The Power of Our Own Spaces: A Conversation on Colonialism and Belonging with Iris Rajanayagam, Melody Ledwon, and Mona El Omari

By Baheya Malaty

IMG_0673As we emerged from the Rehberge U-Bahn station into the blinding sunlight, it dawned on me that this would be the last time we walked together to Each One Teach One (EOTO), the organization which has been kind enough to allow us to use their space for several of our sessions. Today was our hottest and fullest day yet here in Berlin. Between the nearly 90 degree temperatures and the three class sessions, I wasn’t sure how my energy level would hold up as I walked to our last session. But even as I walked, the heat and exhaustion slowing my every step, I felt a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Contrary to any of our previous sessions here in Berlin, this one would be a space for people of color (POC) only. POC spaces have been critically important to my mental health and well-being. Beyond that, though, POC spaces have also inspired me greatly and provided me and people whom I care about with the opportunity to really thrive in community together. In the past, POC spaces have been brilliantly creative, passionate, and supportive. Despite my exhaustion, my expectations were high.

IMG_0676And needless to say, I was even more blown away and inspired than I thought I would be. At EOTO, we were met by the Director of the organization, Melody Ledwon, as well as our two presenters, Iris Rajanayagam and Mona El Omari. Originally from an area heavily populated by Turkish and Arab migrants in West Germany, El Omari moved to Berlin and began working with Der Braune Mob, a Black/POC media-watch organization. As a Jordanian Muslim queer woman, she became involved in feminist and queer Muslim self-organizing throughout Berlin. For Rajanayagam, her involvement with political activism began when she moved to Berlin ten years ago. Her search for a space in which she could both conduct her activism and feel comfortable as a woman of color led her to become involved in self-organizing. Additionally, she wrote her Master’s thesis on colonial continuities in Germany with an emphasis on refugee and asylum policies.

Within the first five minutes of the session, Ledwon referenced a theme that would remain critical to our discussion: the notion that people of color are constantly forced to defend their right to “come together on their own terms.” We are always told that we are self-segregating, that we should focus on becoming more “integrated,” met with blank expressions when we explain why it is important for us to come together in our own space. However, as El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon articulated, POC spaces are absolutely critical to our empowerment, our learning, our community, and our creativity. In the foreword to Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak OutAudre Lorde writes, “To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s vision as well as the weaponries born of a particular experience. First, we must recognize each other” (ix). One tactic of white supremacy has been the intentional fracturing of communities of color, as well as the erasure of Brown and Black cultures and histories. For people of color, then, coming together on our own terms allows us not only to build community, but also to determine a collective vision, a way to move forward. Along these lines and regarding her work with Der Braune Mob, El Omari spoke of the importance of going beyond work that is strictly reactionary. Not only does the organization critique the presentations of Black people and people of color in the media, but it also creates an archive of alternative media and news articles in order to encourage people of color to write their own stories and to break the silences of the mainstream media. A critical part of her work at Der Braune Mob, then, has always been asking the question: What do we as POC communities do to empower ourselves? Mona explains that focusing on this question afforded her the opportunity to reflect, think, and develop visions for the future on her own and with other people of color.

As we continued to unpack the importance of people of color having the opportunity to assert a space, our discussion turned to the legacies of colonialism on the notions of inclusion, belonging, and citizenship in Germany. When Germany began its colonization of Namibia, German law stated that if you had a German father, you were German. As the rape of Black women by white men as well as sexual relations between Black people and white people created an increasing population of mixed-race babies, the German government decided to change the law. Now, if you had a “drop of Black blood, you could not be German.” Thus, the notion of German-ness as whiteness was born. The notion of Germany as a nation-state with colonies reinforced the binary between whiteness and blackness, German-ness and foreignness: the nation-state of Germany was white, and its colonies were Black. To this day, the law of (white) blood reigns supreme in Germany. For example, El Omari provided the example that if your great-great-great grandfather lived in unified Germany before the Second World War, but was in fact a white Polish citizen, you as a white Polish citizen would be able to obtain German citizenship. On the contrary, people of color who were born in Germany but lack a German passport can be deported from the country in an instant. Thus, in order to be German, one must be white. Similarly, in the introduction to Winter Shorts, Clementine Burnley and Sharon Dodua Otoo discuss the problematics of the prevalence of the term “people of a migration background” in Germany. More specifically, Otoo writes,

The phrase “person of a migration background” seems to suggest that you can see or hear whether a person is of “foreign” descent or not. However “person with a migration background” is a euphemism. It 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)

