It felt incredibly strange making my way to Kruezburg this morning. As we approach the end of our third and final week in Berlin, I finally feel comfortable navigating the city without needing my GPS every five minutes. The thought of leaving Berlin soon is baffling to me.
As the U-Bahn left the station, we made our way down from the Kotbusser Tor platform and headed to ReachOut. As the class trickled up the stairwell, Biblap Basu opened the front doors of ReachOut to greet us. We gathered around a table where he started with an introduction of his work with civil rights. Basu is from India and has lived in Germany since 1979. As a university student both in India and Germany, he has always been involved in civil rights work. In 1984, Basu began to examine how racism manifests in Germany. In the 1990s, there was a great increase in the number of attacks against communities of color. By the end of the 1990s, the government decided to start a program in response to the growing attacks; thus was the inception of ReachOut in 2000.
ReachOut is an organization that offers counseling to victims of right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, or racist violence in Berlin. Additionally, because it is funded by the state, these counseling services offered by ReachOut are free. As one of its founding members, Basu explained how ReachOut was the first program that focused its work on victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Basu works as a counselor at ReachOut. To give us an idea of what ReachOut does for the community, Basu delved into what counseling work entails for him. Counseling connects you with people. “It becomes intimate,” exclaimed Basu. You build relationships with communities and form networks. First and foremost, he emphasized the importance of listening to victims’ stories. Furthermore, Basu talked about listening to the stories of these victims without judgment. “Give victims the feeling and confidence of ‘I believe you!’” Working with vulnerable populations, such as victims of violence, requires a tremendous amount of physical and emotional work.
As I watched Basu light up as he spoke about the work he does, it is evident how people within counseling need to be compassionate and authentic with their clients. For example, ReachOut makes great strides to ensure that victims of violence who come in to seek help are not pushed along from one organization’s door to another. As a counselor, Basu makes it clear that he is working with victims. He expressed, “Let people understand that they are not beggars. They have the right to this service.” This phrase stuck with me the most. He wants them to know that they are in control of their own lives. They took the first steps by seeking counseling, and will continue to decide for themselves what they would like to do not only throughout this process but throughout their lives. In this way, ReachOut seeks to empower victims and restore agency.
Over the course of the next few years, Basu took note of the discrepancies between the legal actions taken for victims of police violence in comparison to that of other groups of victims who have experienced violence. As he pointed out, “Victims of police violence are not believed.” Further, victims of police violence receive little aid and often get treated as perpetrators. For instance, in 2002, a victim of police brutality came into ReachOut seeking counseling. As Basu recounted this man’s story, everyone in the room could see the many stark parallels between police brutality in the United States and Germany. ReachOut continued to work on this case but soon realized just how poorly funded their organization was. As a result, ReachOut began a legal aid fund in efforts to raise money to hire advocates and aid in the court processes. However, as in most social justice work, raising money alone was not sufficient. It was evident to Basu that these people were clearly victims of racial violence. Even with the work they were pursuing, moving forward proved to be a challenge with the lack of acknowledgement of racial violence throughout the society. As Audre Lorde points out in the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, “To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s visions as well as the weaponries born of particular experience. First, we must recognize each other” (ix). Along these lines, the words of Dr. Maisha Eggers rang through my head, “If you’re dealing with oppression…there is no way you are going to do that in a place of isolation.” Working as a collective creates a space in which dialogues can be started. In such spaces, collectively allows for reflection and the formation of language of one’s experiences. ReachOut came to the realization that the public needed to be informed about the injustices that victims of institutional violence face.
