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Saint Mary’s hosts 10th annual DSLC

| Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Keri O'Mara

The Saint Mary’s Student Diversity Board (SDB) celebrated its 10th annual Diverse Student Leadership Conference (DSLC) Monday with workshops, keynote speakers and panel discussions.

SDB secretary, junior Angela Bukur said the speakers and workshop presenters offer powerful and insightful advice to women in leadership.

“We are so fortunate to have them on campus to share their stories with us and open up conversations about topics that need to be changed within the world,” Bukur said.

Bukur said the aim of the conference is to inspire students.

“I hope the students take away a new outlook on diversity and confidence to go out into the world,” she said.

As part of the conference, three Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) professors presented a panel discussion titled “Gender and Women’s Studies and Diversity at Saint Mary’s College: Past, Present and Future.”

It is important to address the contrasts between social justice and multiculturalism and ideas of race, class differences and sexual orientation, assistant professor of history and GWS Jamie Wagman said.

Her Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies course discusses the positive side of feminism, Wagman said, but the class also discusses criticism of feminism as a “segregated sisterhood.”

Wagman said it is important to talk about how sometimes early feminists movements were flawed. She said white feminists and black feminists both protested the Miss America pageant in 1968.

“They were working for the same cause, but they weren’t working together; they weren’t talking to each other,” Wagman said.

In an introductory course to GWS, understanding the achievements of feminism is just as important as understanding the downfalls of early feminist methods, Wagman said.

“Gender and Women’s Studies is a large and very much growing discipline,” she said. “We talk about the way the movement wasn’t unified in working for the rights of all women.”

Building empathy for the experiences of marginalized groups is a large part of the Intro to GWS course, Wagman said. The course includes an experiential learning component, which requires students to complete 15 hours of service at a local nonprofit, she said. Nonprofits at which students have worked include Hannah’s House and St. Margaret’s House, she said.

Stacy Davis, associate professor of religious studies and chair of the GWS department, said the first women’s studies class was taught in 1972 and titled Psychology of Women. The class promoted understanding of women and diversity, she said.

“There is a connection between GWS long before diversity was a code word on campus,” she said.

The department began on a soccer field, Davis said, when female professors at the College began a faculty team and began to talk with one another about women’s issues.

“In addition to being excellent soccer players, they got to know each other and eventually worked with Sr. Eva Hooker to get a grant for course development,” she said.

A 14-credit minor in GWS was approved in March 1985 by the College, Davis said. This year marks the 30-year anniversary of GWS, she said.

In 1994, Davis said the Introduction to GWS course was taught for the first time by volunteer faculty. Davis said she believes this fact indicates the dedication of the interdisciplinary GWS faculty to what the GWS department represents.

In 2013, the joint GWS faculty submitted a major prospectus and it was approved in 2014. Currently, there are five students majoring in GWS and the program expects to expand, she said.

Davis said the GWS faculty is the most diverse staff on campus, other than modern languages faculty.

“Long before the Sophia program, [GWS staff] was teaching diversity classes that have stuck around and are still taught today,” Davis said

Sonalini Sapra, assistant professor of political science and GWS, said she works hard in her classes to debunk stereotypes of women as victims of their circumstances.

“The way women’s rights play out in Morocco and Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, it varies,” she said. “The Middle East is not some monolith.”

Her class also studies the way in which women’s rights are used as a justification for military intervention, especially in media images, she said.

“The way that Muslim women are depicted in advertisements, the images do a disservice to women and don’t afford them any agency,” Sapra said.

“Advertisements [and other media images] create false dichotomies … Our women are so empowered here in the U.S. and [the images] create this ‘us and them’ mentality, instead of a solidarity mentality,” she said.

Sapra said her students explore the social movements led by women who are often seen as marginalized by other socities. For example, Muslim women in some parts of the world have converted the headscarf into an empowering icon, instead of a symbol of oppression.

Interest and work in feminist activity on campus ebbs and flows, based on the student population, but the GWS faculty searches to find ways to keep feminist activity a sustained dialogue among students, Sapra said.

Davis urged students to look at the GWS department as a model for change.

“Change does take time. It look 12 years to get a major, eight years to get a minor,” she said. “If you want to get something done, particularly something that’s hard, it takes time, and some of the faculty that started this program aren’t here to see it finish.

“Inherent in any GWS program is activism. For the most part, we are feminists and part of being a feminist is that you work for justice for other people.”


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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

Contact Haleigh