IMG_5741Hence, if you are not white, you do not really belong in Germany. You are a “guest worker,” a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a visitor. El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon all testified to the fact that most people assume they cannot be German because of their color. They spoke to constantly being asked questions such as, “Where are you really from?” and “When are you going back?” In fact, a few years ago, El Omari was taken off the voter registration list, because a German government official saw her name and automatically assumed that she could not be German with a name like hers. Additionally, the police began to search for her, because they assumed that she was an “illegal” migrant, and when she protested, German authorities explained, “You must understand, we thought a person with a name like yours could not be German.” In Showing our Colors, May (Optiz) Ayim speaks to notion that her identity as Afro-German is read as unintelligible and not really German:

You planning to go back?
What? You’ve never been to Papa’s country?
What a shame…Well, if you ask me:
A background like that, it sure does leave its mark
Me, for example, I’m from Westphalia
and I think
that’s where I belong. (138)

IMG_5745The notion of belonging as a person of color in Germany is a very complicated one. On the one hand, because German-ness equals whiteness, people of color are excluded from the German identity. Still, as our session with these three amazing women came to a close, I could not help but see some silver lining to the situation at hand. This is not to excuse the erasure and exclusion of people of color in Germany or to say that it is justified or to glorify it in any way. Rather, I wish to emphasize the ways in which German people of color have been able to establish spaces together on their own terms and develop a collective vision for the future. As today’s session with El Omari, Rajanayagam, and Ledwon taught me, the power of POC spaces is incredible. Not only do they function as ways through which to heal and build community, but they also offer us radical liberatory possibilities. POC spaces allow us to create and exist within a space on our own terms. Colonialism has taken so much from people of color; people, land, resources, cultures, and histories have all been destroyed and erased. Thus, the act of people of color creating and gathering in a space on their own terms is radical in and of itself; it represents the reclaiming of our bodies, our histories, and our cultures. Perhaps most importantly, as Melody taught me today, POC spaces allow us the opportunity to thrive together.


MalatyBaheya Malaty is a rising junior at Colorado College studying Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies. As co-leader of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Feminist Collective (FemCo), they are passionate about challenging Zionism and engaging in creative activism in solidarity with Palestine using a feminist lens. They are known to many of their friends as “Dad,” due to their superb barbecuing skills, knowledge of sports, classy button-up shirts, and their general Dad sensibility. Their dream is to one day develop a program through which students of color can travel to Palestine and learn about the occupation through a comparative, transnational, and feminist lens. Their alternative dream is to become a stay-at-home Dad.

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What the Berliners Said!

Per the suggestion of Vicky Jones, I sometimes ask my comrades if they’d be willing to share their thoughts about the course! Click their names below to read what they wrote:

Noah Sow
Jared Pool
Noah Hofmann
Carolyn Gammon
Jasmin Eding
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz
T. Vicky Jones
Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück
Katrin Julien
Iris Rajanayagam
Dr. Celine Barry
Magda Albrecht
Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle
Kester Audu
Nadine Saeed
Sharon Dodua Otoo
Dr. Rebecca Brückmann
Heike Radvan
Josephine Apraku
Biplab Basu

To read and hear what students have written and said about the course, click here.


Noah Noah Sow

I wish such a class and course and curriculum existed in Germany. I had a great time presenting to these students who don’t have an ‘abstract’ approach on intersectional womanism, but know from living and breathing what it’s all about. This is the foundation for our theory and studies to be applicable and fruitful. I am especially delighted that matters of pan- and intra-Diasporic power and hierarchy have been brought to the table, as Afrodeutsche lately seem to be considered rather a ‘field of study’ than an autonomous culture (with our own research) by many American and British academics. The entire exchange was so positive and respectful that I wish more universities could learn from this class and prof. I’m sure Professor Heidi R. Lewis makes a huge difference to her students, institution and field, and I can’t wait until this generation of students makes many differences in their respective ways of life and professions. Peace.
Noah Sow


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Jared Pool with the Winter 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I’ve gotten to know many of Heidi’s university groups on my queer tours of Berlin. These tours focus on the solidarity of the city’s peoples, but also on past contexts in which groups like the Nazis or the provisional allied governments after WWII persecuted individuals. We move from contexts of persecution to investigations of queer club culture and activism. My tours are intersectional and inclusive. I try to leave no stone unturned, no point of contact unexplored. In this way, Heidi’s groups always feel like a perfect match. Her groups are the tours I most look forward to in any year. Her students are woke, engaged, critical, compassionate, and yet show each other a comraderie more common among family. Heidi’s herself is also a meaningfully charismatic person and absolute pleasure to be around. I only wish I could attend all her lectures.
Jared Pool