In 2004, the term “racial profiling” was introduced into German public discourse. A speaker from the Institute of Race Relations came to Germany to speak to the public about what racial profiling is. However, Basu recounted how at the end of the talk, no one in the audience had any questions, which, as he reflected upon it today, came as no surprise. How could people begin to understand racial profiling with such a lack of awareness and recognition of racial violence as a problem? Along these lines, even in 2012, a young Black German boy was traveling on a train when he was approached by police officers who asked to see his ID. As in many instances across both Germany and the United States, when the young boy asked for the reasoning behind the senseless request, he was met with hostility from the police officers. Despite the evident racial profiling that was committed by the police officers, the courts dismissed his complaints and ruled that skin color was reasonable grounds on which to carry out ID checks. Hearing about this case brought to mind the term “person with a migration background.” Basu explained how many people of color are often asked to show their IDs by police officers because they are profiled as migrants. As Sharon Dodua Otoo points out in Winter Shorts,
“[The term ‘person with a migration background’] is rarely used to describe certain white non-Germans- I think white US Americans for example do not feel addressed by it. On the other hand, people who were born and raised in Germany, and who do not look white, are often labeled as having a ‘migration background’ (15-16).
Earlier in our conversation, Basu pointed out how up until the mid-1990s racism wasn’t a term used in Germany. Basu also exclaimed how many people in Germany cannot fathom how racism could exist within institutions such as the police administration. There continues to be a great consensus in Germany believing that racism no longer exist; racism ended alongside with the National Socialism era. Instead, many people argue that there is a great fear of foreigners (xenophobia). For instance, in “Turks in the New Germany,” Jenny B. White writes, “Black means for the whites [:] abroad, foreign, not German. That’s why supposedly in Germany there is no racism, but only hostility to foreigners (Auslander- feindlichkeit)” (760). This particular case brought an enormous wave of attention to ReachOut because they had been talking about racial profiling long before the case. As a result, film director Riccardo Valsecchi sought a collaboration with ReachOut on a film he wanted to create following the 2012 sentence in Germany. Subsequently, ID-Without Colors was released in 2013. Initially, the film was denied entry into several film festivals, especially in Germany. However, it is now being circulated internationally and continues to receive recognition.
Today, ReachOut continues to counsel victims of violence, as well as, works to develop strategies to study and eradicate police violence. Basu was excited to introduce an Android app in development that will allow for users to record incidents of violence. The app also logs the user’s location using GPS and takes pictures of anyone who incorrectly inputs the phone password. Both the audio and video that is recorded is immediately saved every minute and sent to the user’s Cloud so they are not at risk of losing footage if their phones are confiscated or destroyed. ReachOut is also seeking ways to record every confrontation police officers make, which include confrontations that do not result in charges. In this way, records and statistics can be gathered to help further study cases of institutional violence. While ReachOut has made and continues to make a great impact within marginalized communities, Basu has also acknowledged ways in which ReachOut can improve its services for the community. More specifically, Basu voiced the need for ReachOut to begin to look at incidents of institutional violence through an intersectional lens. Until recently, there has been little focus on how women and trans people are affected in different ways by institutional violence. Still, there is no denying how crucial the work Basu and ReachOut have completed within marginalized German communities. As the conversation began to wrap up, we were able to reflect on how far ReachOut has come but also be conscious of the work within this social justice movement that needs to be done. Basu’s passion for his work radiated throughout the room. Being able to hear from and talk to people and groups in Berlin, such as Basu at ReachOut has been infinitely inspiring. Once again, I am incredibly appreciative of the chance to be able to enter these spaces while in Berlin; it has been a humbling experience.
Alejandra Hernandez is a rising junior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track, and is planning to attend medical school. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love reading and dancing to Latin music. While in Berlin, she is excited to explore and learn about different cultures and communities.
Waking up this morning was surprisingly not as difficult as I had thought it would be. I willed myself to stay awake yesterday despite all of the naps I almost took while riding the U-Bahn. As I reflect on my first week in Berlin, I am baffled by how much history and how many narratives I have been given the privilege to hear and learn about. I was particularly excited for today’s class, since we were going to learn more about Generation ADEFRA 2.0. ADEFRA, an organization based in Germany that was created in 1986 by six Black lesbian German women, focuses on the empowerment of Black women. According to Jasmin Eding in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” the word ADEFRA means “’the woman who shows courage’ in the Ethiopian language, Amharean” (131). In a few words, the organization enables Black women to explore what it means to be Black in a predominantly White German society. The organization has had a tremendous impact on various Black communities in Germany, and I was excited to engage in dialogue with three of its most influential members.
