Feminist formations, Part III: Our Friendship Meets the Bechdel Test ALL THE TIME

(What’s the Bechdel Test? Glad you asked.)

a1770193775_10.jpg

[Source]

We started the blog because as women, as women of color, we felt like we were constantly being told what to do — this was our way of carving out online space where we could write about what we want, the way we want. In today’s blog post, we write about a couple of examples of how the kinds of constraints we discussed in our posts about our feminist beginnings show up in our workplace now; about times we’ve been asked to accommodate to the existing structures and practices–and have been actively discouraged from being and doing “different.” For both of us, our gendered experiences at Carleton are very much intertwined with our racialized experiences. We were hired at least in part because we are women of color–we bring our “diverse” bodies to the institution so that the institution can be “diverse.” But actually wanting to do things differently based on our experiences, identities, and ideas isn’t always welcome. As Sara Ahmed puts it, “Universities often describe their missions by drawing on the languages of diversity as well as equality. But using the language does not translate into creating diverse or equal commitments” (90).

One place where this kind of reluctance about imagining that things can be done differently is when it comes to “traditions” on campus. When Anita first started working at Carleton, one of her favorite traditions on campus were the weekly convocation talks. Because part of what appealed to her was the idea of all community members sitting and being together, she did not particularly care for the tradition of “opening convocation” where faculty and staff had to wear their robes, line up by status, and sit separately from the rest of the audience. So she did at opening convocation what she did at other weekly convocations–she took a seat in the audience. Everything seemed fine until one year when she ended up sitting in the very front because she wanted to sit with a new faculty member. After that convocation, a senior colleague talked to her about how they, as well as a few other faculty members, saw Anita’s action as “an affront to faculty” and told her that she either needed to show up in robes and sit with the faculty or not show up at all. At the time, as an untenured faculty member, Anita ended up going to the opening convo in robes and sitting with the faculty. She decided to “pass institutionally”–“the work you do to pass through by passing out of an expectation: you try not to be the angry person of color, the troublemaker, that difficult person. You have to demonstrate that you are willing to ease the burden of your own difference” (Ahmed,131). But now that Anita has tenure…

Adriana arrived at Carleton with a lot of ghosts haunting her in the background. This would happen at any institution, and part of what tenure-track faculty struggle to figure out is which ghosts matter and therefore should be listened to carefully. One of Adriana’s specters was a very material, historical queue of those who had taught Latinx studies or been Latinx at Carleton before she got there; stepping into this queue, Adriana understood she had to figure out what the institution had appreciated or what had “worried” it about what each of these very different scholars had brought. What we mean is that people around her told her stories, and she knew she had to listen to these stories to understand what paths ahead were available. One set of circulating stories concerned a Latina faculty member who worked at Carleton in the 70s and 80s. In these stories, she was narrated as always asking the institution to think about race and gender which made her a burr in the side of the college. Adjectives stuck to her in these stories: difficult, angry, demanding, troublesome. While she made it through the tenure process and stayed at Carleton quite a while, this is not the way Adriana heard the stories, which instead always emphasized her leave-taking, in a flurry of disappointment and anger. Adriana was also regaled with tales of a beloved visiting professor; this set of stories emphasized how this professor had students over to their house all the time, creating a welcoming and warm environment for Latinx students. The subtext Adriana heard was that, in being hired to teach Latinx studies, it was also her job to make Carleton a home for Latinxs students. Adriana bristled at the implication that she should be always available to students in a way that felt particularly targeted and, because her son was four years old at the time, she knew that she couldn’t perform the particular kind of labor that these stories seemed to ask of her. With both these stories, Adriana came up against the fact that “an institution willing to appoint someone (to transform the institution) is not the same thing as an institution being willing to be transformed (by someone who is appointed)” (Ahmed, 94). The stories informed her of her place and, while she refused some of these expectations, they weighed on her and worried her until she earned tenure.

It’s exhausting to come up against these kinds of expectations and resistance to change or critique. A university administrator quoted in Ahmed’s book describes doing diversity work as a “banging your head against a brick wall job.” One thing that has been so important to our survival and persistence in academia and at Carleton has been our friendship. We are feminist killjoys together.

