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Some Final Thoughts on the 2014 #FemGeniusesInBerlin

Celine and I

Celine and I during the Farewell Dinner at TV Tower

Writing this was especially difficult. As a result, I’m so thankful that I asked the students to write blogs throughout our time in Berlin so that you all could follow our journey as it was happening. It was wonderful. Dreamy. Exciting. Adventurous. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that I don’t think I could have asked for a better experience teaching abroad for the first time.

I do want to “say” that, with the help of our Course Assistant and my new ace Celine Barry and Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, I’ve decided to change the title of the course in order to more accurately communicate its goals and objectives. The course will now be titled “Hidden Spaces, Hidden Narratives: Intersectionality Studies in Berlin.” During our course, we studied the experiences of Afro-German women, migrants and refugees in Berlin, victims of Neo-Nazi terrorism and police brutality, and LGBTQI communities, to name a few. We also embarked on tours that provided information based on official, state-sanctioned narratives of Berlin so that we could juxtapose them with tours that provided information about the narratives that are often hidden from tourists on the beaten path. This change does not mean the course will radically change, but this new title will better articulate what we actually did in Berlin. I don’t know if I’ll be able to teach the course again – this depends on whether or not my proposal is accepted by the Summer Sessions Committee – but I have high hopes.

FemGeniuses Late

The FemGeniuses figuring out how not to be late! Just kidding – figuring out dinner!

Speaking of high hopes, I had high hopes that this group of students wouldn’t disappoint. I think I had such high hopes and expectations, because I know 5 of the 9 students who came with me to Berlin. Those 5 had taken at least 2 courses with me, and most have decided to either major or minor in Feminist & Gender Studies. So, we know each other pretty well. I had also received strong recommendations for the other 4 students, so I didn’t imagine that they’d cause any trouble. Well, I was 99.8% right. I only had to “discipline” the students 3 times – twice during the first week, once during the second, and none during the last week. These things were pretty minor, though, if you ask me: a bit of tardiness, a bit of over-eager loudness, and a bit of inappropriate silliness. I honestly don’t think I need to make any major changes to the course in order to mitigate such issues. Sometimes, these things just happen. Regarding attendance and tardiness, though, I did have a policy that students couldn’t miss more than 2 sessions (not days) without being penalized; however, I didn’t have a tardy policy. The students who were late quite a bit on the first two days were not malicious, but students have to realize – at some point or another – that timeliness is important. I was a few minutes lates myself a couple times – Mercury was in retrograde, after all – but I was never late to a session during which I had asked someone to give their time and energy to our course. I don’t want to seriously hurt a student for honest mistakes, only to communicate the importance of respecting the time and energy of themselves and others. As for the loudness and silliness, I’ll handle that as it comes. No big deal, really.

There are a couple other things I want to change, too, but not in response to anything that went wrong. For example, I think I could implement discussion points in this course as I do in all of my courses. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I didn’t. I must say that many of the folks we interacted with in Berlin were impressed by the students, as was I. And even though I don’t want to spend a lot of time grading in Berlin or even after I return home, I want to have the opportunity to evaluate student discussion so that I can help them maintain their strengths and improve their weaknesses. Our new friends in Berlin were also impressed by the great questions the students asked. I was, too. Most people who know me pedagogically know that I value good questions almost as much as anything else. So, I also think that I may ask students to develop discussion questions for each of our sessions ahead of time, like I do normally, so that I can help them craft their question-asking skills and also to acknowledge when they do so effectively. We actually did that in preparation for our first guest, Ika Hügel-Marshall, but we didn’t keep it up. We will next time. I’ll also do a better job evaluating the student blogs and student peer reviews of said blogs. I basically made revisions/edits to the blogs as I was posting them and quickly reviewed the peer reviews so that I could post the blogs promptly. In the future, however, I want to take some time to give salient feedback on the blogs so that students know what they should improve. This brings me to another significant change, “Just Us Mondays.” On Monday mornings, I want to spend time with the students for a few hours discussing all of these things, debriefing sessions, and preparing for upcoming sessions. We’ll follow that up with a group lunch before heading to one of our tours. I think they’ll like that, and so will I.

