“Berlin is the most bike friendly city!” my tour guide enthusiastically explained as the rowdy boys in my class fidgeted with their bikes. For a class of twenty coming from Copenhagen, we knew immediately that this statement was, in fact, not true. When in Copenhagen, you needed, even wanted a bike to participate in day-to-day activities. The orderly bike lanes and calm streets were easily manageable. This was nothing like Berlin. The city was larger, more chaotic, and extremely exciting. “I’m so excited to see the wall,” my friend, Audrey, said as we started our bike tour. I smiled and nodded careful not to take my eyes off the road for too long. We were, after all, literally in the middle of the road. After a couple more minuets of hectic cycling, a few facts about Berlin, and an unwanted trek up a tiny hill, we were there: The Berlin Wall. Below the wall was a flea market accompanied by loud, festive music and an overall air of joy. Our tour guide didn’t say much about the wall. We mostly just examined the layers and layers of coated on paint and were told that this was the wall that separated so many Germans from each other. I examined this concrete and steel canvas for street artists and rubbed my hands along the cold, hard surface, not quite grasping the importance of it all.
Now, a few months have gone by since this first visit, and I head to Berlin once more. As I reflect, I can’t help but acknowledge how quickly (just over 30 years since it has fallen) people seem to have moved on. For my generation, 30 years seems both so recent and so unfathomably long. This is probably due to the fact that most of us were born a few years after the wall came down and don’t know much about the German reunification. But there is a responsibility in knowing history as well as questioning it. The History Channel’s The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall gives a good overview of the history and stories brought on by the wall. From its sudden creation to collapse, the wall drastically changed the social climate of an already divided Germany. The Berlin Wall no doubt played a huge role in Berlin’s history. While watching the documentary, one gets a general idea of the two sides of Berlin and Germany during this time. The documentary gave plenty of anecdotal examples of stories of Germans split up. And it detailed riveting stories of both failed and successful attempts to leave East Berlin.
The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall also shared very interesting narrativess about freedom. It was clear that before the construction of the wall, West Berlin was the symbol of an oppression-free land. This symbol of unattainable freedom that East Germans experienced seems to somewhat parallel the lives of marginalized people during and after the collapse of the wall. For example, in a foreword written for Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out,Audre Lorde writes,
I walk into a shiny tourist sweetshop in the newly accessible East Berlin of 1990. The young white German saleswoman looks at me with aversion, snaps an outraged answer to my first question, then turns her back upon me and my companion until we leave the shop. Once outside, I look back. She turns also. Through the glass door, our eyes meet. That look of hatred she hurls against the glass in my direction is prolonged, intense, and very familiar. (xi)
It is still interesting to see the lengths to which people will go to secure the right to live in a free land, which in the case of East Germans was democracy.
When the wall went up, many people were separated from their homes, family, and significant others. This sense of urgency to “break free” was quite relevant. It became increasingly evident that people would risk going to jail and dying to get to this protected “free land.” For instance, a man explained his failed attempt to bring over his fiancé, Roswita Koppen, to West Berlin, where he engineered his car so that she could hide next to the engine and under the hood. Roswita risked going to jail or even her own life, as she was burned badly by the engine next to her. The documentary claimed that 136 people died trying to get out of East Berlin through the wall and thousands were jailed after they were caught. These people were trying to gain the right to vote, have jobs that they wanted, and generally live without oppression.
Unfortunately, however, The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t showcase many voices of marginalized people during this time. This was also the case with much of the discourse of the non-Jews after World War II. For example, in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden explains how “researchers studying women in the Holocaust have generally, unself-consciously assumed (or preceded as though they assumed) that all the women in the Holocaust were Jewish” (26). We now know that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t just extended their hatred to Jews, but many other groups of people including Africans, the Romani, as well as gay and lesbian people.