Our feminist friendship is based on:

  • Laughing, often loudly and hysterically
  • Critiquing institutions when they uphold racist, sexist, classist dynamics
  • Holding each other up and believing each other when we tell stories about racism, sexism, classism, etc.
  • Our adoration of Shonda Rhimes
  • Butter and brussel sprouts cooked in butter
  • Our complicated brown families
  • Wordsmithing
  • Enthusiastic interruptions and then bashful recognition of the interruptions
  • Love of social theories that help explain structural inequalities
  • Rigorous debates about the role of love in justice
  • Board games
  • Adriana’s son’s love of Anita and her return of that love
  • Going to live performances (concerts, plays, etc.)
  • Negotiating our complicated relationship to Americanness
  • Music that makes us dance in many languages
  • Discussions about pedagogy, student-centered learning, reflective practices
  • The joys and frustrations of working in a HWCU and PWI
  • Gesturing wildly as we speak
  • Holding up a larger mirror for our students of color so that they can see that they are not alone, in which they can see us and them; being “possibility” models as Laverne Cox puts it.
  • Modeling vulnerability for each other and students
  • Being braver together
  • Checking each other
  • Passion for chocolate
  • Our love for Heben & Tracy
  • Being there for each other
  • Making room for our differences
  • Honest conversations about sex and sexuality
  • Non-heteronormative family formations
  • Movie marathons as alternative holiday celebrations
  • Talking about money
  • Idris Elba

Some of these may seem silly or like something superficial, but it is precisely the mix, the combination of the shared “pop” and the shared “serious” that create the strong glue that holds us together in the face of a world and institutions that pull us apart as individuals in order to ensure our institutional conformity.

sparkle_original

[Source: ETSY!]

Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Duke 2017).

Supporting student activism

Image source

We know we promised you Part III of our Feminist Formations series this week, but something came up that we really wanted to highlight: a fund that was created by Carleton alums of color to support the activism and organizing of current Carleton students. [We will post Part III next week!] We think they offer a terrific example of how alums can provide emotional and economic support to current students; we’re impressed by how they gathered together to make their gesture possible.

We have these alums’ permission to share with all of you the message they sent to our current students–we loved this concrete gesture of solidarity and support!

***************************************

Dear students:

These past few months have been extremely challenging as we see members of many minority and immigrant communities targeted due to fear, hate, and ignorance. A group of alumni have come together because we want you to know that we are here to support your efforts and the efforts of other students of color/international students. We want you to succeed and thrive at Carleton College.

Being a student is challenging. We know that many of you already juggle a full course load, spend hours on assignments outside of class, and engage in various co-curricular activities. Staying focused becomes difficult in times of frustration, anger, confusion, and despair.  But we also know that there is renewed energy building around opportunities for student activism and engagement.

Part of Carleton College’s mission statement reads, “Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.” As you go forth in doing what is right, voicing your opinions and frustrations, and breaking down systems of interpersonal and structural oppression, we want you to know that we support you. Your actions matter. If you feel silenced or unheard, we want you to know that we see, hear, and value you. And we want to support your efforts to make a difference on campus and beyond.

To do that, we want to offer resources for students of color, international students, and the student organizations representing you. We have donated $900 dollars in gift cards to the OIIL office to fund student organizing. You can apply to use a gift card toward food or supplies needed to bring together other students in order to connect and mobilize around the causes that are most important to you.

Maybe you want to organize a group to be trained as grassroots organizers. Maybe you want to help canvas in the Northfield community. Maybe you want to bring an alum to campus to help you create a plan for action. Whatever makes sense for you, we want to help you get started. To request student activism funding, fill out this (short) form: https://goo.gl/forms/cXrcMoh1kB5ttooe2.

We have also set up a google spreadsheet where you can let us know more about your passions and how we can help. We want to connect students to alumni who have expertise in areas of importance to your student community. Whether your interest is in criminal justice reform, immigration policy, raising the minimum wage, sexual assault legislation or something else, there are likely alums of color and international alums we can connect you to.

We hope that these small steps can help create new conversations between students and alumni, and help students on campus stand together and work together as a community.

In solidarity,

Amina G. ’06, Bes K. ’12, Brittney ’13, Catie G. ’10, Hiyanthi P. ’15, Isabel R. ’12, Jini R. ’09, Katie J. ’04, Marlene C. ’06, Melissa M. ’04, Nimo K. ’11, and Song L. ’05

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you’re a Carleton alum and you want to help this stellar group of alumni out, let us know and we’ll put you in contact  with them. If you’re a current student, we hope you’ll take advantage of this offer of emotional, intellectual, and financial support.

P.S. We are working on surveying some women of color alums about their experiences at Carleton–stay tuned for a future blog post on what we learned from them!

student activism 1 copy

Image source

Feminist formations, Part I

“No, I will not smile for you.”