Frauenkreise

Me and the Frauenkreise Team: Iris, Nina, and Gabi

While our course was “jam packed” with seminars, tours, and visits to important sites in Berlin, that’s not going to change. We’re in Berlin for just 3 weeks, and there is so much to see and do. We aren’t there just to lounge around. We’re there to learn as much as we possibly can. And to be honest, I had more “chill time” than I even expected, so that’s pretty cool. That’s another reason why things were jam packed. We had mandatory sessions each morning and afternoon most weekdays so that we all could have our weekends free to roam the city, hang out with new friends, and things of that nature. On that note, I actually did the math. My regular classes at CC total around 58-59 hours. Our class totaled around 61-62 hours. I think that’s sufficient. I want my students to have the best, most-rewarding experience possible. And really, I want them and/or whoever is financially supporting their experience, to feel that the money was well-spent. Like I once said during the course, “If you wanted to come to Berlin to just do whatever, you could have done that on your own dime and for less money.”

At this point, I’ll note that our sessions at Frauenkreise were open to the public. That also won’t change. It was great meeting other folks in Berlin interested in intersectionality studies, and our open sessions helped us do that. The only problem is that our sessions were held at 9 am, so most folks in Berlin couldn’t attend due to their jobs. However, so that the students and I may have our evenings to roam, that’ll likely stay the same, too. The only thing I’m considering is starting the sessions at 10 am rather than 9 am. Most of our morning sessions lasted approximately 90-120 minutes. So, if we start at 10 am, that’ll leave us enough time to have lunch and head to our afternoon sessions at 2 pm, which will allow us to end our days around 3:30 or 4 pm. Of course, things don’t always go as planned – most of the time that means sessions run a little longer than planned – but I think this “new” schedule will work well, given what I learned this first time.

Carolyn

Carolyn Gammon, Katharina Oguntoye, Me, and Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise)

Earlier, I wrote that we enjoyed juxtaposing official, state-sanctioned narratives about Berlin and Germany – via tours – with narratives about Berlin and Germany that are often hidden from tourists on the beaten path. Well, I was happy to learn about two other tours that will help us with the latter. During a non-mandatory session at Frauenkreise, I met Carolyn Gammon, author of The Unwritten Diary of Israel UngerAfter her talk, I learned that she is a Guide Coordinator for Milk & Honey Tours: Discover Jewish Europe. Sounds amazing, right? I also learned that one of Celine’s colleagues provides a tour of Berlin that focuses on Sinta-Roma history in Berlin. Again, amazing! These tours will definitely make their way to the agenda for next summer!

I can’t even begin to tell you about all of the great people and NGOs that I learned about while we were in Berlin, meaning those that we didn’t get to meet during our course. All I can say is that in order to engage all this fabulousness, I’m going to take Celine and Nicole‘s advice and incorporate more panels into our sessions. Speaking of that, structuring the course the way that I did really inspired me to attempt to team-teach more often back at home. I’ve had such talks with some of my colleagues, and Scott Krzych and I will be team-teaching a Bridge Scholars Program course this year on Critical Media Studies. However, this is something that I’d like to strive to do annually in addition to Bridge, which I also team-taught last year with Emily Chan. I’m very much a dialogue-focused teacher-scholar, so this will allow me to flourish in my strengths more, which is always a plus.

Frauenkreise Talk

After My Talk: Helen, Me, Annapoorna, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky

Last, I was asked by the Frauenkreise team to give a talk during my time there. So, I did what I love to do most and discussed mediated constructions of race and gender in “Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media.” This led to me being invited to actually join the team, which was wonderful. After my talk, Vicky Germain also asked if I’d be interested in recording some of my lectures in order to share them with the world. I’d actually thought about that before, but now I’m motivated to make sure to do so next year. I’m thinking that I’ll start with one session each teaching block, then I’ll post them here so that you all can take a look at my pedagogical work.