It wasn’t until reading texts like Showing Our Colors that I realized the history of Afro-Germans went back as far as it does. For instance, Audre Lorde writes, “I have Black German women in my class who trace their Afro-German heritage back to the 1890s” (vii). Even if those voices might not have been the majority of the minority, they are still important and need to be addressed. As Jasmin Eding points out in “… And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want,” which outlines the importance of ADEFRA (a group for Afro-German women), “After the collapse of the wall between East and West Germany, we witnessed unification between Black women in the East and the West as well” (131). There are clear stories here that people are willing to tell. So, it’s important for us to acknowledge and listen to these narratives.
As I end this blog post, I leave you with this. Although the Berlin Wall represents a lot of different things for a lot of different people (may that be freedom, oppression, or even hope), it is important to acknowledge the uncommon voices in history. It is our responsibility to do so. As this class gets started, I’m more excited to learn about these narratives. In some ways, many of these stories are just now coming to light. And the only sure fire way to have them survive is to listen and share them, so that more people will do the same.
Nitika Reddy is a rising senior at Colorado College from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an Economics & Business major, as well as a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. She is an avid dancer and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity. She has been traveling for the past 5 months (studying aboard in Copenhagen and visiting parts of Asia), and is finishing her 6th month of traveling with FemGeniuses in Berlin! Nitika loves reading memoirs, really any kind of film, and singly loudly in the shower. Fun fact: She is currently in a long distance relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which she misses dearly!
I first became familiar with Grace Montesano (Feminist & Gender Studies and Political Science ‘17) when they wrote “Attention, Straight Allies” for the Block 2 2013 Monthly Rag. In it, they write, “Being a good ally doesn’t mean you will tolerate two men kissing in privacy, it means you actively fight the hetero and cis sexist power structure under which we all live. Don’t expect extra points from queer people just for putting up with us.” After reading that, I thought, “Wow! Who’s this fierce young buck?” Not long after, they enrolled in my Critical Race Feminism course during Half-Block 2014, making them the eldest member of the FemGeniuses in this course. Soon after, we connected on Facebook, and the rest is history. There are few students on Facebook that I enjoy “watching” more than Grace, especially because they are one of the smartest and most hilarious people I know. They’ll go from posting a scathing and fierce critique of white heteropatriarchal capitalist supremacy to posting about their Queering Fashion blog to posting hilarious thoughts about Justin Bieber. Grace is just all the things. Grace was also a student in my Feminist Theory in Block 6 2015. Always the leader, they served as the Editor for Guns & Rosie, along with 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin member Jazlyn Andrews, which, according to them, “is a magazine for women in the military to read and relate to, because no matter what our theories about the military, the women on the ground need a place of sisterhood to deal with this taxing occupation.” I wasn’t surprised that Grace and their team chose to write about matters that are just as important outside of the academy as inside of it—if not more—because they’re always thinking intersectionally, even when they’re not in class. This is probably why Grace was as instrumental part of “The Stonewall X,” along with Baheya, and Black Women Matter with Ivy. For these reasons, I know Grace will benefit greatly from this course, and I’m looking forward to seeing their intellectual growth in Berlin and back on-campus. [UPDATE: Never one to let a mistake slip, and they shouldn’t be, Grace reminded me today that we actually met when they took my Critical Race Feminism course during Half-Block 2014. I guess I really am getting old. Hahahaha.]
