I’m really proud of them and think the presenters did a superb job.” Naglowsky echoed that praise, saying, “ I am grateful for my advisor really being a critic of my work because it makes me want to work harder and strive to be better. Without Dr. LaCom, this event would not have been nearly as great as it was.”

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Tips for Writers

 

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When Dr. Cindy LaCom introduced speaker Jillian Weise’s Ableism is a Drag lecture on October 18th as “one of the most intersectional presentations you’ll see” to the 80+ students, faculty, and community members in the SSC Theatre, expectations rose for what the evening would entail. Co-hosted by the Gender Studies Program and the English Department, Weise had agreed to speak to the SRU community when a “star-stuck” Dr. LaCom approached her at the women’s studies conference at Clemson University last April. With accomplishments in editorial work, science fiction, and scholarship, Weise’s poetry continues to challenge literary concepts as her profound and provocative art advocates for social justice and rejects systemic ableism. By the end of the night, Weise had not only shared her journey through her writing and videography, but also stressed the importance of claiming her identity, joining community, and advocating for herself and others.

Weise began by sharing her expectations of the audience with a poem from The Book of Goodbyes that satirizes the conventions about how we’re “supposed” to listen to poetry, saying instead that she encourages attendees to actively disobey the conventions of typical lecture settings by walking around, lying down, eating, talking to each other, or even knitting as she continued.   After recounting how she has explored diverse literary genres, from poetry to fiction to sci-fi and back to poetry, she shared a few of her poems.

“The origin of the word poetry is the greek ‘poiesis,’ which means to make,” she told the audience.   “This leads me to ask who is the maker? and what is made?” As a disabled writer (who intentionally uses disability-first language, opposed to person-first language), Weise was frustrated that poetry has been portrayed as written for and by the “Everyman,” an assumed, non-disabled, heterosexual, cisgendered, middle- or upper-class person. She noted that when non-disabled writers portray disabled subjects, the goal and outcome is to either make readers laugh or cry without any other option. Yet, Weise shared that the “OG poet,” Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and masonry, had made himself a wheelchair. She then listed poets and writers like Flannery O’Connor and Emily Dickinson, whose disabilities are erased, and suggested that the cultural amnesia leading to the negation of their disabilities fosters this myth of the “Everyman” in troubling ways.

Weise then introduced her heteronym (which suggests a separate being with its own personality and story, versus a pseudonym, which is an alias), “Tipsy Tullivan,” a filmic persona who was conjured up in response to the discrimination she felt both in poetry and in writing. “Tipsy” is a nondisabled woman with exaggerated make-up, a pink cape, and a blonde wig who uses satire to critique ableism in short films that she posts on YouTube. These impromptu videos are spontaneous in nature, typically “in response” to something, and are filmed across the country. When asked why she chooses to be “Tipsy” instead of herself, Weise challenged the audience, “What self is available to the disabled subject? Other than to enlighten the nondisabled forever? After all, we live in a culture where disabled people must be mad, sad, or constantly overcoming, because if they are proud, they must be delusional.” To appreciate her satiric nature for yourself, view “Tipsy” on YouTube or Instagram at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwfcYz-fiPjq0U6v-fevOMQ.

After many questions and many more laughs, Weise’s lecture concluded. The following day, Weise joined Dr. Rochelle Hurt and her Creative Writing: Poetry class, a major course for all Creative Writing majors, to discuss her writing advice, the risks and benefits of using a persona in poetry, and her views on satire. Prior to this guest lecture, students had read Weise’s work and viewed “Tipsy” in action. After a brief reading, students began asking questions about her inspirations, how they can write about their identity without coming across as repetitive or redundant, and how to practice writing from different personas so not to choose one it isn’t their place to portray. To explain why it was so important for “Tipsy” to be a nondisabled person with an ableist perspective, Weise elaborated that talking about the discrimination from her perspective wasn’t having her desired effect, so to really show the negativity, she chose to portray the negativity at its worst. Just as sincerity can be taken the wrong way or readers can read incorrectly between the lines, Weise is well aware that her satire can be taken the wrong way.