That said, I need to thank our viewers around the world for joining in our adventures! Since we started blogging for #femGeniusesInBerlin, the site has received views from Germany and the U.S., of course, but also from some places we’d never received views before, such as the U.K., Brazil, Sweden, France, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Japan, Argentina, Peru, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Turkey, Nigeria, Ireland, Australia, India, Spain, Iceland, Poland, Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Italy, Ukraine, Croatia, Bahamas, Portugal, Tunisia, Denmark, Egypt, Netherlands, Mozambique, Phillipines, Greece, Macao, Tajikistan, Maldives, Mexico, Finland, Macedonia, Israel, and Senegal. I’m still amazed by this, and I’m hoping that my transnational work will continue to thrive in ways that I haven’t yet imagined.

Daima Crew

Me and the Daima Team: Nzitu, Me, Jamile, Tina, and Sharon

That “said,” I’d like to end by thanking my new friends and colleagues in Berlin: the Frauenkreise team (Gabriele “Gabi” Zekina, Nina Jenks, and Iris Rajanayagam), the Schwules Museum team (especially Elisaveta Dvorak), Ika Hügel-Marshall, Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom, Diana Rücklicht the Lambda and Queer @ School teams, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, Biplab Basu of ReachOut, Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle of the African Women & Youth Organization, Nadine Saeed of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh, Katharina Oguntoye of the Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk, Jamile da Silva of S.U.S.I., Andrea Ottmer of the German Society for Trans Identity and Intersexuality, Heike Radvan of the Antonio Amadeu Stiftung, Rebecca Brückmann of Free University, Josephine Apraku, Maja FiggeKristina Kuličová and Magda Albrecht of Fat Up!, Bernard Könnecke and Katarzyna “Kasia” Wojnicka of Dissens, Daniel Gyamerah of Each One Teach One, Sharon Dodua Otoo, and Hatef Soltani and Mahdiyeh Kalhori of CrossPoint TV.

Celine Pergamon Museum

Celine at the Pergamon Museum

Last but not least, I want to sincerely and wholeheartedly thank our Course Assistant Celine Barry. All you had to do was be “on call” in case we needed someone to translate for emergency purposes. However, you showed up to and participated in events, and you taught us so much more than we could have asked for. And you did it with such style and grace. We love you.

Berliners, thank you so much for sharing your time and energy with me and my students. You’ve taught us so much, and I can only hope that we gave you all as much as you gave us. I’m really looking forward to building our new relationships, and I’m positive that we’ll be working together for many years to come.

Tschüss.

Heidi

2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.