Note: This post is part of a three-part series where we reflect on feminism–first individually on our feminist beginnings (Anita this week, Adriana next week) and then together about how our feminism has evolved and what role it plays these days in our lives.

I was a feminist before I had a label for it.

In “Living as a feminist,” Sara Ahmed writes, “A story always starts before it can be told. When did feminism become a word that not only spoke to you, but spoke you, spoke of your existence, spoke you into existence? When did the sound of the word feminism become your sound? What did it mean, what does it do, to hold on to feminism, to fight under its name; to feel in its ups and downs, in its coming and goings, your ups and downs, your comings and goings?”

I don’t recall what exactly I did that led my brother to call me a feminist some time in my teenage years. I didn’t know much about what that word meant or what he meant when he labeled me as such. However, I knew that I was critical of the gendered dynamics I observed in our family, at my school, in my everyday experiences as a teenaged girl in New York City–the family parties where the women did all of the cooking and cleaning; the biology teacher who joked about how his perfect night involved Isabella Rossellini and Heineken; the catcalls on the streets and subways. When I was 16, I became a writer for a newspaper written by teens; I told the two women (adult) editors about the time my brother called me a feminist and they encouraged me to write a story exploring this word and what it meant to me. I also took a Women’s Literature course during my senior year in high school where I encountered for the first time works by authors such as Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston. I started to claim proudly the label, the identity, of feminist.

Figuring out what that label and identity meant in and to my family was complicated. Coming from a fairly traditional South Indian family, even a seemingly small decision such as cutting my hair short when I was 16 become a big deal. (I wrote a story about this as well for the newspaper!)  It was seen as a sign of defiance and rebellion, and I understood and claimed it as such. However, in my immediate family, my parents treated my brother and me in relatively egalitarian ways. We were both encouraged to do well in school and to be independent and explore the cities we lived in. In Bangalore, I have memories of taking the bus with my brother on our own to go visit relatives; in New York City, I took the city bus to junior high school and the subway to high school. Unlike the Indian immigrant parents of some of my high school friends, my parents allowed me a good deal of freedom to stay out after school, to go over to friends’ houses, and to make my own decisions about what classes to take and what extracurricular activities to pursue. My mother provided one model of a feminist woman–when I was in high school, she worked full time as a social worker and pursued a Masters in Social Work degree part time. She had to make room for her interests and concerns in an immediate and extended family situation where patriarchy ruled in small and big ways. My own budding feminism was much louder, much more confrontational, and much less accommodating of the expectations people had for me as a girl, as a woman. (Of course, it’s not like people’s expectations never mattered to me–I ended up growing out my hair a year later when I knew that I’d be going back to India to visit my family!)

When I started to identify as a feminist, as a teenager,  my feminism was concerned with equality. It wasn’t until college and grad school where I read more feminists of color and learned more about the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality that my feminism become concerned with equity and changing the rules, rather than about fighting to be allowed to play by the rules. While what the word means to me has changed over the years, I have always been to proud to call myself a feminist, ever since I came to know of the word because it “spoke” me into existence.

P.S. This series of posts was partially inspired by Sara Ahmed’s recent book Living a feminist life (2017, Duke University Press). We both highly recommend that everyone check it out!

The Week After

solidarity_of_love_by_joyeuse

Image credit

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965.

“You have to really put your shoulder to the wheel to bend the arc of the moral universe.” –Adriana and Anita, 2016.

In the week after the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, there have been a growing number of incidents of harassment and violence targeting those perceived to be immigrants, racial and religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQA+ community. The two of us have had various reactions to reading story after story on social media of friends and colleagues, many of them women of color, speaking of their experiences. Anita signed up for a self-defense course. Adriana’s been running and trying to get faster… and she’s been calling representatives and brewing up some collective, community actions.

One institutional action we are hoping that our college takes is to declare itself a sanctuary center. What exactly this designation means is being discussed and developed on campuses across the country, with over 80 schools (see map) developing and signing petitions asking their institutional leaders to become sanctuary campuses. While the expectations of a “sanctuary center” are being defined through this process of collective action and institutional response,  this essay by colleagues at Pomona provides a great, succinct history of the practice of sanctuary. They describe the role of colleges in assuring “the community and the outside world that that we will protect undocumented students and staff along with Muslim, Middle Eastern/North African and South Asian international staff, faculty, and students.  We have to insure that we remain an open educational community for all, particularly those who have been targeted in recent months.”