Upon our arrival, Cheanna, Amy, and I were warmly greeted at the door of Begine by Peggy Piesche. Piesche is a Black lesbian women who was born and raised in East Germany, staying, as she put it, “until the bitter end.” Peggy works in education, more specifically in Literature Studies, European Studies, and Diaspora Studies,, among other subjects. As we sat down, the entire class began to trickle into the room. Then came Dr. Maisha Eggers. Eggers was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. She migrated to Germany where she does social work and various forms of education, such as Gender Studies. Finally, Katja Kinder joined our group. Kinder is from Berlin, where she works as a conflict mediator and counselor. She is also a founding member of ADEFRA. With the addition of a couple more chairs, we all sat and began to simply talk to one another.
Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers were all brought together through ADEFRA. As they began to talk about their involvement with the organization, each of these individuals expressed a lack of language they felt before they found ADEFRA. ADEFRA flourished into a safe space for Black women and gender non-conforming individuals. They each emphasized how vital it was and continues to be to come together as a collective and work from a creative space in order to define who they are on their own terms by creating safe spaces, sharing knowledge and experiences, and articulating these knowledges and experiences. For example, both Piesche and Kinder shared with the group how, as lesbian Black women, they had to come out in many ways. Additionally, Eggers expressed how difficult it was for her believing she was one of few Black woman in Germany. ADEFRA became a space in which they could begin to create language that allowed them to define and explore their intersectional identities. Kinder recalled during the inception of ADEFRA how members searched the street for Black women, handing out hand-made flyers and encouraging these women to attend meetings by word of mouth.
Thirty years later, the room I now sat in, still remains a safe place for these Black women of Germany. As they shared their stories, I felt incredibly privileged and honored to have been invited into the physical meeting place where ADEFRA holds their meetings. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers recounted the challenges of being Black in a White society, particularly during the 1980’s. Along these lines, Kinder also explained how the building next door remains a living space exclusively for lesbian women. Over the course of the past week, we have continually heard about the isolation that many Black Germans experienced, especially in 1980s Germany. While I could in no way begin to comprehend what it must have felt like to grow up being completely isolated, I can identify with the need for a safe space. At a predominately white institutions, such as Colorado College, many of my peers who identify as women of color and I have found it tremendously difficult to claim a safe space that is our own. I never imagined how emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting isolation could be. On that note, Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers stressed the importance of coming together collectively. As Eggers stated, “If you are dealing with oppression…there is no way you are going to do that in a place of isolation.” Thus, collective spaces play an important role in the creation of languages. Through these created languages, marginalized groups are able to define themselves and their experiences. However, with the creation of language comes the danger of it being consumed by mainstream culture. Along these lines, Kinder warned, “It is not me anymore as soon as it goes mainstream.” Thus, these safe spaces are imperative to members in communities to connect with one another and keep these languages and images of themselves. In this way, a collective and creative space can lead to collective reflection. Further, as ADEFRA continues to thrive, it has become a multi-generational organization. Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers lovingly call themselves the “queer aunts” of ADEFRA.
We later delved into a conversation about heteronormativity, a creation of colonialism. Piesche discussed how queerness has been “cannibalized” by the white world, which replaces itself as the original. People of color, who identify as queer, are then looked at in surprise because we come from “backward” cultures, when, in reality, Eggers pointed out how these intersectional histories have always been here. Here, I was reminded of Eggers explanation of the difference between sharing knowledge and sharing information. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Eggers writes, “Referencing knowledges that are being produced away from (and outside of) the hegemonic center of the West is a further advance in the project of decolonization” (13). There has been an erasure and white washing of queer histories within communities of colors, which has worked to further silence us. As the “queer aunts,” Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers explain how ADEFRA is a “collective archive of queer Black knowledge.” They conveyed how it is important for them to allow for younger generations to find themselves on their own however, they also expressed the want to be there for them to share their language and experiences.