Cheanna Gavin (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18) took her very first college course, Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies (First-Year Experience), with me during the fall 2014 semester. She was also a student in my Feminist Theory course this past spring. Not long after FYE, Cheanna decided to major in Feminist & Gender Studies and I serve as her adviser, so we’ve also gotten pretty close over the years. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the years—from a very quiet and shy first-year student to a strong, confident young woman who’s really thoughtful and intelligent. I was particularly impressed with the thinking she illustrated in “Miley Cyrus and the Madonna-Whore Dichotomy,” the final video project she produced with her classmates in FYE, which “problematizes mediated analyses of Miley Cyrus that rely primarily on the Madonna-Whore dichotomy.” Not long after, she started to “come out of her shell” when she published “Domestic Violence and the NFL,” a courageous think piece, in the Block 2 2014 Monthly Rag. More specifically, she writes, “The fact that it took a video of [Ray Rice] punching his wife to bring the severity of the issue into perspective is a huge problem. Both young boys and girls get the message that this is not a big deal. Young boys see that they won’t be severely punished without visual proof, and young girls see that their voice alone will not be heard.” Most recently, Cheanna served as a Journalist for Artisan, the final magazine project she produced with her teammates in Feminist Theory. For Artisan, Cheanna wrote “Revolutionary Feminist Hip Hop,” which introduces readers to hip hop artists Shadia Mansour and Ana Tijoux in order to explore the relationship between feminism and hip hop. Along these lines, her interest in art is one thing that I think will really motivate her during this course, especially since so many intellectuals in Berlin value artistic expression, and I hope her interests strengthen in this course and throughout her time in college.
Alejandra Hernandez (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18) was also a student in my fall 2014 FYE course. She also declared the Feminist & Gender Studies major soon after, and I’ve served as her adviser ever since. I should also mention that she and Cheanna are best friends and that I affectionately refer to them as “The Bopsy Twinz.” It’s funny to think about our advising sessions when I would ask them, “Y’all gon’ take every class together?!” On a serious note, though, Alejandra is an extremely special young woman. She’s super shy and very quiet, but she is one of the smartest students I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. She may not talk often in class, but when she does, she causes even me to think more closely and carefully about our studies. As a first-year, she contributed a great deal to “Behind the Scenes: The Hyper-Sexualization and Objectification of Women during Fashion Week,” the final group video project she produced with her teammates that “explores hyper-sexualized and objectified constructions of women during New York’s Fashion Week.” Most recently, in Feminist Theory, Alejandra served as the Editor for Artisan, writing, “Using a feminist perspective, we aspire to seek, explore, and critique works of art that do feminist work in hopes of showing you, our reader, that feminism can go beyond the walls of a classroom. Artisan hopes to spur and inspire new thoughts and conversations. Our team strives to create a space that spotlights, shares, and celebrates powerful works of art dedicated to empower women and gender non-conforming individuals.” I cannot tell you how proud I was to see Alejandra step into a leadership role and to take her role as a leader as seriously as she did. Due to her leadership, that magazine has become one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to share it with students in Feminist Theory next year and to see how the great work in Artisan influences them to create a fabulous magazine.
Ivy Wappler (Feminist & Gender Studies ’18 and The Monthly Rag Editor, 2016-2017) was also a student in my FYE with Cheanna and Alejandra. She was also a student in my Critical Media Studies course just two blocks after FYE and in my Feminist Theory course this past spring. She’s also a Feminist & Gender Studies major and I serve as her adviser, so we’ve gotten to know each other really well over the past couple years. Ivy is energetic, humorous, and kind. She’s also very thoughtful and smart and willing to continue learning as she figures out who she is and who she wants to be. I first became intrigued with Ivy’s curiosity when she co-created “Sorority Life: Corrosion of Female Empowerment” for her final group video project in FYE. In this video, the group “explores how mediated constructions of primarily white sororities ignore the ways in which these organizations often perpetuated hegemonic gender norms.” Subsequently in Critical Media Studies, Ivy and her team produced “Act Like A Man, Man!: An Examination of Old Spice Ads,” which critiques the ways Old Spice advertisements perpetuate heteronormativity and hegemonic whiteness. Most recently, Ivy served as the Graphic Designer for the final group magazine project in Feminist Theory, helping her group to create GREEN QUEEN, a magazine that aims “to create a safe place for all people to read and learn about ecofeminism!” Outside of the classroom, Ivy’s commitment to theorizing and problematizing these and various other forms of oppressions led her to take an active—albeit careful and critical—role in the Black Women Matter demonstrations on our campus, illustrating her ability to seriously think about and examine problems that are relevant both within and outside of the academy. I think this is a big reason why she’ll appreciate this course, and I sincerely hope that she remains committed to that trajectory throughout and after her college career.