The FemGeniuses Are in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
The New Berlin Walking Tour” by Melissa L. Barnes
Zanele Muholi at the Schwules Museum” by Kadesha Caradine
Meeting with Ika Hügel-Marshall” by Ximena Buller
Meeting with Dagmar Schultz and Ria Cheatom” by Kaimara Herron
Lambda Berlin and Queer @ School” by Beril Mese
Meeting with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück” by Stefani Messick
ReachOut Berlin with Biplab Basu” by Casey Schuller
The Struggle against Racism in Britain (1976-2012): Its Implications for Justice and Democracy w/ Paul Gilroy” by Nicole Tan
Our First Weekend in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Riots Reframed and Absent from the Academy: An Homage to Stuart Hall” by Melissa L. Barnes
Africa in Wedding” by Blaise Yafcak
Convergence Class with Rebecca Brückmann at Freie Universität” by Ximena Buller
Heike Radvan and the Antonio Amadeu Stiftung” by Kadesha Caradine
German Society for Trans Identity and Intersexuality” by Kaimara Herron
A Talk with Jamila da Silva e Silva of S.U.S.I.” by Beril Mese
Meeting w/ Katharina Oguntoye of Joliba Interkulturelles Netzwerk” by Stefani Messick
Nadine Saeed and Katrin Jullien of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh” by Casey Schuller
Meeting w/ Elizabeth Olayinka Adekunle of the African Women & Youth Organization” by Nicole Tan
The ‘Alternative City’ Tour” by Blaise Yafcak
Wannsee Lake, Theorizing Race and Racism, and the Carnival of Cultures: Our Second Weekend in Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds” by Melissa L. Barnes
Meeting Sharon Dodua Otoo and Discussing the Witnessed Series” by Ximena Buller
Daniel Gyamerah and Each One Teach One” by Kaimara Herron
Dissens: Work on Masculinity, Feminism and Working with Perpetrators” by Beril Mese
Museum für Naturkunde” by Blaise Yafcak
(Emerging) Fat Activism in Germany with Fat Up!” by Nicole Tan
Dis/continuities of Racism and Whiteness from the 1950s until Today” by Kadesha Caradine
Schloss Charlottenburg” by Casey Schuller
Racialized Representations of Women in U.S. Media at Frauenkreise Berlin” by Heidi R. Lewis
Rain, Towers, Rainbows, and New Beginnings” by Stefani Messick
What the Berliners Said about the 2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin
Kwaheri, Nzitu!” by Heidi R. Lewis

To read and/or listen to the finales and view the indices and slideshows for previous FemGeniuses in Berlin, click here

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Wannsee Lake, Theorizing Race and Racism, and the Carnival of Cultures: Our Second Weekend in Berlin

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Melissa and Casey on the Wannsee Lake Beach

Our second weekend in Berlin was eventful but also relaxing, which was deliberate. I planned to wake up late (but still early) on Saturday to go to Wannsee Lake with some of the FemGeniuses. However, I (thankfully) didn’t wake up until 11 am, and didn’t leave for the lake until 1 pm, arriving around 2 pm. Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, Stefani, Ximena, and Nicole had already arrived and had taken quite a few dips in the lake already. I bought a slushie and sat on the beach only to enter the water a short while later to watch Melissa, Kadesha, and Casey go down the slide a few times. The water was nice, but I didn’t get too wet. I really came mostly for the pedal boats.

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Nicole and Kadesha on the Pedal Boat

Nicole, Kadesha and I waited about 30 minutes for our chance to ride—Melissa, Ximena, Stefani, and Casey opted out, but we had so much fun! It was so relaxing, even with the pedaling! I can’t wait to come back next summer and pedal boat with Tony, AJ, and Chase! We rented the boat for an hour but only boated for about 30-40 minutes, but we all could honestly see how someone would spend a whole hour out on the water wading around with the other boaters, the ducks, and the swans—yes, swans!

Tipica

Casey and Melissa Sharing at Tipica

An hour or so later, Melissa, Kadesha, Casey, and I had dinner at Tipica, which was pretty good. Stefani, who left the lake early, and Blaise also joined us. I had a pretty awesome Mexican Fizz drink—not sure what was in it—and some nice beef tacos. Yummy to the tummy, indeed, but definitely not cheap. Haha! Still, I was full enough to go back to my apartment and get some good shut eye.

Hatef

Hatef Soltani of CrossPoint

I woke up a bit earlier on Sunday to meet with Nadine Saeed of the Oury Jalloh Initiative, along with Hatef Soltani and Mahdiyeh Kalhori of CrossPoint, in order to discuss racism and justice in the U.S.. Nadine also invited Beril to discuss racism and justice in Turkey. I was honored that we were invited by Nadine to be part of this documentary, because I’ve become more committed to transnational theoretical, pedagogical, and artistic activism (not in that order and inextricably linked, at least for me), and talking with her has been a large part of that deeper commitment.

I spoke at length about Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Marissa Alexander in order to communicate the necessity of intersectional analyses and activism. As a theoretical activist, I find it troubling when, especially within “liberal” and “progressive” communities, people denigrate theory in an effort to communicate the necessity of action. For instance, sometimes my audiences, including my students, grow frustrated when they ask what they can “do” to affect change, and I respond that theorizing is one of the most important things that can be done in response to injustice.