As the dialogue carried on, the group began to speak about how identity and knowledge is articulated. Both Piesche and Eggers shared how writing themselves into existence and reading it is crucial to a community. For Eggers, reading about how other black women dealt with their oppressions helped pull her out of her isolation. Writing makes her feel that is no longer alone. Piesche stressed the importance of not just looking at different genres but also different formats of writing is important, such as poetry. However, Kinder didn’t express these sentiments; “No I don’t have to be in any book, I don’t want to be in history…we exist, period.” She critiques the articulation of knowledge and identity through books as limiting. “We have so many books, but we still have all of this oppression…we need to think about much more than just books.” Though Piesche, Kinder, and Eggers had different standpoints on this topic, they emphasized that storytelling and sharing experiences is, nonetheless, powerful. In “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,”Eggers also explains,
Sharing knowledge is perceived to entail a deeper commitment than merely consuming information. It involves engaging deeply with the power-critical analyses produced in everyday contexts. Within a critical pedagogy of decolonization, access to alternative knowledges can deeply influence action and the direction of social movement work (13).
ADEFRA’s activism is based on creating an informal, easy-going space where Black women and gender non-conforming individuals can meet each other where knowledge is shared rather than information. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, Audre Lorde writes, “In the interest of all of our survivals and the survival of our children, these Black German Women claim their color and their voices” (xiv). ADEFRA plays a crucial role in the community for Black German women and gender non-conforming individuals.
Sadly, the class had to come to an end. I leaned back in my chair dazed by how incredible the conversation had gone. Meeting with members of ADEFRA and hearing their narratives was surreal after having read about them. As I said goodbye and headed down the stairs, I couldn’t help but think about collectivity and creativity. There are days when I think I can do everything on my own; I am strong. But what is so wrong about coming together? I thought of the ways in which I identify and how I think and move in creative ways. Kinder said, “Whatever is normative kills us because we live in a creative space.” Identity should be defined on your own terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on your own.
Alejandra Hernandez is a rising junior majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies. She is also on the Pre-Medicine track, and is planning to attend medical school. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love reading and dancing to Latin music. While in Berlin, she is excited to explore and learn about different cultures and communities.
I first became familiar with Grace Montesano (Feminist & Gender Studies and Political Science ‘17) when they wrote “Attention, Straight Allies” for the Block 2 2013 Monthly Rag. In it, they write, “Being a good ally doesn’t mean you will tolerate two men kissing in privacy, it means you actively fight the hetero and cis sexist power structure under which we all live. Don’t expect extra points from queer people just for putting up with us.” After reading that, I thought, “Wow! Who’s this fierce young buck?” Not long after, they enrolled in my Critical Race Feminism course during Half-Block 2014, making them the eldest member of the FemGeniuses in this course. Soon after, we connected on Facebook, and the rest is history. There are few students on Facebook that I enjoy “watching” more than Grace, especially because they are one of the smartest and most hilarious people I know. They’ll go from posting a scathing and fierce critique of white heteropatriarchal capitalist supremacy to posting about their Queering Fashion blog to posting hilarious thoughts about Justin Bieber. Grace is just all the things. Grace was also a student in my Feminist Theory in Block 6 2015. Always the leader, they served as the Editor for Guns & Rosie, along with 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin member Jazlyn Andrews, which, according to them, “is a magazine for women in the military to read and relate to, because no matter what our theories about the military, the women on the ground need a place of sisterhood to deal with this taxing occupation.” I wasn’t surprised that Grace and their team chose to write about matters that are just as important outside of the academy as inside of it—if not more—because they’re always thinking intersectionally, even when they’re not in class. This is probably why Grace was as instrumental part of “The Stonewall X,” along with Baheya, and Black Women Matter with Ivy. For these reasons, I know Grace will benefit greatly from this course, and I’m looking forward to seeing their intellectual growth in Berlin and back on-campus. [UPDATE: Never one to let a mistake slip, and they shouldn’t be, Grace reminded me today that we actually met when they took my Critical Race Feminism course during Half-Block 2014. I guess I really am getting old. Hahahaha.]