Baheya Malaty (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘18), whom I affectionately refer to as “HeyHey,” and I first met when they were a student in my Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course just over a year ago during Block 5 2015. I knew then that they would grow to become an intellectual force to be reckoned with. They didn’t talk a whole lot in class—something they’re very careful about—but when they did, they almost always said things that made the whole class stand at attention. At the end of the course, Baheya produced “The Solo Exception: The Implications of Categorization of Female Athletes in the Media,” the final group video project they produced with their classmates that “explores the various categorizations in which female athletes are pigeonholed based on gender norms.” Since then, Baheya has been very particular about making intersectional analyses paramount to their academic and personal life. For instance, they were an instrumental part of what I refer to as “The Stonewall X,” a group of students committed to shifting the Colorado College culture to be more reflective of our important and ever-growing LGBTQIA student population. Additionally, Baheya co-founded the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Colorado College, which aims “to promote the cause of justice and speak out against oppression.” It wasn’t surprising, then, when Baheya chose to become an Editor for the student magazine project in my Feminist Theory course this past spring and helped to produce The PWIssue, which, according to them, resists the popular institutional model of “adding color” to college campuses rather than “fostering healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities.” I know that Baheya will learn a great deal about intersectional leadership from our comrades in Berlin, and I am eager to see how their learning in this course manifests in their intellectual work both on-campus and off.
Nitika Reddy (Economics & Business ‘17) and I first met when she was a student in my Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course during Block 5 2015 with Baheya. Subsequently, she decided to declare a Feminist & Gender studies minor, and I serve as her minor adviser. Nitika is one of the brightest students I know, and I mean that intellectually and personally. It’s nearly impossible to be in a “bad” mood around her, which is something that I know her classmates and I will appreciate while we’re abroad. She’s also especially smart, having produced one of my favorite student group video projects to date, “Collard Greens & a Side of Gender Rolls,” which “explores constructions of gender roles on the Food Network’s Southern at Heart starring Damaris Phillips and Good Eats starring Alton Brown.” The very next block, Nitika continued pursuing her intellectual commitment to Feminist & Gender Studies when she enrolled in my Feminist Theory course. There, Nitika advanced her collaborative skills by serving as the Editorial Assistant for Wave: A Fem Rag, along with Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Kadesha Caradine, which aims “to shed light on feminist topics in a way that is empowering and productive in our advancement for the equal opportunity of women.” Whenever we get a chance to talk privately about issues related to my classes, Nitika always expresses a deep concern with being able to conduct intersectional analyses that consider race, gender, sexuality, class, and other markers. Hence, I think her participation in this course will have a deep impact on the ways she is able to converge her interests in Economics & Business and Feminist & Gender Studies all while having a great time.
Amy Valencia (Political Science ‘17) was also a student in my Block 5 2015 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course with Baheya and Nitika with whom she helped produced “Collard Greens & a Side of Gender Rolls.” Like Nitika, she continued her journey into Feminist & Gender Studies by taking Feminist Theory during Block 6 2015. In that course, she served as Editor for College Grrrl: An Alternative Magazine for the Liberal Arts Woman, along with 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin Willa Rentel, Jade Frost, and Spencer Spotts, which, according to Amy, “provides access to knowledge that is not immediately accessible on liberal arts college campuses, and empowers those who identify as women to acquire agency for change and improvement.” Most recently, Amy was a student in my Critical Media Studies course this past spring and produced one of my favorite student media projects to date, “The Production of an Enemy: Misrepresentations of Muslims in the News,” which examines a Time magazine cover and CNN news story in order to argue, “The constantly vilified images of Muslims spur not only anger and tension, but also a misunderstanding of Islam. Due to this media bias, the numbers of Islamic extremists and Islamophobes have grown rapidly, perpetuating hatred, violence, and conflict.” Along with her classmates, Amy also produced a new magazine cover and brief news story that aim “to humanize Muslims by opening a platform for the silenced narratives of victimization and fear, not only spurred by the attacks but also due to misplaced responsibility.” One thing I really appreciate about Amy is her ability to take her learning very seriously. She pays careful attention to the reading materials I assign and our conversations during class in order to conduct multidimensional analyses that challenge various forms of oppression. Since Amy is clearly invested in doing work that is valuable both within and outside of the academy, I know she will appreciate taking this course and learning from intellectuals that occupy myriad spaces in Berlin in order to affect change.