Stephanie Schnupp, a senior Creative Writing major and Gender Studies minor was able to attend the lecture Thursday, Friday’s class, and dinner with Weise and other fellow professors. “When I first heard of the event I was very excited. I felt that not only was it intriguing for a disabled activist and poet to come and share creative work about Gender and Diversity, but also that it’s not something a lot of Universities get to do. For Jullian to come to SRU to present was such a worthwhile experience. It was also such an honor to attend dinner with someone who you could learn so much from when they spoke, and also to see how much they enjoy what they are doing– especially now that I will be a graduate.”

Dining With Women and Allies of Distinction: A Celebration of Leadership and Mentorship

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On October 9, 2018, over one hundred administrators, faculty, staff members and students ended their Fall Breaks with a dinner to remember. Hosted by the Gender Studies Program and the President’s Commission on Women, the twenty-first annual Women of Distinction Awards were granted at the Leadership/Mentoring Dinner. Each year, invitations are sent to the entire campus and surrounding community. Faculty, staff, and administrators invite students with whom they have a mentoring relationship, and family and friends of those honored are also invited. Dr. Kim Keeley, co-chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, called it “a magical night” for all 105 attendees and Dr. Cindy LaCom, Gender Studies Program Director, said she was honored to be in a room with so many powerful mentors, advocates and social justice activists.

Sarah Beth Scott, a junior Public Relations Communication major, who attended the dinner with Kayla Hersperger and other student employees of the Enrollment Management department, said that “hearing what these mentors have accomplished and continue to accomplish on this campus and seeing how much we celebrate and honor womens’ and allies’ accomplishments really encouraged me to push myself and do more, knowing I have heaps of support here at Slippery Rock.”    

After a delightful dinner, five members of the Slippery Rock University community were awarded with necklaces and framed Women and Allies of Distinction Certificates signed by President Behre and by the Commission co-chairs, Dr. Keeley and Ms. Renee Coyne.  After receiving nominations by various campus members during a universal call for nominations, the five awardees were selected by a sub-committee. In addition to student, faculty, and administrator categories, an “Ally” category was added this year so that male and non-binary individuals who mentor and advocate for women and allies can be nominated for the award.  The 2018 Women and Allies of Distinction Awardees are listed below.

The evening closed with a keynote address by Ms. Tina Seidelson, who is the Carnegie STEM Girls Program Manager at the Carnegie Science Center. Ms. Seidelson shared how important mentors were in shaping her through her various careers, and why she is passionate about paying it forward by mentoring girls through STEM. Scott echoed those sentiments, sharing, “Empowering women and applauding their accomplishments is vital to an impactful society, and the way Slippery Rock honors that proves that it truly is the right place for me to grow, study, and eventually become an alumni.”

For more information on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, go to https://www.sru.edu/about/administration/office-of-the-president/presidents-commissions and more information on the Gender Studies Program can be found at https://www.sru.edu/academics/colleges-and-departments/cla/departments/gender-studies. Other events for the Gender Studies Program include “Ableism is a Drag: Poetry, Performance, and Subversion with Jillian Weise” on October 18th, a Gender Studies Poetry and Prose Reading on Wednesday, November 28th from 4-6 in the Alumni House  and poster presentations on gender and diversity on November 29th during Common Hour on the second floor of the Smith Student Center. All events are free and open to the public.

 

2018 Women of Distinction:

Staff: Ms. Stacey Rice & Ms. Keisha Booker

Student: Ms. Maggie Calvert

Faculty: Ms. Katherine Mickle

2018 Ally of Distinction: Maevon Gumble

Pulling the Fire Alarm & Blowing the Whistle on Torture

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Just as over 110 students and faculty members had assembled into the ATS auditorium in anticipation of the panel on “What do we talk about when we talk about torture?” during common hour on Tuesday, February 27th, the fire alarm went off! Though not quite the same as whistleblowing, this fire drill surely served as an introduction for the event, as five different department faculty members came together to share the perspectives of their individual disciples regarding torture. This interdisciplinary event, planned to precede former CIA agent John Kiriakou’s presentation the following night, was able to dive into torture from historical, criminal, psychological, political, gendered perspectives to provide more context for the students.