Cheanna Gavin (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18) took her very first college course, Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies (First-Year Experience), with me during the fall 2014 semester. She was also a student in my Feminist Theory course this past spring. Not long after FYE, Cheanna decided to major in Feminist & Gender Studies and I serve as her adviser, so we’ve also gotten pretty close over the years. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the years—from a very quiet and shy first-year student to a strong, confident young woman who’s really thoughtful and intelligent. I was particularly impressed with the thinking she illustrated in “Miley Cyrus and the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy,” the final video project she produced with her classmates in FYE, which “problematizes mediated analyses of Miley Cyrus that rely primarily on the Madonna-Whore dichotomy.” Not long after, she started to “come out of her shell” when she published “Domestic Violence and the NFL,” a courageous think piece, in the Block 2 2014 Monthly Rag. More specifically, she writes, “The fact that it took a video of [Ray Rice] punching his wife to bring the severity of the issue into perspective is a huge problem. Both young boys and girls get the message that this is not a big deal. Young boys see that they won’t be severely punished without visual proof, and young girls see that their voice alone will not be heard.” Most recently, Cheanna served as a Journalist for Artisan, the final magazine project she produced with her teammates in Feminist Theory. For Artisan, Cheanna wrote “Revolutionary Feminist Hip Hop,” which introduces readers to hip hop artists Shadia Mansour and Ana Tijoux in order to explore the relationship between feminism and hip hop. Along these lines, her interest in art is one thing that I think will really motivate her during this course, especially since so many intellectuals in Berlin value artistic expression, and I hope her interests strengthen in this course and throughout her time in college.
Alejandra Hernandez (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18) was also a student in my fall 2014 FYE course. She also declared the Feminist & Gender Studies major soon after, and I’ve served as her adviser ever since. I should also mention that she and Cheanna are best friends and that I affectionately refer to them as “The Bopsy Twinz.” It’s funny to think about our advising sessions when I would ask them, “Y’all gon’ take every class together?!” On a serious note, though, Alejandra is an extremely special young woman. She’s super shy and very quiet, but she is one of the smartest students I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. She may not talk often in class, but when she does, she causes even me to think more closely and carefully about our studies. As a first-year, she contributed a great deal to “Behind the Scenes: The Hyper-Sexualization and Objectification of Women during Fashion Week,” the final group video project she produced with her teammates that “explores hyper-sexualized and objectified constructions of women during New York’s Fashion Week.” Most recently, in Feminist Theory, Alejandra served as the Editor for Artisan, writing, “Using a feminist perspective, we aspire to seek, explore, and critique works of art that do feminist work in hopes of showing you, our reader, that feminism can go beyond the walls of a classroom. Artisan hopes to spur and inspire new thoughts and conversations. Our team strives to create a space that spotlights, shares, and celebrates powerful works of art dedicated to empower women and gender non-conforming individuals.” I cannot tell you how proud I was to see Alejandra step into a leadership role and to take her role as a leader as seriously as she did. Due to her leadership, that magazine has become one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to share it with students in Feminist Theory next year and to see how the great work in Artisan influences them to create a fabulous magazine.
Ivy Wappler (Feminist & Gender Studies ’18 and The Monthly Rag Editor, 2016-2017) was also a student in my FYE with Cheanna and Alejandra. She was also a student in my Critical Media Studies course just two blocks after FYE and in my Feminist Theory course this past spring. She’s also a Feminist & Gender Studies major and I serve as her adviser, so we’ve gotten to know each other really well over the past couple years. Ivy is energetic, humorous, and kind. She’s also very thoughtful and smart and willing to continue learning as she figures out who she is and who she wants to be. I first became intrigued with Ivy’s curiosity when she co-created “Sorority Life: Corrosion of Female Empowerment” for her final group video project in FYE. In this video, the group “explores how mediated constructions of primarily white sororities ignore the ways in which these organizations often perpetuated hegemonic gender norms.” Subsequently in Critical Media Studies, Ivy and her team produced “Act Like A Man, Man!: An Examination of Old Spice Ads,” which critiques the ways Old Spice advertisements perpetuate heteronormativity and hegemonic whiteness. Most recently, Ivy served as the Graphic Designer for the final group magazine project in Feminist Theory, helping her group to create GREEN QUEEN, a magazine that aims “to create a safe place for all people to read and learn about ecofeminism!” Outside of the classroom, Ivy’s commitment to theorizing and problematizing these and various other forms of oppressions led her to take an active—albeit careful and critical—role in the Black Women Matter demonstrations on our campus, illustrating her ability to seriously think about and examine problems that are relevant both within and outside of the academy. I think this is a big reason why she’ll appreciate this course, and I sincerely hope that she remains committed to that trajectory throughout and after her college career.
