WGSX Colloquium Speakers Call for Activism

The 11th Annual Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Colloquium, (En)gendering Political Change, started with a call to action.
“The most important message of your colloquium is that change can happen. Organized and together, you really can change things,” said Alice Cohan, one of the two speakers from the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF).

Cohan, along with Danielle Geong, gave the first presentation and discussed feminist activism within the United States and other nations. “We wanted to talk about feminist political activism and what that really means,” said Geong. “Obviously we’ve made so many gains in the last few decades, in the last few decades, in the last century. That said, of course, we continue to hit up against those glass ceilings.”
The next speaker, Madeline Kunin, showed exactly how those glass ceilings could be broken. Kunin, the first female governor of Vermont, used her personal political success story to encourage the women in the audience to run for public office.

The United States, she said, “is seventy-third in the list of countries with women in the lower houses of parliament,” with fewer women in the House of Representatives than in Afghanistan’s comparative political body. Kunin said she had hope that the numbers would soon look different. “Your generation is much more concerned about social issues than my generation was,” she said.

Caroline Slobodzian, the third speaker and the president of the DC Chapter of the US National Committee for United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), screened the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell and led a discussion afterwards. The movie told the story of the Liberian women who staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace in order to end their country’s civil war.

The fourth speaker, historian Marc Stein, gave a lecture titled, “Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement: Historical Perspectives.” He discussed the misconceptions surrounding the Stonewall riots as well as the debate over what terminology to use when referring to the LGBT community.

The last event was a roundtable moderated by professor Sahar Shafqat and including speakers Kunin, Slobodzian, and Stein. The speakers began by discussing what makes an activist and moved on to cover topics such as gay marriage, the recently passed healthcare bill, and textbooks in Texas. Ultimately, the speakers agreed that everyone has the potential to be an activist, and that change is the result of creative group work.

“Do we need to find new, creative ways of activism?” asked Stein. “Absolutely.”

The speakers also discussed what it means to be an activist. “I think we live with contradictions and I think we struggle with contradictions,” said Stein.

“I thought it was amazingly coherent, though they came from very different perspectives. They made it a point to be inspiring and empowering,” said Katharina Von Kellenbach, professor of Religious Studies.

First-year Lindsey Siferd agreed. “I really enjoyed the range of events and speakers they brought in because it really represented WGSX and not just women’s studies. I thought that was such a great range of opinions and voices.”

“There was so much overlap. Even though they were talking about different things, there was a kind of really nice camaraderie between them.”

“I think that a lot of students have been really affected by it,” said sophomore Jess O’Rear, the other student member of the colloquium board. “I think that this has really set a fire under a couple of students, people who wanted to do something but didn’t know how to go about it.”

Colloquium co-chairs Kate Norlock and Leon Wiebers said they began planning for the event a year ahead of time.

“When we invite the speakers to campus, we tell them what the theme is and they can interpret it however they wish,” said Wiebers. “That results in an unknown event. And we’re so happy that events so far have been delightful.”

The colloquium is held in part, said Norlock, “becase we don’t expect people to have a background in gender issues and feminist activism. It is our way of showing the many, many things that scholars and performars do.”

The colloquium, sponsored by a variety of academic departments and campus organizations, took place on March 23, 24, and 25. All events took place in Cole Cinema.

The subject of next year’s colloquium will be women and war.

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