Dr. Susan Lubinksi from the Criminology and Security Studies Department first went over the definition of torture, which is the act of inflicting severe physical or mental pain in order to get information, punish someone, or for sadistic pleasure. She then lent the floor to Dr. Eric Tuten from the History Department, who shared torture tactics from all around the globe, dating from 10 BC to today. From skinning victims alive, utilizing the brass bowl, and torture by rats to crucifixions, schaphisms, and lingchi, Dr. Tuten reviewed over twenty different methods of torture. He then noted the line between torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” that was defined in 2003. To lighten the mood, he closed by comically commenting that “modern torture” may be considered listening to Bob Saget’s attempts at humor or a professor’s lecture.

Once the audience had a grasp on the many types of torture, Dr. Lubinski delved into whether torture is legal for interrogation purposes. Following 9-11, she explained, as the US was capturing people on the battlefield and putting them in prisons around the world, the question of how to get reliable information through interrogation arose. Through the UN Committee Against Torture, CAT, no torture or ill behavior that could shock the conscience of the court is allowed, or else the testimony is no longer deemed credible in the court of law. Therefore, what harsh techniques would be allowed? Considering the “ticking time bomb” scenario, what “defenses of necessity” are allowed? At the time, and still today, approved methods of “enhanced interrogation techniques” were allowed, including attention grasps, facial holds or slaps, insects, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Yet, the question remains, how do the laws regarding torture pertain to groups like ISIS, who publicly beheads its victims?

In order to review the psychological impact of torture, Dr. Emily Keener from the Psychology Department talked about the American Psychological Association torture scandal. In the original documentation of how torture was defined as “intentional, severe, and long-lasting,” she explained that the line between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture was blurred, as the above techniques were considered by the psychologists involved to not have long-term effects. It wasn’t until ten years later when the Hoffman Report was released by Jean Maria Arrigo that the whistle was blown, revealing that the US Department of Defense did indeed enable torture in Guantanamo Bay.

“When 9-11 happened, politicians were shocked and began pushing for action to be taken,” began Dr. Dan McIntosh from Political Science Department. As a general rule, he explained, action should be preceded by determining whether it is illegal, immoral, and/or ineffective. He challenged that enhanced interrogation techniques are illegal and immoral because they are torturous acts with a different name, and they are ineffective because individuals will often tell their interrogators anything what they want to hear in order to stop the pain.

Lastly, Dr. Cindy LaCom from the Gender Studies Program stood up to share a perspective many often neglect to consider, “When we think about torture,” she began, “we typically imagine it as men inflicting torture on other males to coerce or punish them, and we rarely consider how torture might be gendered.” She then gave examples of how rape is systemically, structurally, and intentionally utilized in war to destroy morale, how prevalent child marriages still are, and how human trafficking exists for both males and females, even in the United States. She then explained the honor killings of young females, genital cutting, and the torture of LGBTQIA+ individuals through conversion rape or other means. She closed by asking the audience a few thought-provoking questions: In places that practice misogyny or homophobia culture– can a culture be labeled as torturous? Yet, how could these cultures be held responsible? Further, what’s gained or lost by changing rape from a crime of violence to a crime of torture?

As the students mulled over these questions and began digesting the information that had been shared with them over the past hour, many marked their calendars for the following evening to hear what John Kiriakou’s thoughts on torture are. The event was free and open to the public — a dance performance by Dr. Ursula Payne’s Dance majors preceded his speech, and a book signing followed. In case you were curious, the fire alarm did not go off in the middle of that event!

Exploring Imagined Communities: Is the Alt-Right… Wrong or Right?

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On May 2nd, the Gender Studies program will be hosting a panel titled, “Deconstructing an Imagined Community: Immigration, Hate Speech and the Rise of the Alt-Right” in SSC Ballroom A at 7:30 p.m.  Four panelists will be hosting the program, including Molly Mistretta and Joe VanHannak from the Counseling and Development Center, Dr. Elizabeth Ricketts from IUP’s History Department, and SRU alumnus Michael Chiappini, who is currently a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University. VanHannak will also be moderating the panel. According to Dr. Cindy LaCom, the Director of the Gender Studies program, “The program is certainly relevant, and it will be educational, with a deep and broad context.” 