Baheya Malaty (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18), whom I affectionately refer to as “HeyHey,” and I first met when they were a student in my Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course just over a year ago during Block 5 2015. I knew then that they would grow to become an intellectual force to be reckoned with. They didn’t talk a whole lot in class—something they’re very careful about—but when they did, they almost always said things that made the whole class stand at attention. At the end of the course, Baheya produced “The Solo Exception: The Implications of Categorization of Female Athletes in the Media,” the final group video project they produced with their classmates that “explores the various categorizations in which female athletes are pigeonholed based on gender norms.” Since then, Baheya has been very particular about making intersectional analyses paramount to their academic and personal life. For instance, they were an instrumental part of what I refer to as “The Stonewall X,” a group of students committed to shifting the Colorado College culture to be more reflective of our important and ever-growing LGBTQIA student population. Additionally, Baheya co-founded the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Colorado College, which aims “to promote the cause of justice and speak out against oppression.” It wasn’t surprising, then, when Baheya chose to become an Editor for the student magazine project in my Feminist Theory course this past spring and helped to produce The PWIssue, which, according to them, resists the popular institutional model of “adding color” to college campuses rather than “fostering healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities.” I know that Baheya will learn a great deal about intersectional leadership from our comrades in Berlin, and I am eager to see how their learning in this course manifests in their intellectual work both on-campus and off.
Nitika Reddy (Economics & Business ‘17) and I first met when she was a student in my Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course during Block 5 2015 with Baheya. Subsequently, she decided to declare a Feminist & Gender studies minor, and I serve as her minor adviser. Nitika is one of the brightest students I know, and I mean that intellectually and personally. It’s nearly impossible to be in a “bad” mood around her, which is something that I know her classmates and I will appreciate while we’re abroad. She’s also especially smart, having produced one of my favorite student group video projects to date, “Collard Greens & a Side of Gender Rolls,” which “explores constructions of gender roles on the Food Network’s Southern at Heart starring Damaris Phillips and Good Eats starring Alton Brown.” The very next block, Nitika continued pursuing her intellectual commitment to Feminist & Gender Studies when she enrolled in my Feminist Theory course. There, Nitika advanced her collaborative skills by serving as the Editorial Assistant for Wave: A Fem Rag, along with Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Kadesha Caradine, which aims “to shed light on feminist topics in a way that is empowering and productive in our advancement for the equal opportunity of women.” Whenever we get a chance to talk privately about issues related to my classes, Nitika always expresses a deep concern with being able to conduct intersectional analyses that consider race, gender, sexuality, class, and other markers. Hence, I think her participation in this course will have a deep impact on the ways she is able to converge her interests in Economics & Business and Feminist & Gender Studies all while having a great time.
Amy Valencia (Political Science ‘17) was also a student in my Block 5 2015 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course with Baheya and Nitika with whom she helped produced “Collard Greens & a Side of Gender Rolls.” Like Nitika, she continued her journey into Feminist & Gender Studies by taking Feminist Theory during Block 6 2015. In that course, she served as Editor for College Grrrl: An Alternative Magazine for the Liberal Arts Woman, along with 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin Willa Rentel, Jade Frost, and Spencer Spotts, which, according to Amy, “provides access to knowledge that is not immediately accessible on liberal arts college campuses, and empowers those who identify as women to acquire agency for change and improvement.” Most recently, Amy was a student in my Critical Media Studies course this past spring and produced one of my favorite student media projects to date, “The Production of an Enemy: Misrepresentations of Muslims in the News,” which examines a Time magazine cover and CNN news story in order to argue, “The constantly vilified images of Muslims spur not only anger and tension, but also a misunderstanding of Islam. Due to this media bias, the numbers of Islamic extremists and Islamophobes have grown rapidly, perpetuating hatred, violence, and conflict.” Along with her classmates, Amy also produced a new magazine cover and brief news story that aim “to humanize Muslims by opening a platform for the silenced narratives of victimization and fear, not only spurred by the attacks but also due to misplaced responsibility.” One thing I really appreciate about Amy is her ability to take her learning very seriously. She pays careful attention to the reading materials I assign and our conversations during class in order to conduct multidimensional analyses that challenge various forms of oppression. Since Amy is clearly invested in doing work that is valuable both within and outside of the academy, I know she will appreciate taking this course and learning from intellectuals that occupy myriad spaces in Berlin in order to affect change.