This goal–understood as a moral and ethical one–might look different at different colleges.

A petition being circulated at De Paul University argues for the following:

— Reaffirm current admission and financial aid policies regarding undocumented students;

— Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding citizenship status;

— Take steps to protect the visa status and funding of international students;

— Refuse to comply with federal authorities regarding deportations or immigration raids

In the article linked above, in comparison, they ask the institution to “refuse to cooperate with immoral laws, executive orders, police demands, or judicial decisions that target these members of our community.”

As we circulated among faculty and staff a letter addressed to our college president asking him to consider declaring the college a sanctuary center, there were questions from our colleagues about whether it was effective or desirable to make such a request. There were concerns, for example, that this kind of move would be merely symbolic–that in the end, there won’t be anything the institution can do to protect undocumented community members from being deported. There were concerns that supporting such a letter publicly might put people’s jobs in jeopardy and, in some cases, people’s or family members’ already precarious immigration status in jeopardy. The process of organizing a response on campus became an occasion for us to reflect on why we decided that we could go more public with our request to the college.

  1. We are privileged: We are tenured faculty members. We are U.S. citizens. We are financially stable.
  2. We are not privileged: Anita doesn’t have white-passing privilege, so her brown skin could make her a target of racial harassment. We are women, making us vulnerable to gender-based harassment. We speak languages other than English, loudly and publicly, making us vulnerable to anti-immigrant harassment. Given that we already feel targeted for how we look and act in the world, our response has been to become even more public about our support for our people, communities, and causes. We will be proudly rocking our Black Lives Matter and El Silencio Mata t-shirts. Anita will be proudly rocking this awesome giant safety pin a friend made for her.giant-safety-pin
  3. We believe in the moral and ethical power of institutions to stand for righteousness and justice. Sometimes our institutions do so in small, quiet ways. Sometimes, it’s necessary that they do it (with our help and support) in large, loud ways.

In the end, after circulating our letter for about 72 hours, we had 159 signatories.

We don’t know yet what will happen. When you start collective actions, after all, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the response you want or need or even that you’ll get any response at all. We act because acting is better than staying silent.

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”” –Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968.

“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” –Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, 2015.

“Support friends, process emotions, and join in collective actions.” –Anita and Adriana, 2016.

 Addendum: After writing this post, we and other cosigners received an email from the President outlining actions the College will be taking to protect our DACA students; these commitments are not being made public at the moment, but we are hopeful that these steps will move us forward.

Dancing our stress away!

(Image credit) 

One of the ways that we deal with the stresses of life, including the stresses of being brown women in academia and the upcoming elections, is by dancing! [SIDE NOTE: GO VOTE!!!] Sometimes by ourselves and, whenever possible, with others. This post is a list of songs that bring us joy and power when most needed. Shoutout to a couple of the inspirations for this post: the Black Joy Project and Dr. Cristina Yang’s dancing out her stress on Grey’s Anatomy. [Side note: We miss you, Cristina! Come back from Switzerland!]

Songs of power and joy [in no particular order]

Soy Yo” by Bomba Estéreo. What’s not to love about this song/video?! LOVE Brown Girl sass and self-confidence.

Nasty” by Janet Jackson. Self-explanatory, we think!

Umbrella” by Rihanna. Because in the past, Anita has totally given Adriana her umbrella, ella, ella, eh! [Yes, inside joke, so deal.]

Hungama Ho Gaya” from the movie “Queen.” Because no dance soundtrack is complete without a cheesy Bollywood song.

Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. We love how she takes on what it means to be a person of color in a white world, but we also just swoon over Monae’s style and swagger.

“Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa. Though Anita was just a wee lass (ahem) when this song first came out, she has grown to love it as much as Adriana!

My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue.  Four gorgeous women of color with beautiful harmonies? Yes!

All of Lemonade–yaaaas, Queen Bey. ‘Cause she slays and we do too! What’s your favorite song of the album?

Go Your Own Way” by Cece Segarra for all the times when the truth needs to come out.

WTF” by Missy Elliott. We adore Missy’s boldness, lyrical creativity, and her choreographic consistency.

We can’t resist adding two of Shakira’s songs: “Hips Don’t Lie” combines pop with politics, Spanish and English; “Loba” is just over-the-top, glorious femme fun.

Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux featuring Shadia Mansour. Tijoux has some amazing songs that critique colonization, racism, and patriarchy and they’re totally danceable!