Nadine

Nadine Watching CrossPoint TV

Theory is simply a way of thinking about, understanding, and explaining the world. And it’s my contention that theory killed Trayvon Martin and Oury Jalloh. This same theory sentenced Marissa Alexander to 20 years for self-defense. Of course, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. And the police killed Oury Jalloh. And the United States legal system sentenced Marissa Alexander. However, those murders and that sentencing would not have been possible without white supremacist heteropatriarchal theories about Black and Brown bodies and lives, theories that suggest that these bodies are not worthy of love, affection, and protection, theories that suggest that these lives don’t matter and that they’re not worth saving. George Zimmerman began to name himself as Latino, especially during and after the trial, but that still does not exempt him from this theoretical framework. Only this kind of thinking would allow Zimmerman to see Trayvon Martin as inherently dangerous and violent because of his gender, his race, and his clothing. Only this kind of thinking would allow someone to see Marissa Alexander as anything other than a victim during her trial.

Beril at Oury Jalloh

Beril at Oury Jalloh

I was also quite interested in Beril’s narrative about her own struggles as a young Turkish woman studying in the United States. I was particularly intrigued by her relatively recent realization that uniting in struggle is one of the most important ways in which we can fight injustice, because isolated and disjointed communities are a strong tactic of those that are invested in our subjugation. I also appreciated learning more about the struggles Turkish communities face, especially pertaining to migration and the demonstrations last summer in Gezi Park. I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome of this conversation, because all of the CrossPoint videos I have watched—earlier today and since returning to my apartment—have been terrifying and powerful.

Carnival

Carnival of Cultures 2014

After the interview, Celine and I went to the Carnival of Cultures to watch some of the parade. The Carnival is held from June 6-8 around Pentecost, and is organized by Philippa Ebéné, Executive and Artistic Director of the Werkstatt der Kulturen. Celine and I had fun taking in some Caipirinhas and talking about politics, as we love to do with each other, but we couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming sea of white faces at the parade. Black attendees were scant, and so were Black participants in the parade (at least the short part we saw). Both of us are fully aware that there are plenty white folks in many parts of Africa, but we also wondered why there were few Black African folks marching in decidedly African parts of the parade. I don’t know enough about the Carnival or the parade or Berlin or Germany—and we only stayed for a few hours—to provide a salient analysis of the “goings on,” but I am interested in learning more about the history of the Carnival, which is more than 60 years old, and its relationship with the culture of Berlin, including all of its migrant communities. Along these lines, I was made aware of some racism that Philippa has faced while planning the Carnival, and I’m eager to learn more about the role that has played in the organizing process. Perhaps I’ll write more about this next summer…lots to ponder.

Me at WannseeUntil next time,

Heidi

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Nadine Saeed and Katrin Jullien of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh

By Casey Schuller

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Nadine Saeed

After a little confusion about our meeting place this afternoon, we met Nadine Saeed at Heidi’s apartment. We all snuggled in on and around the bed in the common room as Nadine started to tell us about her work in remembrance of Oury Jalloh. Nadine has been an activist for 5-6 years now, but the passion she speaks with sounds life-long. When Nadine was younger, she started listening to Bob Marley and was inspired by his words. Later, unhappy at her university, she started working with refugees. As she told her story, she said, “I feel alive when I’m with people willing to struggle.” Nadine feels that it is not necessarily important where someone came from or what their gender is, but its “just important what you have in your head.”

Oury JallohOury Jalloh was an asylum seeker born in Sierra Leone who later moved to Guinea. His parents collected money so that he could go to Europe, but he soon found that refugees live in isolation, in camps Nadine compared to concentration camps. They have little contact with the wider German society because of intense xenophobia. Hence, life is made very hard for them as integration is made almost impossible, especially since they are not allowed to work. In response to some women having German children so that they can get a passport, Nadine said that this is “not the fault of the women, but of the system.” Additionally, migrant men often get involved with drugs and alcohol, which sometimes leads to suicide. They are “killed by the government” in both psychological and physical ways.