Noah Hofmann

Noah Hofmann with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

It was a wonderful and refreshing experience to see young people studying the often overlooked experiences of Black people in Europe! I felt really honoured that Heidi has chosen me as one of the people who should share their experiences and their knowledge! It was a new and very enriching experience to exchange thoughts and knowledge this time not on social media, but in real life and to get in dialogue with such wonderful, reflected, and highly-educated students and teachers! I’d be ready to repeat this at any time!
Noah Hofmann (author, activist on social media)


Mendelssohn (Calvi) Carolyn with the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

I met the FemGeniuses for a tour of Jewish Berlin at the rather early hour of 9 a.m. on June 3rd in front of the main building of the Humboldt University on Unter den Linden. Only half of them were on time (it was quite early in their stay, and they were still figuring out the public transport system) but what totally impressed me is that those who were late came literally running down Unter den Linden with full cups of coffee to try and make it on time! The 2nd positive impression was how big the group was this year and how multi-cultural. No other exchange program I have worked with has achieved this level of involvement of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds like this group. Huge kudos to Heidi and the program!

We began the tour by going into the lobby of the Humboldt University where we saw an exhibit on the upcoming “Humboldt Forum,” a big project to rebuild the German royal palace and put the Ethnological Museum of Berlin into it. Activists had placed posters on the floor in front of the exhibit commenting on the stolen art (Beutekunst) contained in this museum. The FemGeniuses showed a lot of interest and background knowledge of what it means that so much of what is in our museums is presented in a racist way, yanked out of context, stolen, etc. Despite the language barrier of activist action, the group really engaged and asked questions and commented. We also “visited” with Lise Meitner, a Jewish scientist who discovered nuclear fission. Meitner has gone down in history as the clearest example of a person who should have received a Nobel prize and did not. And why not? She was a woman and a Jew and driven out of Germany and away from her work by the Nazis. So we discussed the knowledge we do not have because the Nazis were successful in suppressing that knowledge. Finally after many decades there is a statue of Lise Meitner in front of the Humboldt University so we “met” her and had photos taken. Unfortunately, we cannot yet take a photo of a proposed memorial for the Black victims of German colonialization, the Holocaust and racism in general. We looked at a picture of a proposed memorial by the Black British artist Satch Hoyt called “Shrine of the Forgotten Souls.” This memorial is being promoted by Katharina Oguntoye, the Black German author and head of the Berlin multi-cultural project Joliba.

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The ducks visiting the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin!

And that was just the start of the tour! What is rewarding about touring with the FemGeniuses (this is my 2nd year) is their understanding of political contexts and the fact that they are absolutely prepared and open to hearing and understanding the complex issues that come up on a tour. It feels like you don’t have to start at ABC but somewhere far along in the alphabet! So, as a guide, I can unpack all my knowledge and passion for Jewish history and current day life in Berlin. There was a funny moment on Groß Hamburger str. As we were looking at a memorial, an entire family of ducks walked across the city street! I’ll include this photo as it is symbolic for me of how Heidi leads, protects and challenges her group like this mother duck.

Thanks for coming to Berlin FemGeniuses. And thanks to DeAira Cooper who wrote a great entry on my tour for the blog. You really got it!
—Greetings from Berlin, Carolyn Gammon


IMG_8950 Jasmin Eding with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

When Professor Lewis asked my if I would be willing to speak in her class about the History of ADEFRA e.V. (Organization for Black Women and Women of Color in Germany), I was highly surprised how interested the students have been in our 30-year History and Herstory. The lives and struggles of Black people in Germany is not well-known in the U.S., so i was thankful to share some of our experiences in Germany, knowing that  our stories will be shared in the U.S. This will strengthen solidarity, which is very important among activists and organizations here and there, specially to fight racism and to share experience  of resistance. We need to spread the word throughout the Diaspora and build  alliances. So hopefully, Professor Lewis will return with more students and meet many activists again next year. I thank Heidi for her commitment and passion to teach young people the real important things in life. 🙂
Jasmin Eding


Group Photo (Asbury) Mutlu with Ryan Garcia of the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin, Noah Hofmann, and Musa Okwonga

I had  a very good time at the class. I rarely come across such a group of good listeners. They were very curious without crossing any boundaries, very open and attentive to the very complex story and information I shared with them. I was also very glad to right some of the wrongs the class experienced during their so called Turkish German Berlin-Tour. I think their white German tour guide had very little understanding about the migration history from Turkey to Germany and even less understanding about Turkish/Kurdish German culture and lived experiences. I had a great time sharing my perspective.
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz


Frauenkreise Talk Helen, Professor Lewis, Cassandra, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky in 2014