Let ‘em say” by Lizzo and Caroline Smith. We love the video shot in Anita’s current hometown, Minneapolis, and the wonderful energy of the two singers!

Traveling” by Utada Hikaru. Anita’s favorite J-Pop singer from the years she spent in Japan!

This is admittedly a very partial list and we’d love to learn what women of color you (yes, you!) are listening and dancing to. Tell us in the comments. Who did we miss? Who do you like dancing to when this racist, sexist, homophobic….world is getting you down?  (OMG, writing that we realize we didn’t link to Selena, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin…)

Re-framing “self”-care

tumblr_inline_nxfic5be1l1tvszw3_500 (Image credit)

We think a lot about the notion of “self-care,” because we want our lives to be sustainable and because everyone else is thinking and worrying about how to do it too. Yet in all of our love of massages, therapy, and the right amount of dark chocolate and white wine (or red or rosé, whatever floats our boats ‘cause we’re all about ‘diversity’), we wondered whether “self-care” placed too much responsibility for collective well-being on the shoulders of individuals. In that vein, we recently read two pieces that we think do a nice job of analyzing the notion of “self-care” as being part of an individualistic neoliberal framework. The first piece argues that, in order to have lives less focused on work, we shouldn’t focus our individual effort to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance but, rather, we need to engage in a collective effort to change the culture of our workplaces, through unions. As Peter Fleming concludes,

The trouble with much work-life balance advice is that it’s been captured by the self-help movement. It all centres on the individual. If you want to rekindle your wellbeing and discover your inner potential, then take control of your choices, find a job that better fits your temperament, erect firm boundaries between work and leisure and learn to say no…The trick is to see the ritual of overwork as a societal pressure, not an individual fault. And much of this pressure stems from the disempowerment of the workforce that has occurred over the last 20 years…We need to come together as a group to voice these concerns if progressive policy and legislation are to be forged. Otherwise little will change. Want a healthier work-life balance? Join a union.

While we appreciated this author’s focus on collective organizing and pushing back against impossible demands and expectations, the second piece we want to highlight focuses more specifically about the experiences of women of color in academia. Karen Hanna offers suggestions for “survival” and what we really appreciated about her suggestions was her focus on building healing community spaces with other women of color. We’ve certainly relied on individual women of color friends as well as communities of women of color to support us through everyday and extraordinary experiences of marginalization during our graduate school days and throughout our years of being faculty members.  We also appreciated her call for fighting for funding for healing spaces and for identifying allies in our institutions “who have access to funds and understand the needs of women and queer people of color.”

We hope that you find the two articles as inspiring as we did. Here’s to collective organizing, dreaming, and healing!

Protest in a neoliberal age

cornell-bsu-blm-rally-9-23

Participants marching in Black Lives Matter Rally at Cornell University, September 23, 2016 (Credit: Julia Cole Photography)

Today we wanted to share with you a recent essay by Russell Rickford published in the African American Intellectual History Society blog, “The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest.”

Rickford takes pains to explain the neoliberal context of current protest and social resistance on and off campuses, reminding us that neoliberalism “seeks to manage the social order and ensure the continued political dominance of the ruling class by absorbing social threats.”

He lays out three fallacies by which corporations and institutions in power seek to maintain this order and “neutralize” dissent. For us, this essay hit close to the bone in the way Rickford highlights “dialogue and awareness” as the first fallacy and then, as he sums up his case, states:

Truth is, we don’t need “diversity” training. We don’t need focus groups. We don’t need consultants and experts. We don’t need the apparatus of our oppression—racial capitalism itself—to rationalize and regulate our dissent. The logic and techniques of the corporate world won’t end the slaughter of black people, or the dispossession and degradation of indigenous people, or the transformation of the entire Global South into a charred landscape of corpses and refugees.

We’ve both participated in and led diversity training. We’ve done focus groups. We’ve felt like we’ve needed experts. We’ve been asked to do the expertifying. And it has all felt necessary and important … but this cold splash of water reminds us of the limits of what we do. Maybe more frighteningly, it shows us how the very efforts we are involved in are, by the very virtue of how institutions work, stunted and contained or worse, used to justify the very same inequities we want to change.

Rickford’s conclusion–“This is a human rights struggle. And it will be waged in the streets, not in boardrooms, the halls of Congress, or other strongholds of global capital”–is a necessary reminder for us to be clear about the limits of what we are able to do in our classrooms and institutions and the impetus we feel to be engaged in change work outside of those spaces.