Amelia Eskenazi (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘19) and I first met when I called “The Stonewall X” into my office for a “come to Jesus” meeting. One of the things I appreciated most about Amelia then and even now is their ability to be attentive to critique as they find their intellectual place. For that reason, Amelia is always, always, always doing their best to learn. They’re as good a listener as they are a talker—and yes, they talk quite a bit (haha). So, I wasn’t surprised when Amelia showed up in my Feminist Theory course this past spring and served as a Journalist for Artisanand wrote one of my favorite student magazine articles to date, “The ‘Art Hoe’ Movement: Co-Opting, Empowerment, and Reclamation.” Here, Amelia writes, “We must analyze the ways in which the movement’s original goal has been skewed into a series of posts about color schemes, clothing patterns, and sunglass styles, fueling consumerism and capitalistic values rather than a furthering of the discussion concerning the erasure of people of color in mainstream media and art.” Did I mention that Amelia is a first-year student? Pretty impressive, right? Still, Amelia also realizes that they have a lot of learning to do in order to achieve their intellectual goals, and I’m confident this course will help them pursue their passions more saliently.
I first met Lila Schmitz (Film & Media Studies ’18) when she was a student in my Critical Media Studies course and produced “The Production of an Enemy: Misrepresentations of Muslims in the News” with Amy. She was also a student in my Feminist Theory course, serving as Graphic Designer for Artisan. Artisan is showing up quite a bit, huh? Perhaps I should call these students the Artisans in Berlin. Haha. I was thrilled when Lila first told me she was interested in taking this course, because I really appreciate her intellect and humor. She always makes insightful comments in class and asks some pretty important questions—one of my favorite things. Further, she always finds a way to make me laugh, something I’ll really appreciate while we’re abroad. While I’m still getting to know Lila, I’m confident that she’ll learn a great deal from this course and that her learning in Berlin will have powerful implications for the learning I’m sure she’ll do when we come back to campus and for the rest of her life.
While Amanda Cahn (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) hadn’t taken a class with me prior to this one, we first met during the spring 2014 semester when she decided to declare a major in Feminist & Gender Studies and asked me to serve as her adviser. Hence, I’m looking forward to getting to know her more in Berlin. Amanda has a great deal of experience traveling abroad, but I am positive that her learning in Berlin will be especially unique and fulfilling. Along these lines, I was particularly struck by Amanda’s response to a question on her application for this course: “Photographs are great to have for memories and for sharing with people back home, but there are also experiences lost when the camera is the focus.” In this way, Amanda seems to be acutely aware of the distinctions between being a so-called “traveler” and a “tourist,” and I’m hoping that she’ll share her wisdoms—even as she continues to learn—with me and her classmates.
Claudia Harrison (Classics/History/Politics ‘17) is the newest member of the FemGeniuses crew, as this is her first class with me and this will be our first experience getting to know one another. While it is risky for a professor to take a student abroad with whom they have little to no relationship, Claudia doesn’t worry me one bit. Aside from the fact that she and Nitika are good friends, I was particularly impressed by her application for the course. For instance, in response to one question, Claudia wrote about a great experience she had taking Elementary German with my colleague Christiane “Ane” Steckenbiller. Her experience was especially great because “Ane” helped her realize that learning language is inextricably linked to learning about a country’s many cultures. More specifically, Claudia wrote, “Having only taken Latin as a language in the past, I never noticed how much of modern culture is embedded in language and how the language we use affects how we treat marginalized communities.” This kind of thinking will be particularly valuable for Claudia, her classmates, and me while we’re in Berlin. And I’m looking forward to Claudia sharing her previous knowledge with us so that we have as rich and full of an experience as possible.
