At a moment in time when feminist activism is coinciding with racial and LGBTQ+ movements, a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Without Limits panel on Nov. 10 explored how the conversation around women’s and gender issues has changed across generations with a greater focus on intersectionality, and how best to reflect those changes in the classroom.
“Feminism & Gender Oppressions: Ideas and Actions” featured New Paltz Sociology Chair Anne Roschelle and Assistant Professor of English Crystal Donkor; graduate students Lizzy Sobiesk ’23g (English) and Erin Boss ’23g (English); Rev. Allison Moore of the Episcopal Campus Ministry and community activist Rae Leiner. English Professor Mary Holland served as moderator.
A good portion of the roundtable discussion was centered around how women’s and gender studies have been framed historically in academics, especially when it comes to people of color.
Roschelle brought up the Cohambee River Collective, a movement from 1974-1980 of Black lesbian feminists who advocated for a feminist movement that was inclusive of Black women and LGBTQ+ women.
“It’s important that we pay respect to the founding mothers,” she said. “Intersectionality has been around for a while, and I think it’s important for us to see the roots.”
The panelists also explored the growing recognition that gender is not defined by a binary male vs. female idea, and is instead all-encompassing of multiple identities.
“Gender non-conforming, transgender and gender nonbinary folks have always been here,” said Leiner, who identifies as gender nonbinary. “What we’re dealing with now is a reclamation of that language.”
For Donkor, the more inclusive nature of modern feminist discourse is sparking up a dynamic dialogue in her classes.
“The ways that students challenge what I’m teaching has me thinking on my feet about new ways to be critical in what we’re studying at the moment,” she said.
Roundtable moderator Holland concurred with her fellow academics that changes in gender oppression conversations must be addressed in the classroom through providing more nuanced academic experiences.
“We can be well-positioned as gatekeepers in academia in not providing access to generating broader knowledge,” she said. “We have to confront some of the harder things within ourselves.”
Roschelle sent praise to the audience of mostly New Paltz students for making the feminist movement more intersectional, both in and out of the classroom.
“I see you, the future academics and scholars, who are building coalitions across differences to create change,” she said. “My generation of feminists has a lot to learn from you.”
About Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts
SUNY New Paltz’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences offers this series to make connections among the many aspects of the liberal arts while inviting campus and community partners to investigate the meaning and role of liberal education in the 21st century.
The theme for the 2022-23 academic year is “Intersectional Activism across Generations.” Each of the discussions delves into how the liberal arts can illuminate activism through multigenerational and intersectional lenses and connect people with opportunities to do activist work in our local and global communities.