Despite these hardships, Jalloh did his best in Germany. He fell in love with a white German woman who became pregnant with his child at the age of 19. Her racist brother and father insisted she give the child up for adoption because they felt she should not have a half-Black child. Despite changing her mind on the adoption within the allowed 3-month retraction period, she was refused her child because Jalloh was an asylum seeker who was considered less than human and certainly incapable of raising a child. Nadine mentioned that much of the problem with racism in Germany is the high tolerance the public has for it. Few people react to heinous racism, a problem we can definitely relate to in the United States.

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Nadine Saeed and the FemGeniuses

On January 7, 2005, Jalloh was arrested after he was asked for his passport and refused to give it.  He was fed up with being singled out and questioned because of his skin color. After tackling him and finding his asylum seeker card, the police determined he was still too hard to identify and they put him in a cell. After drawing his blood, he was fixed to the mattress with his hands and feet cuffed. His nose, ears, and wrists were broken, possibly among other bones. Later that day, Jalloh was killed in cell number 5 by a fire in the police station. This event received some news coverage at the time; although, many witnesses of this fire were soon deported.

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Hatef Soltani (CrossPoint) and the FemGeniuses

After his death, the police tried to spread the story that Jalloh somehow killed himself while being completely restrained. The State Office of Criminal Investigation made a video after the “suicide,” which includes pictures of his burned body. Again, “somehow” the majority of this video was deleted and only four minutes of it remain. Despite strong evidence that Jalloh was murdered, his case has yet to be fully successful. The police officers have changed their stories and have no alibi, evidence has disappeared, and laws were broken, one of which required the police station to call a judge within two hours of arresting Jalloh to get permission to hold him. The case has since been dropped several times because it “is not in the interest of the public” to continue it.

Part of Nadine’s work, then, has been collecting evidence for Jalloh’s case. After a lighter was found under his body (with no traces of his DNA or the mattress on it), the Initiative started looking into how he was burned and why no one heard him scream. After many trials using a dead pig’s body, they discovered that he must have been burned by fire experts and that an accelerant was definitely involved. After many, many trials and excessive amounts of petrol, they were never able to recreate the amount of damage done to Jalloh’s body. Lies told in court and gaps in the police’s defense aside, 2 or 3 revisions have been called in court—the next one this August.

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L to R: Kaimara, Melissa, Beril, Ximena, Nicole, Nadine Saeed, Katrin Jullien, Stefani, Kadesha, Casey, and Blaise

Nadine’s other main focus has been how the situation was handled. This includes the officer who turned off the fire alarm twice and the ministries helping to hide it, which encourages the mindset that it is okay for the police to kill. Heidi and Nadine discussed how unacceptable and horrible this brutality is, no matter who the victim may be. So often people try to make the victim into a saint; yet, whether the victim was high on drugs or a perfect student, it shouldn’t change the way the crime is viewed. Police violence is a big problem in Germany, and most cases are dropped quickly in court. Nadine’s goal, along with her comrades, is to keep his story alive, as forgetting only helps perpetuate police brutality. Even when the government interferes by cutting off the phones and communication of her and other activists, Nadine is not deterred. She will keep fighting and fundraising her whole life, if necessary. Despite this touching story and the influence it has had on Nadine, she finished by stressing that Oury Jalloh a symbol in a larger fight for many victims, such as Christy Schwundeck. Needless to say, we all came out of this talk asking for an Oury Jalloh t-shirt from Nadine so that we can also support this important fight!

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Casey IICasey Schuller is entering her junior year at Colorado College. She is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, and she is particularly interested in media and gender. She has been particularly challenged by this class, since for the first time in her life, she is being out-sassed by those around her.