On Nov. 7, ‘Berg’s campus hosted The Women’s and Gender Studies Summit. The conference provided both students and faculty the opportunity to sit down and discuss their work pertaining to women’s, gender and sexuality studies. The summit was not exclusive to Women’s and Gender Studies minors and majors, as faculty and students from varying fields and subjects came to represent their current research and/or advocacy work. 

Featured faculty members and students from clubs and associations like the Feminist Collective (FemCo), Voices of Strength and the Muhlenberg Trans Advocacy Coalition (MTAC) also came out to participate in the dialogue. 

The summit consisted of two events, a “Meet & Greet” and roundtable discussion. The former gave students the chance to learn more about certain courses being offered for the Spring 2020 semester; it also connected students who share an interest in gender and sexuality. The roundtable discussion worked to spread word of faculty research regarding the ideals of the summit. 

“‘Mobilizing Rage/Making Change: Suffrage and Beyond’ was a roundtable in which a variety of professors across the campus showcased work they were doing that was related to the theme of women organizing or working collectively,” elaborated English Professor and  Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies program, Dr. Francesca Coppa.

The work explored was extensive, touching upon several courses of study. 

“Jacqueline Antonovich talked about the complex legacy of the suffragist movement, including the ways in which it used white surpremacist and eugenicist ideologies,” explained Coppa. “Crystal Adams talked about her work with female care professionals, and Elizabeth Nathanson talked about Ruth Bader Ginsberg memes on the internet as indications of intergenerational feminist solidarity. Kiyaana Cox-Jones gave an inspiring talk about her devotion to uplifting women of color at Muhlenberg, and the ways in which she has worked to make her grandmother proud and fulfil the hard work of generations past. Kate Richmond talked about the ways in which psychology focuses too much, and wrongly, on the individual —  self-care, self-help — to deal with large societal problems like racism and sexism. She asked us to consider what collective care, collective help, might look like. Lastly, I talked about the Archive of Our Own as an example of feminist HCI — human/computer interaction — and talked about the power women can have when they work together in networks on the internet.”

“I appreciated getting this opportunity to hear more about the classes that they will be teaching in the spring. I think that this panel should happen every year”

Coppa is a co-founder of Archive of Our Own (AO3) which recently won a Hugo Award for its excellence in science-fiction literature; the website is a nonprofit and noncommercial domain that provides a base for all fandoms. 

Both faculty and students who attended the conference attested to its importance.

“I already knew that I wanted to take some Women[‘s] and Gender studies classes, but it was nice to put faces to the names I saw on Capstone,” said Asherde Gill ‘20. “I appreciated getting this opportunity to hear more about the classes that they will be teaching in the spring. I think that this panel should happen every year.”

“The talks were great, and then afterwards we extended the mics to students and invited them to talk about the work that they’re doing: helping victims of sexual violence, educating about healthy relationships and organizing for reproductive justice,” explained Coppa. “I am hoping to build [a] community among those who are interested in issues of women, gender or sexuality at Muhlenberg and for the community to realize how much wonderful work and how many interesting opportunities we have here.” 

In past years, this community has struggled to gain traction due to students seeking out Women’s and Gender Studies as a minor later in their college career. If summits like this one continue to occur on a regular basis across campus, students are more likely to be exposed to opportunities relating to women, gender and sexuality early on. 

“This is why it’s important to have community events and strong, open lines of communication”

“Women’s and Gender Studies is an interesting minor in that it’s one that students tend to come to backwards and late in their academic careers. Often a student might take three or four courses focused in gender or sexuality before realizing, ‘Hey, I think this is a theme!’  So that makes it hard to plan a program or to form community: a lot of times we have students declaring their minors as seniors!” explained Coppa. 

There are multiple courses currently being offered in a number of disciplines that focus on the fundamental themes of the summit. Dr. Coppa and her colleagues encourage anyone who is interested to reach out and get involved with whatever topic speaks to them. 

“The other thing —  a great thing — is that we have courses on women, gender, and sexuality all over campus: from Psychology of Women (Psychology) to The Birds and the Bees (History) to Music and Gender (Music) to Images of the New Woman (German) or Black Women Writers (English/Africana Studies) or Neurobiology of Sex Differences (Neuroscience) or Queer Performance (Theatre) to Gender, Politics and Policy (Political Science.)  We’re everywhere — but we can also be all over the place. This is why it’s important to have community events and strong, open lines of communication,” said Coppa. 

Graphic credit:Women & Gender Studies & Femco


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