The recent Social Justice Collective and Women’s Collective Conference on Building Community and Envisioning Possibilities was a big hit this year. Attended by approximately 200 people, it was comprised of a tabling session, a sustainable lunch and workshops.
Josephine Ragon ’11, co-president of Women’s Collective, said, “Women’s rights are a passion of mine, and it is an issue still prevalent in the world.”
Various student organizations and speakers created displays highlighting particular problems or aspects of gender and gender relations for the tabling sessions held in the Library Atrium. Some of the tables were previews of the workshop topics featured at the conference, such as “Gender Relations and the Gender Politics of Indonesia” with Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Etin Anwar, or the serious infringement of gender and dilapidation of gender relations in Sudan.
Following the tabling session, a sustainable lunch buffet was presented in Stern Hall and provided by Greens. The lunch was made up of almost entirely local cuisine, including a homemade vegetarian soup, and breads from Normal Bread which bakes in the most energy efficient way possible. There was cider from Red Jacket Orchards, compostable tableware, locally-made lunch meats and jams, and a local egg salad. With warm and sunny weather outside, many people chose to lounge on the slate and grass in front of Stern. There they created a small, human pyramid, chatted and talked politics and gender.
With stomachs full, and in high spirits from the good weather and apparent success of the tabling event, the crowd of people then dispersed to the workshops, which were split into two sessions so participants could view more than one if they chose. One of the workshops, conducted by Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty Donna Davenport, involved using modern dance to act out gender stereotypes; another involved holding different sized balls representing the various aspects of life that women often juggle. Among the other, varied topics covered were women and the economy, gender issues in Indonesia, perceptions of gender and how we react to people trying to “get out of the gender box.”
Interim dean of William Smith College Cerri Banks explained that the Social Justice Collective, which co-sponsored the event, grew out of her social justice class.
“Students from my class wanted to do something, to say something. They wanted to put what they learned in my class to practice, to educate others. The conference grew from my students and a grant.” She explained she likes to encourage intellectual discussion and many social justice problems can be solved by engaging a larger number of people. “People walked away from this conference with a better understanding of themselves and of others.”
The Social Justice Collective does an annual conference, and because this year’s topic was gender, the two clubs decided that they would merge the conferences rather than have two conferences on the same issue.
“The decision to merge the conferences was a good one” says Amy Nadel ’09, co-president of Women’s Collective. “It brought together more people, more perspectives, and more insight on gender, a major issue in the world today.”
Hobart Associate Dean Chip Capraro expressed a desire to see more clubs collaborate on large conferences like this. “Joint sponsorship is always more effective, as finding common ground and using an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving makes the conference more of a success.” Capraro ran a workshop at the conference through which he wanted to make the case that men and women are gendered beings. He addressed the issue of men and masculinity, stating that men, who as a group are powerful, do not feel so as individuals.
Wendy D. Puriefoy ’71, the president of Public Education Network, the largest collaboration of public school reform advocacy groups in the country since its conception in 1991, participated in the conference. She is an expert in school reform and advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged children and expressed her admiration for the people who put on the conference, calling it a step in the right direction.
Project Eye-to-Eye, which advocates on behalf of students with disabilities in college, also had a table and a panel in the conference. Alexandra Bowers ‘09, the president of Project Eye-to-Eye at HWS said that it is often hard for students in college to deal with their disabilities, and gender stereotypes never help, “Society makes it harder for men to ask for help, because it looks down on behavior as feminine, and not as masculine. As a result, many men with disabilities often go unaided, which causes them to be unable to live and work up to their potential.”
There were many other clubs involved in the conference, among them Amnesty International and Arts Collective. All had tables in the Library Atrium at the beginning of the conference and workshops afterwards.