I had a great time at your lectures and was really honored to go through and anaylze the advertising materials created here from a Black perspective. It’s rare to have this opportunity to speak about racial depictions in a European setting and to do this with young international and local scholars was a real treat. Thank you for energy and work!
—T. Vicky Jones, Founder of Krik TV and Rock It


IMG_0231 (2) Ika Hügel Marshall, Dagmar Schultz, and Dr. Ellerbe-Dück with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was very impressed about the openness, thirst for knowledge and capacity for critical enquiry that these 9 young women – or better said-  the  FemGenuiuses group displayed during our interaction at the Clara Zetkin Museum in Birkenwerder.  And the term interaction best describes, I think, our encounter. The lecture was indeed an equal exchange of information, ideas and wisdom in both directions. The encounter with these young feminist pioneers embodied my concept of teaching and lecturing, and also demonstrated that creating a space that fosters interactive participation regarding the transfer of knowledge is not only possible, but vital.
—Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück


photo 4 Nadine Saeed and Katrin Julien (6th and 7th from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

 

Nadine  [Saeed] and I, both activists of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh, a refugee in Germany who was burnt alive in a police cell, met Heidi and her students to talk about our fight for justice. Since Oury Jalloh was murdered by the police in 2005, we keep on saying, “Break the silence, Oury Jalloh, this was murder!” Despite clear evidence that Oury was murdered, the system followed the most unlikely assumption that he killed himself by covering up and by manipulating evidence. We do not expect justice from the German political system, which is why we are doing our own investigations supported by experts who work independently. Oury Jalloh is not an individual case, and his murder was not “unfortune” as some people put it, but part of a system of discriminating, banning, criminalising and even eradicating people that are not wanted here. We do not want to accept that—that’s why we are member of the initiative. We spent a very intense afternoon together with Heidi and her students and could have shared our thoughts for many more hours.
—Katrin Julien, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Mona El Omari and Iris with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I think what stayed in my mind most of all from our time together, was the evening when Daima was presented. When we were talking about the ‘privilege’ of being the one asking the questions…I was very grateful for [Heidi’s] comment about how important it is that experiences that are regarded as racist by Black Women and Women of Color (be it silly questions or comments or inappropriate and disrespectful touching of hair or body) be taken seriously and  accepted as such and not put into question. This is something that happens so very often in ‘mixed’ spaces. Being the ones asking the questions, demanding answers information and knowledge, taking up spaces is a ‘privilege’ that Black Women and Women of Color have  been denied for much too long and which they are starting to take on more and more. When [Heidi] said that [she] enjoyed the company of Black Women most because they knew what [she was] talking about, I had a very good idea of what [she] meant. [Smiles.] That does not mean that dialogue is not impossible (although it is hard work!) but that it can only be possible under certain preconditions. I don’t want to write too much; although, there are other things that come to my mind. For example, what [Heidi] said about the social status of [many] students at [her] university and how some students couldn’t take part because of lack of money.  This made it clear to me again how important it is to always think in terms of intersectionality: racism, classism, sexism….!
—Iris Rajanayagam, Xart Splitta


TBB II (Nora) Celine with the Fall 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What a beautiful encounter of sharing biographies of our lives within contemporary postcoloniality. I especially enjoyed our critical tourism journey through Berlin when we visited the prominent spaces that define the German narrative as well as the spaces that are not so known, that are created at the margins and that make a difference for those excluded by official Germany. I am glad we started our project of researching the multiple narratives of the city, of confronting them, and of locating ourselves within these dividing hierarchies (with the appropriate share of humor). A work in progress.
—Dr. Celine Barry, Each One Teach One


photo 1 Kristina Kuličová and Magda (second and first from right) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was thrilled to become part of this extraordinary feminist lecture series by facilitating a discussion about Emerging Fat Activism in Germany with my fellow FAT UP activist Kristina. I was truly amazed by this bright and engaging group of students as well as Professor Heidi Renée Lewis who created a wonderful atmosphere for honest and critical discussion – a perfect space where academia and activism could meet and stimulate each other.
—Magda Albrecht, Author and Political Officer


AWYO II

Elizabeth (second from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I want to thank Heidi for picking our organization as one of the NGOs or projects her group of students from Colorado will like to see, know and probably network with for future projects when they visit Berlin. It all started with an email and the interest was established to get to know each other and to transfer experience and knowledge between the two organizations when the group visits. Little did I know that the students are from different backgrounds but with a passion to make a difference in their society after their study program. I was moved by the openness and readiness to learn from each other and to want to do something together in the future.
—Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle, African Women & Youth Organization


African Women & Youth Organization Kester with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

“Heidi R. Lewis will be visiting the AWYO organization with some of her students from Colorado College in June,” was the announcement of Elizabeth Adekunle to me as I stepped into the office that morning. Reading through Heidi’s CV gave me some exciting impression of our guest to come and the thought that she will be coming with some of her students made it more exciting. June 6, 2014 will always be a memorable day for AWYO as the day we hosted the FemGeniuses.

