Friday morning, during our walking tour in the heavy rain, half of the group decided to get phở for lunch to warm us up. We took the metro to Kreuzberg, and tried to walk under the restaurants’ awnings in the fruitless attempt to stay wet instead of soaked. Unfortunately, we arrived a half-hour before the restaurant opened. Not wanting to wait in the rain, we started our second weekend off with drinks and olives at the Knofi Feinkost restaurant and deli. A half-hour later, we moved to Green Rice for phở. We were already halfway through our meal when we realized there was a large photograph of a naked woman hanging right in front of us, demonstrating how conditioned we are to seeing women’s bodies used as decoration.
That evening, the whole group took the metro back to Kreuzberg, where we had dinner and drinks at Ta’Cabrón Taquería and Que Pasa and went dancing at Havanna to celebrate Alejandra’s birthday. Unlike the majority of the nightclubs we’ve visited, Havanna did not play electronic dance music (EDM). Upstairs was primarily bachata; although, it switched to reggaeton later on in the night. Downstairs, there was an active salsa room, as well as another room playing mostly hip-hop and R&B, which is advertised as “Beautiful Black Sounds.” It is important to note that the other rooms are not referred to as “Latino Sounds” or any other similar label. Furthermore, many of the songs were not even by Black artists. The way in which the music is uniquely racialized is problematic, especially when the majority of the people in this room were white (or white-passing), suggesting the music is racialized primarily for marketing purposes.
On Saturday morning, a German friend of mine arrived at the apartment, bearing coffee for the both of us. Because it was sunny and still early, Chris and I walked around the city for a while before heading to the Boros Collection (Sammlung Boros), a contemporary art exhibition in an old Nazi bunker (Reichsbahnbunker). Forced laborers constructed the air-raid shelter in 1942, and it was referred to as an M1200 because it was intended to shelter up to 1,200 people, but it ended up sheltering around 3,000. We could still see the artillery damage on the exterior of the building, because in 1945, the Red Army used the bunker to house prisoners of war. Since WWII, the bunker has been used in quite a variety of ways. In 1949, it was used as a textile warehouse. In 1957, it became known as the “Banana Bunker” because imported fruit from Cuba was stored there.
Currently, there are three pieces on display, all by Berlin-based artist Alicja Kwade, which particularly interested me and are quite relevant to this course. In a small room visible from the lobby but blocked off with a chain, an organized stack of shining gold bars sits elevated and illuminated. However, the bars are actually coal-plated in gold leaf. Upstairs in another small room, precious gems sit protected and illuminated within an elevated glass case. These are stones Kwade took from the streets of Miami and had cut and polished. The last piece is in another small room, but it is dark and the floor faintly reveals its past life as a bathroom. Kwade shattered a mirror, outlined it, then used the outline to cut this steal and position it as the mirror had shattered. All of these pieces problematize how we decide what is valuable and what is not. Along these lines, in the introduction of Winter Shorts, editors Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo refer to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness.” Burnley explains, “Du Bois wrote about the way double consciousness comes into being for us as Black people, because society sees us through a largely negative filter of assumptions and prejudices. Double consciousness is about both aspects: how we see ourselves as individuals or as a group and how society sees us” (10). Kwade’s work not only reflects the two aspects of the double consciousness, but also the filters that are used to manipulate which lives the mainstream society deems valuable.
In the afternoon, we were craving Thai food, so we took the metro to Charlottenburg and Chris showed me a little slice of heaven in Preuβenpark, also known as Thai Park. Exiting the flowery trail, we came upon a sea of umbrellas, shielding the vendors from the sun or drizzle, whichever one cared to pass by. There had to be at least fifty vendors, many who actually cooked the food right there in front of the customers after they ordered. Of course, I noticed that most of the vendors were Asian, whereas most of the customers were white. In Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, May (Opitz) Ayim notes, “Turkish kabob, Greek gyros, Italian pizza, Indian and African teas have long since become a regular part of everyday life in the Federal Republic. Nevertheless the people who have made these and other enrichments possible through their contribution to cultural diversity are regarded with caution” (136). While Showing Our Colors was published in 1986, Germany may still be in much of the same situation. This also reminds me of the chorus of “Gold” by High Klassified,
They say melanin is in
I just can’t see why
‘Cause you love our style, ‘cause you love our skin
‘Cause you love our food but there ain’t no love within.
That night, half of the group went out for sushi and drinks at Le Coq D’or in Friedrichshain. Afterwards, everyone decided to go back to the apartment except for Nitika and I. On our way to Newton Bar, we were approached by a group of people on the metro and a couple of guys started asking us where we are from. For the first time during our stay in Germany, they did not take “the United States” for an answer. They said, “No, but where are you really from? You guys look Latina.” Nitika is Indian, and I am Indonesian, so when they said that we looked Latina, it only emphasized what we already knew: they wanted to know why we have brown skin, not where we come from (whatever that even means). Ayim describes an all too familiar sentiment, “No matter where I go, I know some guy is going to say something to me—especially at parties: ‘Well, where do you come from?’” (151). Again, we see that for the “Other,” not much has changed.
Amanda Cahn is from Portland, Oregon and a rising senior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist and Gender Studies and a minor in Spanish. She is passionate about advocating for reproductive rights and has worked with Planned Parenthood teaching sexual education in public high schools, as well as analyzing statistical data from their various sexual education programs. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with friends.
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)