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On Wednesday, March 29, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Lisa Moore led a cultural conversation on black feminist thought in relation to the social justice movement. The event was the third cultural conversation to take place at St. Olaf this year. The conversation was attended by students and faculty alike, all eager to expand their knowledge of intersectionality in the feminist movement.
Moore, an alumna of Davidson College, did not get the chance to begin her studies of gender and feminism until graduate sch ool.
“There was only one class in t he [gender studies] major when I was in college,” she said.
St. Olaf offers a variety of classes in the department, and classes from many others disciplines that satisfy the requirements for the major. Moore hoped that the conversation would enhance people’s knowledge of feminism and intersectionality, regardless of whether or not people were women’s and gender studies majors. Many attendees shared their own experiences with feminism and how their thoughts changed after taking a women’s and gender studies class at St. Olaf.
“Something that has come up a lot in my [women’s and gender studies] class are hidden narratives, or things that you don’t necessarily learn about in your normal history class but are nonetheless important,” one student said during the conversation. “I’m here to learn more about these marginalized voices.”
Moore began the talk by asking people what they understood black feminist thought to be, or what came to mind when people thought about it. Many students named people that they associated with black feminism, all the way from Sojourner Truth to Audre Lorde. Many already had some background knowledge on the topic, but for others, this lecture was their first encounter with black feminist thought.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind [that] the context in which we learn about different forms of feminist thought is very much dependent on the body of material you are studying and where it is studied,” Moore said.
During the lecture, one concept that repeatedly emerged was the notion of intersectionality and how it is tied to black feminist thought. Simply defined, intersectionality is the interconnectedness in the oppression of different social categorizations such as race, class and gender.
“A lot of people think that black feminist thought is essentially intersectionality, but I actually find it to be a lot more complicated than that,” Moore said. “Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term [intersectionality] to describe something that black feminist thought is striving for.”
The majority of attendees were white, which reflects the makeup of St. Olaf’s student body. However, Moore emphasized that black feminism is itself an inclusive platform.
“We shouldn’t presume that in order for one to be aligned with black feminist thought that one has to be black and female,” Moore said. She referred to Patricia Hill Collins, one of the more prominent figures of black feminism, who argues that everyone should have the opportunity to be in alliance with it.
“We can’t say that black feminist thought is the exclusive province of black feminists,” Moore said.
One problem that often arises in the various feminist movements is how to be a good ally.
“When you are in the process of organizing anything, it is important to look at who is sitting on both sides of you and ask yourself if it is really representative,” Moore said. She urged people to be explicitly inclusive to show their alignment with something, citing an example from when she organized a support group but failed to clarify that it was not just for cisgender women.
“You have to think about all aspects of what you are doing, and realize how it will affect more people than just those who are in the room,” she said.
Overall, students were able to take away quite a lot from the conversation Moore led, and their reasons for attending varied.
“I came to learn and listen,” one student said. “I haven’t had much exposure to this topic at all and I really want to hear more from people of color about their experiences.”
Moore hopes to someday create a class at St. Olaf exclusively on black feminism, and she hopes that everyone will continue to strive for more exposure to the topic.
On Thursday, March 2, campus buzzed with excitement surrounding the Political Awareness Committee’s spring speaker, Angela Davis. Though her lecture began at 5:30 p.m., students began crowding the bridge between Boe Chapel and Buntrock Commons as early as 3 p.m., and by 4:30 p.m. the line extended all the way through Buntrock and to Rolvaag Library.
Davis is an extremely influential political activist who emerged as a prominent countercultural figure in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, she continues to discuss pertinent issues, particularly economic, racial and gender justice. She also firmly stands against the general criminalization of marginalized groups, something that has led to a booming prison population.
Davis’ talk was highly anticipated despite many students being unfamiliar with her.
“I didn’t know who she was initially, but I did my research beforehand once I heard about all the hype,” Claire Chenoweth ’20 said as she caught up on her homework while waiting patiently for the chapel doors to open. Some were more diehard fans. Lilia Escobar ’17 was at the front of the line and had arrived at 2:30 p.m. to ensure she got the best seat in the house.
“If you’ve learned anything about civil rights then you know how big Angela Davis is,” Escobar said.
Attendees were ushered into Boe Chapel beginning at 5 p.m., and by 5:15 it was already clear that the chapel was not going to fit everyone in line. Overflow seating was provided at the Pause Mane Stage, where the speech was live-streamed. Davis entered the chapel before her introduction even began, and the entire crowd jumped up for a standing ovation before PAC’s coordinator Eden Faure ’17 could give her opening remarks.
Davis began by urging the audience to reflect on the space they inhabited.
“Are you aware that we are gathering on indigenous land?” Davis asked. The room responded with a frenzy of applause.
Apart from initially mixing up the town of Northfield with the city of Rochester, Davis gave a memorable talk emphasizing the concept of intersectionality.
“Our struggles are all related,” Davis said. “We all need to work together to guarantee a planet that is inhabitable.” Like many Americans, Davis fears that President Trump’s administration is taking social justice movements many steps backwards after they had been on the rise in recent decades.
Davis made many remarks regarding Trump, with the most notable being, “Make America white supremacist again,” mocking his campaign slogan. Even before Trump took office, Davis always had her doubts about American society.
“In the U.S., we tend to be very myopic … we only think about what is happening here,” she said. “This country is responsible for so much of the misery in the world.”
The central part of her talk, which also happens to be a key part of her work in activism, was focused on the corporatization of prisons, something she has called the “privatization of punishment.” She argued that racism and capitalism have always been intertwined and that marginalized groups are so negatively affected by capitalism that they end up in prisons due to a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. It has gotten so bad today, she says, that the economy now depends on soaring prison populations. Davis noted, for example, that in the U.S. today there are more black men in prison than there were enslaved in 1850.
In closing, Davis told the audience that in order to see change happen, we need to have an entire structural transformation.
“I would like to urge people to engage in the practice of helping to produce a better world for human beings of all racial, ethnic, gender and religious backgrounds,” she said. “As humans, we cannot disassociate ourselves from other sentient beings on this planet.”
Davis reminded listeners about International Women’s Day on March 8. She encouraged women to participate in a “A Day Without Women” by taking a day off from paid and unpaid labor, and she encouraged all people to wear red to show solidarity on that day.