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Students, faculty present on minorities, liberation struggles

| Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Civil Rights Heritage Center hosted community members who gathered to hear monologues from Saint Mary’s students and faculty about the struggles marginalized groups have faced in the pursuit of liberation Wednesday night.

Professors Stacy Davis, Phyllis Kaminski and Jamie Wagman read their monologues, as well as sophomores Zoe Ricker and Micaela Enright, juniors Jalyn King and Savannah Jackson, and senior Jordan Lolmaugh.

Wagman, a history and gender and women’s studies professor, read her monologue on violence and addressed the ever-present question hanging in the air: “What can we do at this moment?”

Wagman recalled those who ask her what decade she would have otherwise liked to live in. Wagman laughed and said, “[They ask] as though there was one decade of safety and consent for all people.”

Kaminski, a religious studies professor, said she was a “young, naive and privileged Sister” in 1968 during the climax of the civil rights movement.

“I was learning intersectionality before I ever knew the term,” she said.

The majority of those presenting focused on the civil rights movements that were present in the 1960s and 1970s while relating the issues faced then to issues faced now.

During her monologue, King said reproductive justice is a multifaceted issue that extends past the scope of birth control.

“When thinking of reproductive rights, most people often think of abortion or birth control, however it is more than that,” she said. “Reproductive justice is the ability for a woman to have a choice in what happens to her body and for women to become aware of all the choices that they have before they decide what they would like to do.”

King said her grandmother grew up in a time without adequate sex education and reproductive justice.

“My grandmother was born in 1961, a time when women did not receive adequate information about their bodies, especially not black girls,” she said.

As a result, King said her grandmother never knew she had endometriosis until diagnosed at age 44. Reproductive justice is more prevalent in the public sphere now than ever before, King said, and that is due, in part, to great African American activists like Fannie Lou Hamer, a victim of sterilization who traveled to the 1964 Democratic National Convention to make sure African American voices were represented.

Reproductive injustice and coerced sterilization of minority women was tragically commonplace in the 20th century, Enright said.

“The Puerto Rican government ran a sterilization program by using U.S. federal funds,” she said. “By the year 1968, the program had sterilized approximately one third of all Puerto Rican women.”

From this, Enright said federally-funded, coerced sterilizations are now prohibited.

But, the 60s and 70s were a time rife with dubious sterilizations in the name of eugenics, Jackson, who spoke on Native American women and sterilization, said.

“Many Native American women were denied their reproductive rights,” she said. “The Indian Health Service, functioning under the control of the Board of Health, Education and Welfare, and the U.S. Public Health Service, began providing family planning services to Native American families in 1965 to control the population of Native Americans. From 1968 to the late 70s, around 25 percent of Native American women, between 15 and 44 years old, were sterilized.”

Jackson said many these women were sterilized without their consent.

“Some women were even threatened by social services to lose custody of their children,” she said.

But from this, many women have persisted; Ricker said that some women, like artist Barbara Chase-Riboud, chose to become activists through their art.

“Art is one of those intense and deep ways we express ourselves,” she said. “Art makes us think, cry, laugh and remember.”

Ricker said Chase-Riboud has created several works of art inspired by Malcolm X, some of which were recently featured in an exhibit at the MoMA.

As well as art, Davis, professor of religious studies, said music has been a vehicle for activists to express themselves, particularly for black women during the civil rights era.

“Women articulated the realities of suffering in the hope that one day, life would be better for everyone,” she said.

Davis spoke about Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and The Staple Singers, whose music, rooted in Gospel, was inspired by that current moment and the civil rights movement. Davis said the women sang of the frustrations in wanting civil rights to “speed up.”

Marginalized women in the LGBT community have also found ways to express themselves through activism and the creation of safe spaces, Lolmaugh said.

“Nightclubs and bars have been historically significant to the LGBT community,” she said. “There were very few safe spaces for those in the community, but bars and clubs helped to fill this gap, especially from the 60s and onward.”

One of the first gay bars in South Bend, The Seahorse Cabaret, was opened in 1971 by Gloria Frankel, Lolmaugh said.

“I first learned about Frankel and the cabaret about a year ago,” she said. “I was visiting the South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center’s archives and found a folder that contained napkins, flyers and photographs from The Seahorse. I grew up in South Bend and had never heard of The Seahorse or Gloria Frankel.”

While the plight of marginalized groups is still pervasive, and there is still much more work to be done in terms of equality, Lolmaugh said we must not forget those activists who fought for the rights we have today.

“The resilience, survival and liberation are what is most important to remember,” she said.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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