After defining “the imagined community,” the panel will discuss how the idea of imagined communities has been used by the Alt-Right in nationalist rhetoric.  In his book, Imagined Communities, political geographer and author Benedict Anderson writes, “What I am proposing is that nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – as well as against which – it came into being.” The panel asks critically important questions: “Whose nation?  Who decides on the profile of both nation and citizenship? Whose voices are included — and excluded?” To explore these questions, Dr. Ricketts will analyze them within the context of immigration and integration, specifically in western PA, where the imagined ideas are rooted and shaped by the coal and steel labor industries and immigration patterns. Michael Chiappini will discuss concepts of nationalism and free speech in the university — what is at stake?  What are the limits of and distinctions between free speech and hate speech? The panelists will also consider alternative narratives as part of a national tension between empowering and dividing people and labor, as well as the ethnic boundaries and KKK activity in the area.  

The panel will then look at the current anti-immigration movement as an imaginary community of interest. “What are the perceived benefits—the fantasy of the right?” they will ask, “What social control and constraints impact the anti-immigration stances today?” Dr. Ricketts will provide an example of what is to be gained but also lost by the Alt-Right presenting at colleges, with specific reference to a recent incident at IUP.  This will lead to a facilitated discussion and review of possible action steps for the future. At a historical moment when the Alt Right is gaining power that is unprecedented in the last century, we hope that at the panel’s conclusion, audience members will know more about the rise of the Alt Right and its ties to nationalist rhetoric which, in re-imagining the “imagined community,” relies upon racist and anti-immigrant tropes; be more informed about the history and ideological stakes of anti-immigration debates in PA; and have access to possible action steps in response to xenophobia and hate speech.

“Be Your Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams” 

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 When Lois Mufuka Martin came to the Student Smith Center on November 1st, 2017 to speak about “Intersecting Identities: An African in America Tells Her Story,” more chairs needed to be set up! About 135 students, faculty, and community members came to hear her story and ask questions regarding what constitutes a “homeland” and what it’s like being an African in America. Born in Zimbabwee, Martin currently works in Pittsburgh as the CEO of Volunteers for United Way, the largest non-profit corporation in the area, where she mobilizes over 10,000 volunteers annually to make the world a better place.  

“Consider me your storyteller for the evening,” Martin began. “As with all stories, there is no beginning and no ending, as it began before me and will continue after me.” Part One of Martin’s tale began with her great grandfather in Rhodesia, Africa around WWI, when the country was a colony of the United Kingdom. Martin talked about his religion, and how uninterested he was in receiving a bible from men bearing guns who had oppressed him and his loved ones for so long. Part Two transitioned into her grandfather’s story, closer to WWII, when Rhodesians were restricted by the British to tribal trust lands and needed passbooks to move around. This was at a time when whites were the minority in the country they had colonized, but that minority dictated that Black Rhodesians didn’t need an education beyond second grade, as knowledge beyond basic numbers was considered unnecessary to complete hard work. Therefore, when her grandfather went on to become a pastor, he impressed upon his children that education is the most powerful gift. Her father, the second born child, aspired to escape the bonds of colonialism and imagined travelling to a land without passbooks and constant police stops, somewhere he could purchase land for himself. During Part Three of her tale, which started when Martin was three years old, her father finally made that journey with her uncle, mother, and herself to Canada. Martin also lived in Jamaica and studied in South America before returning to Zimbabwe (the people liberated themselves from colonial rule in 1965 and renamed their country from Rhodesia to Zimbabwee) at fourteen in a house beyond the tribal trust lands, where her grandmother would have needed a passbook to walk through.   

Upon her return to the U.S. shortly thereafter, Martin was asked, “Did you live with monkeys in trees?” and “Why are you so black?” by her peers. Even today, people continue to question her background, often asking, “Are you African or African American?” Her response is that there is an inherent duality of the two, as a product of countries that have undergone civil wars, enslavement, and oppression based on the color of their skin. Still, there are times when people unintentionally ask her to choose between being African and being African American when she views both as two sides of the same coin, so intertwined that they cannot be divided.  

