On Saint Mary’s College and feminism
Kylie Henry | Monday, October 11, 2021
Personally, I’ve never declared myself to be a feminist in good faith. Once, when asked what I love about feminism — I turned to womanism. I turned to history and asked, what would white feminism have done for the black, the queer and the other in me? The only thing I’ve ever done is declare that I’m a womxn. The “x” marking the other in me, which I’ve never been able to describe. I regard my identity to be that of an actual womanist and a pseudo feminist because mainstream feminism in itself is ingenuine. I, like many other students of color and queer-identifying students, are often failed by the institutions that educate us and the social movements that mobilize us. Both of which lack the full enforcement of the principles behind intersectionality. Intersectionality is a term originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, as a means to make a distinction that Black woman are subject to oppression by being both Black and being a woman, and often face discrimination under those identities both individually and collectively. Once pushed into mainstream, the phrase has been used to acknowledge the disregard social movements have for the multitude of intersecting identities within their census. By failing to acknowledge intersectionality, they begin to struggle with inclusivity. Realizing this has pushed me to consider how student-run organizations are used as a substitute to the institution fulfilling its responsibilities to servicing not only marginalized students, but all students and their intersecting identities.
While I must admit, “Smick’s for Choice,” an unsanctioned organization, assists in filling the void of educational resources on reproductive health and sex for the Saint Mary’s community, it is a conversation for another time. As someone who attended the “Is Sex Good?” talk, hosted by the Belles Against Violence Office, Campus Ministry and the Department of Religious Studies & Theology on Aug. 31, 2021, I can say it was a missed opportunity. At its foundation, the program covered romantic relationships and theology, rather than sex itself. I believe this was the perfect forum to discuss what healthy sexual relationships look like compared to abusive ones, making the choice to be abstinent or sexually active as it relates to one’s faith, sex between non-heterosexual partners and how to use contraceptive methods to protect yourself during sex. To my knowledge, the Saint Mary’s Health and Counseling center does not offer condoms, which is a contraceptive that is used among heterosexual and homosexual partners alike. However, I have received resources for safe sex and on reproductive health from “Smicks for Choice.” The neglectful actions of the institution to provide such information and resources to the student body, certainly does not embody women empowerment.
Once again, outside of my chosen coursework, it is through student organizations that I’ve gained insight on gun-violence intervention, Hispanic and Asian heritage and culture and on being a woman of color in a position of power. I cannot count the number of conversations I’ve had with my fellow students of color, faculty and professors on implementing a course requirement that engages students in civil discourse, as well as being centered around race and ethnic studies. It would provide the knowledge to analyze the demographic orientation of Saint Mary’s Campus, and the tools to create social change. While this is something we do not have, what we do have is Student Diversity Board, La Fuerza, Sexuality and Gender Equity (SAGE) and Black Student’s Association, although I do have the tendency to sprint down the Avenue onto St. Mary’s Road to embrace Notre Dame’s Black population, for mine is sparse. In my first semester at Saint Mary’s, I recall thinking “this was an experiment for those that account for the ‘predominantly white’ part of the institution, to interact with different ethnic backgrounds, possibly for the first time. They are the test subjects, and I am the treatment.” It is the responsibility of the institution to ensure that its minority population does not feel like the treatment imposed upon its majority.
While the thought that provoked this piece was the need for a feminist organization at a women’s college, I changed the trajectory of my writing because the answer was simple: There isn’t a need. This women’s college simply needs to become more of a feminist institution. Nearly every student-run organization is centered around the empowerment, education and the general interest of the student body, and the “forces that be” need to keep that same energy. I’ll end with two equally thought-provoking questions. What does Saint Mary’s College need to do to be a “feminist” institution? Are its white Catholic roots interfering with its journey to becoming one?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.