I’m also excited to announce that Dana M. Asbury will be serving as our Course Associate this summer! Dana and I became fast friends when we met in 2013, because she is one of the smartest, sweetest, most thoughtful, kindest people I know. Presently, she lives in Memphis, TN with her beloveds: human, feline, and canine. She’s currently West Tennessee Organizer with Healthy and Free Tennessee, a statewide coalition of people and organizations building grassroots power for sexual health and reproductive freedom in the U.S. South. She’s also a photographer who has had the luck and honor to document various events and actions in beloved communities across the country and Caribbean including, but not limited to, those organized by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) at Yale, New Haven Rising Community Union, New Elm City Dream, Free 2 Spit poetry slam, Youth Day Project, the Transnational Black Feminisms Retreat in the Dominican Republic, ALIVE Rescue Memphis, and the Fight for $15 fast food and home care worker’s living wage campaigns in Tennessee. She’s particularly proud to have photographed Landlines,created and performed by friend and artist Ana-Maurine Lara. And I’m more than happy that she told me she’s “so joyously excited to get to be a part of FemGeniuses in Berlin!”
Last, but certainly, not least…guess who else is joining us in Berlin this summer? My mama, Robin, and my kids, AJ and Chase! I figured that’d be a great idea since this will be my third time teaching the course, and I have things figured out a lot more than I did the past two years! The most exciting thing is that AJ and Chase had to get passports for this trip, so this is their first time traveling outside of the U.S.! I really appreciate all of my friends in Berlin sharing in this excitement, so much so that my kids have friends there waiting for them that they’re so excited to meet and play with! It may even be that daddy gets to sneak away from work (hardest working man I know) to spend a bit of time with us, which would be great since he hasn’t been to Berlin since 2013! If not, though, he promises to try really hard to reconnect with the city and our beloveds living there in 2017!
As for my mama? Wow! She’s traveled outside of the U.S. but never to Europe, so I’m really thankful to be able to share this experience with her! In the words of Jay-Z,
Mama, I made it! You know how I do it like the doc do it! I fly through it! That’s how I operated! Mama, I made it! Ghetto like the grease when you gettin’ your hair braided, sweeter than your sister Kool Aid is! Hooray, it’s the underdog! Now, my feet under desk! I’m the presidential favorite! Can’t believe I got away with my earlier stages to bein’ on stages, havin’ my way with the world! Congratulations! Ya baby [girl’s] a made [woman]! I’m a hold the fam down, least 3 generations! I’m talkin’ when spaceships are around, and ya great, great grands reminiscin’ ’bout foundation you gave ’em! For repairin’ my relationship with my pops ‘fore he pass, all I ask is you raise your glass in a celebration! Toast to the most beautiful girl in the world, my inspiration! Thanks for the information! Mama, I made it!
—Jay-Z, “I Made It” (Kingdom Come, 2006)
Created by Alejandra Hernandez (Editor), Amelia Eskenazi (Journalist), Cheanna Gavin (Journalist), and Lila Schmitz (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2016
“Artisan aims to cultivate a space where these subjugated knowledges can flourish. Artisan targets young adults, who identify as woman or gender non-conforming and wish to see more works of art created by them for them. How you may ask? Here at Artisan, we strive to share creative works of art with you, including but not limited to poetry, paintings, literature, and music. As Gloria Anzaldúa points out, ‘For many of us acts of writing, painting, performance, and filming are acts of deliberate and desperate determination to subvert the status quo. Creative acts are forms of political activism […] for resisting dominant cultural norms and are not merely aesthetic exercises. We build culture as we inscribe in these various forms.’ Using a feminist perspective, we aspire to seek, explore, and critique works of art that do feminist work in hopes of showing you, our reader, that feminism can go beyond the walls of a classroom. Artisan hopes to spur and inspire new thoughts and conversations. Our team strives to create a space that spotlights, shares, and celebrates powerful works of art dedicated to empower women and gender non-conforming individuals.”
—Alejandra Hernandez, Editor