The Collegian: 2013 Pieces

Pieces are in reverse chronological order.

October 8, 2013

20 years of exploring and learning with Women’s and Gender Studies

This December marks the 20th anniversary of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Saint Mary’s College. The program, which was first introduced as a minor in 1993, has grown significantly from its humble beginnings. It has gone from offering students only two courses (an Introduction and a Capstone course) to offering courses from a variety of different disciplines, from Biology to Theology and Religious Studies. In its 20 years on the Saint Mary’s campus, the Women’s and Gender Studies program has also managed to bring notable speakers to campus such as Gloria Steinem, Sr. Joan Chittister, Angela Davis, and Bell Hooks. According to Professor Denise Witzig, the program’s longest standing faculty member, the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Saint Mary’s has undergone significant shifts in order to both meet student needs on campus and to keep with the national discourse. “I think, at the time, in early years, particularly in the ‘90s, one of the focuses was just to address the representation of women on campus, globally, in the US, and to acknowledge women’s contributions to history,” Witzig said. But the inquiry went further than the classroom walls. Students in these classes began to approach their professors with their concerns about sexual assault and harassment on campus, which ultimately resulted in the student body’s push for the Women’s Resource Center in 1999.

With the WRC addressing student life and acting as a voice for these concerns, the program shifted towards intersectionality. “We weren’t just looking at women as women, we were looking at issues of race and ethnicity, we were looking at issues of sexuality, class, ability, religion… and we were looking at men’s lives, too,” Witzig said. In 2011, this inclusivity was made even more apparent when the name of the program changed from Women’s Studies to Women’s and Gender Studies.

Professor Scott Schönfeldt-Aultman, who teaches the Masculinities course, said this about the program: “I see it as a program for anyone, one that has a lot to offer to students and one which students have a lot to offer to it.”

Gloria Palma, a current first-year student, is currently enrolled in the Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course and is now considering minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. “I enjoy the class very much!” she said. “It has great discussion and really thought provoking readings.” In its 20 years on campus, the Women’s and Gender Studies program has a lot to be proud of, from the growing depth of its courses, its students, and of course, the bright pink gloves that students don during graduation. The program has made an impact that will be felt on this campus for years to come.

“I think the Women’s and Gender Studies program is a great model for what the College hopes to do,” Professor Witzig said. “Along the lines of the three traditions to focus on the individual in a very careful and considered way, to address the needs of social justice, to train the students across this broad and diverse consideration of liberal arts. We just want to keep growing; we just want to keep doing more, and we feel really happy with our place at the College. We do feel at the center of the College’s mission.”

The Women’s and Gender Studies program will be honoring faculty and staff who helped develop and grow the program on November 13.

[Read on The Collegian website]

September 24, 2013

Miss America’s controversy

On Sunday, September 15, in front of a live Atlantic City audience and 8.43 million viewers at home, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2013. Davuluri hails from Syracuse, New York, holds a degree in brain and cognitive science, and yes, is of Indian descent. As you may or may not already know from various Buzzfeed links, that last point sparked a notable amount of racist backlash on Twitter. Some gems from the microblogging site include allusions to 7-Eleven, terrorism, and Davuluri not being a “true American.”

In response to this backlash, Davuluri said to CNN, “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”

Regardless of what you think about pageants, it’s true that the crowning of this year’s Miss America made a lot of viewers think critically about what it means to be American. For some, American meant looking more like Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, the winner of the online viewers poll who gained attention for her tattoos, military service, and hunting prowess. For others, it meant going beyond skin deep and examining values.

During the interview portion, Davuluri responded to a question about anchor Julie Chen’s eye surgery to “make her eyes appear less Asian.” The 24-year-old said that while she didn’t agree with plastic surgery, she understood the decision and went on to relate it to her own experience as an Asian American. “I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as diversity in America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same person come 10 years down the road,” she said.

Davuluri’s platform during the pageant was “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.” During the talent portion, she performed Indian dances that incorporated Bollywood moves.

Despite what the racists of the Twitterverse had to say, Davuluri holds the title and the $50,000 scholarship that comes with it. Davuluri will be using that money to fund her medical school tuition. As a part of the Miss America pageant, Davuluri will be doing extensive traveling as a spokesperson for a cause she feels is important to both society and herself. This year, the New York native chose to be an advocate for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and will be going to Washington, D.C. to work with the Department of Education.

At the end of the day, the Miss America title works to benefit not only the winner but also young girls across the country. As far as role models go, Davuluri isn’t half bad. To have someone in the national spotlight promoting STEM education and cultural diversity is a great thing — here’s to hoping she isn’t the last.

[Read on The Collegian website]