Amelia Eskenazi (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘19) and I first met when I called “The Stonewall X” into my office for a “come to Jesus” meeting. One of the things I appreciated most about Amelia then and even now is their ability to be attentive to critique as they find their intellectual place. For that reason, Amelia is always, always, always doing their best to learn. They’re as good a listener as they are a talker—and yes, they talk quite a bit (haha). So, I wasn’t surprised when Amelia showed up in my Feminist Theory course this past spring and served as a Journalist for Artisanand wrote one of my favorite student magazine articles to date, “The ‘Art Hoe’ Movement: Co-Opting, Empowerment, and Reclamation.” Here, Amelia writes, “We must analyze the ways in which the movement’s original goal has been skewed into a series of posts about color schemes, clothing patterns, and sunglass styles, fueling consumerism and capitalistic values rather than a furthering of the discussion concerning the erasure of people of color in mainstream media and art.” Did I mention that Amelia is a first-year student? Pretty impressive, right? Still, Amelia also realizes that they have a lot of learning to do in order to achieve their intellectual goals, and I’m confident this course will help them pursue their passions more saliently.
I first met Lila Schmitz (Film & Media Studies ’18) when she was a student in my Critical Media Studies course and produced “The Production of an Enemy: Misrepresentations of Muslims in the News” with Amy. She was also a student in my Feminist Theory course, serving as Graphic Designer for Artisan. Artisan is showing up quite a bit, huh? Perhaps I should call these students the Artisans in Berlin. Haha. I was thrilled when Lila first told me she was interested in taking this course, because I really appreciate her intellect and humor. She always makes insightful comments in class and asks some pretty important questions—one of my favorite things. Further, she always finds a way to make me laugh, something I’ll really appreciate while we’re abroad. While I’m still getting to know Lila, I’m confident that she’ll learn a great deal from this course and that her learning in Berlin will have powerful implications for the learning I’m sure she’ll do when we come back to campus and for the rest of her life.
While Amanda Cahn (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) hadn’t taken a class with me prior to this one, we first met during the spring 2014 semester when she decided to declare a major in Feminist & Gender Studies and asked me to serve as her adviser. Hence, I’m looking forward to getting to know her more in Berlin. Amanda has a great deal of experience traveling abroad, but I am positive that her learning in Berlin will be especially unique and fulfilling. Along these lines, I was particularly struck by Amanda’s response to a question on her application for this course: “Photographs are great to have for memories and for sharing with people back home, but there are also experiences lost when the camera is the focus.” In this way, Amanda seems to be acutely aware of the distinctions between being a so-called “traveler” and a “tourist,” and I’m hoping that she’ll share her wisdoms—even as she continues to learn—with me and her classmates.
Claudia Harrison (Classics/History/Politics ‘17) is the newest member of the FemGeniuses crew, as this is her first class with me and this will be our first experience getting to know one another. While it is risky for a professor to take a student abroad with whom they have little to no relationship, Claudia doesn’t worry me one bit. Aside from the fact that she and Nitika are good friends, I was particularly impressed by her application for the course. For instance, in response to one question, Claudia wrote about a great experience she had taking Elementary German with my colleague Christiane “Ane” Steckenbiller. Her experience was especially great because “Ane” helped her realize that learning language is inextricably linked to learning about a country’s many cultures. More specifically, Claudia wrote, “Having only taken Latin as a language in the past, I never noticed how much of modern culture is embedded in language and how the language we use affects how we treat marginalized communities.” This kind of thinking will be particularly valuable for Claudia, her classmates, and me while we’re in Berlin. And I’m looking forward to Claudia sharing her previous knowledge with us so that we have as rich and full of an experience as possible.