As the night drew to a close, Martin asked the attendees to think about and challenge oversimplified ideas of race, to not give an American identity to African history, and to be educated about history so that we are aware when history begins to repeat its worst cycles.  She encouraged attendees to remind themselves that their story has no beginning or ending, either, and that it deserves to be told. “Be your ancestors’ wildest dreams, as I am mine,” she continued, “and in all that you do, start from where you are, and leap when possible.”  

Why Do We Help? The Ethics of Help in a Social Justice Context: The Event

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What does this picture say to you? Is he pulling her away from an active shooting and she’s resisting to get back to a fallen loved one? Or is she resisting because he is abusing her and trying to drag her away? What supplies are needed in the aftermath of a flood? Is it better to send water, clothing, or money? What do you do if you don’t have the means to help? What if you are thousands of miles away? If you don’t have time? Do you feel like if you help once, you’ll have to help forever?

Questions like these and so many more swarmed around the Student Center Ballroom during an animated discussion on Why Do We Help? The Ethics of Help in a Social Justice Context. Facilitators Cindy LaCom, Ursula Payne, Corrine Gibson, Keisha Booker, Maevon Gumble, LaMorie Marsh, and Josiah Cole asked difficult questions, which encouraged the approximately 100 individuals in attendance to dig deeper.

Attendees, sitting at round tables, were able to voice their opinions early on, as they discussed scenes from a collage of images. Similar to the comments above, some were very surprised by how contrastingly different interpretations were. The astonishment only grew as videos of wasted “help” were shown; with bails of winter coats being sent to Honduras, a tropical country, after Hurrican Mitch, clothes donations being burned after literally rotting on the shores in Indonesia following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, 67,000 teddy bears being sent away to Sandy Hook after the elementary school shooting. What could have helped better? Instead of sending cases of bottled water to those in need, what about helping fund a portable water purification unit, which will provide 100,000 liters of drinking water for about three hundred dollars? Instead of sending children’s toys, what about financing prolonged therapy sessions for the families in Sandy Hook? Alas, how do you know what would help best? Tammy Shapiro thought of the idea of a “relief registry”, similar to a wedding registry for donations after Hurricane Sandy. See more at https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/disaster-relief-donations-that-dont-bring-relief-2/.

Featured student speaker, Josiah Cole, a junior Biology major, went on to share his experience with helping abroad. After spending a collective 16 months in Uganda, Africa, since 2011 on three separate trips, Cole was surprised by how different the experience was from his original presumption. Cole first went to Uganda with a missionary friend for five months and soon realized, “Like many helping situations, my presumption going in was that we are going to help them. Unfortunately, this leads to a sense of a superiority, which is more hurtful than helpful.” Through his experience, Cole began to “feel strongly about the need to respect everybody and see them as equals, instead of as ‘others’ whom we can ignore or treat however we want. We really need to get to know and understand them.” The audience laughed along as Cole stated, “You think, of course they need help! Yet, the longer you’re over there, the more you think – wait, maybe I’m the one who needs help!” The tone became a little more serious as Cole went say, “There are legitimate needs in other places, and I don’t believe we can overlook them. However, because we usually don’t take the time to understand what’s really going on, we take wonderful countries filled with wonderful people and make them sound like hell on earth. I remember when I came back from Uganda the first time, I spent a solid year trying to convince everyone I knew that Africa was an amazing place, filled with kind, happy, generous people. I think that things are a lot more complex than people realize, and people from other places have a lot more to offer than we give them credit for.”

To conclude the discussion, Gibson and Booker took the reins, and began asking what personal barriers people have to helping ethically. Is it money? Time? Lack of knowledge? Other priorities? What barriers need to be negotiated – both in a general sense and at the personal level? “I feel like the main take away from last night’s event is to research before you help. Consider how your position in life affects how you help someone. While donations are always a kind gesture, think about how useful a donation really could be,” suggested LaMorie Marsh, a senior English Creative Writing major who has assisted with bringing this project to life since Spring 2016. He went on to express, “I felt like the event went extremely well, and fostered a lot of interesting and engaging conversation.”

The Gender Studies Program would like to challenge you to think of why you help. How will you go about helping someone next? Whether you were able to make it to the discussion or not, if you have any questions, feel free to contact Cindy LaCom at cindy.lacom@sru.edu.