I had excitedly come early to the office, since our guests were expected. At exactly 9 am, the bell rang and there we had the FemGeniuses matching confidently on the stair case leading to the office. Their faces looked very bright to me and had a few of them with brimming smiles as I welcomed them into the conference room. A quick glance at their areas of discipline and individual interests was very insightful, as I discovered that these are world change agents as they have stakes in almost every field of study. It was then clear to me that in tandem with the AWYO’s vision of being recognized as the premier resource centre for excellent development of African change agents, world change agents were meeting in that conference room that morning. Social issues such as women and youth empowerment, racism, poverty, career trends and development, challenges and opportunities in Africa among others were discussed. The insightful comments and questions from the FemGeniuses sustained the passion in our talks and it was almost as if the meeting should not end. AWYO looks forward to coming to Colorado next summer with African kids as part of the organization’s cultural educational programme held once every year. We trust AWYO’s partnership with the FemGeniuses will grow leaps and bounds. Miss you all, dear FemGeniuses.
—Kester Audu, African Women & Youth Organization


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Nadine and Mouctar Bah with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

To meet you and your students was very inspiring. It was like meeting someone for the first time and coming directly to the point. It was less time, so we ran through different aspects of racism in big steps. The face of institutional racism in Germany and the U.S. has the same shape and same roots. To exchange our political and daily life experiences and analyses of that system means realizing that we fight against same big problem just in different places. Coming to this point, it is necessary to learn about different ways of resistance and combine them. I will keep you informed about case of Oury Jalloh and the uprising refugee movement in Germany and Europe. We should know about ongoing peoples movements around the world to catch the fire!
—Nadine Saeed, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Sharon with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I am really honoured to have been asked to contribute to the FemGeniuses in Berlin programme. The morning we spent together was lively and engaging and I was very impressed by the way the students engaged with the material I was presenting. The Witnessed Series is dedicated to documenting stories of Black experiences in Germany, written in English. My dream is that these stories – written by us and for us – can be shared in the Diaspora. I am especially grateful, therefore, that Witnessed could be included in the programme as a step towards achieving this dream! Most of all, however, I am grateful that this is not a one-off but the simply the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Looking forward to FemGeniuses in Berlin 2015!
—Sharon Dodua Otoo, Mother, Activist, & 2016 Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis Winner


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Drs. Brückmann and Lewis during a convergence class with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Working with Professor Lewis was a wonderful, rewarding experience. My students and I tremendously enjoyed our convergence class with the Femgeniuses. It was a unique, intercultural learning environment, which provided the opportunity for direct debate and exchange of knowledge and ideas between groups of students who rarely meet each other despite their courses of study: students of US history and Women’s Studies in Germany and students of German history and Women’s Studies in the US. Not only was the convergence class very interesting and instructive for students by creating a transnational academic exchange, the socially interactive convergence class enabled everyone to form professional ties and personal friendships across the Atlantic.
—Dr. Rebecca Brückmann, Free University


Kadesha

Dr. Radvan with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What impressed Carmen and me most about your visit was that we did have so very much intensive discussions about topics that are not so easy to explain mostly. Our research about right wing women and their influence within Neonazi-groups in history and present brought up very interesting questions and discussions. For me, it was very impressive that for the students the topic of overlooking the victims of Neonazis in general played a very important role; we did have good talks about this as well! So I look forward meeting you again next year and I hope your application is going to be succesful!
—Dr. Heike Radvan, Antonio Amadeu Foundation


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Josephine with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Meeting Heidi and her group of students has been very important to me. Our fields of interest are very much alike but obviously differ strongly as the national contexts of both the U.S. and Germany have a huge influence on how race an gender operate. To me, it was a very empowering experience to be able to exchange thoughts and ideas on feminism and everyday racism with not only a diverse group of women but with a group of women that seemed highly educated on the topics. Thank you for giving me even more inspiration!
—Josephine Apraku, Africa in Wedding Expert and Tour Guide


ReachOut

Biplab with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Thank you very much for a very interesting afternoon with all your lovely students. I consider myself lucky to have met and spoken to so many excellent and intelligent young people. Please convey my best wishes to them and especially to Casey for the blog entry.
—Biplab Basu, ReachOut

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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