I’m also excited to announce that Dana M. Asbury will be serving as our Course Associate this summer! Dana and I became fast friends when we met in 2013, because she is one of the smartest, sweetest, most thoughtful, kindest people I know. Presently, she lives in Memphis, TN with her beloveds: human, feline, and canine. She’s currently West Tennessee Organizer with Healthy and Free Tennessee, a statewide coalition of people and organizations building grassroots power for sexual health and reproductive freedom in the U.S. South. She’s also a photographer who has had the luck and honor to document various events and actions in beloved communities across the country and Caribbean including, but not limited to, those organized by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) at Yale, New Haven Rising Community Union, New Elm City Dream, Free 2 Spit poetry slam, Youth Day Project, the Transnational Black Feminisms Retreat in the Dominican Republic, ALIVE Rescue Memphis, and the Fight for $15 fast food and home care worker’s living wage campaigns in Tennessee. She’s particularly proud to have photographed Landlines,created and performed by friend and artist Ana-Maurine Lara. And I’m more than happy that she told me she’s “so joyously excited to get to be a part of FemGeniuses in Berlin!”
Last, but certainly, not least…guess who else is joining us in Berlin this summer? My mama, Robin, and my kids, AJ and Chase! I figured that’d be a great idea since this will be my third time teaching the course, and I have things figured out a lot more than I did the past two years! The most exciting thing is that AJ and Chase had to get passports for this trip, so this is their first time traveling outside of the U.S.! I really appreciate all of my friends in Berlin sharing in this excitement, so much so that my kids have friends there waiting for them that they’re so excited to meet and play with! It may even be that daddy gets to sneak away from work (hardest working man I know) to spend a bit of time with us, which would be great since he hasn’t been to Berlin since 2013! If not, though, he promises to try really hard to reconnect with the city and our beloveds living there in 2017!
As for my mama? Wow! She’s traveled outside of the U.S. but never to Europe, so I’m really thankful to be able to share this experience with her! In the words of Jay-Z,
Mama, I made it! You know how I do it like the doc do it! I fly through it! That’s how I operated! Mama, I made it! Ghetto like the grease when you gettin’ your hair braided, sweeter than your sister Kool Aid is! Hooray, it’s the underdog! Now, my feet under desk! I’m the presidential favorite! Can’t believe I got away with my earlier stages to bein’ on stages, havin’ my way with the world! Congratulations! Ya baby [girl’s] a made [woman]! I’m a hold the fam down, least 3 generations! I’m talkin’ when spaceships are around, and ya great, great grands reminiscin’ ’bout foundation you gave ’em! For repairin’ my relationship with my pops ‘fore he pass, all I ask is you raise your glass in a celebration! Toast to the most beautiful girl in the world, my inspiration! Thanks for the information! Mama, I made it!
—Jay-Z, “I Made It” (Kingdom Come, 2006)
Created by Kadesha Caradine (Editor), Nitika Reddy (Editorial Assistant), Kali Place (Journalist), Sam Stallings (Journalist), and Laura Cutlip (Graphic Designer) during Block 6 2015
“Wave is a feminist rag that outfits Third Wave feminist ideology. Here at Wave, we try to make sure that we are as all-encompassing as possible, because we believe that inclusivity, as well as diversity, are two very important issues when it comes to Third Wave feminism. In our very first edition of Wave, we have decided to take on topics including body positivity and sex positivity, along with the looming question, “Should men be included in feminism?” Our plan is to shed light on feminist topics in a way that is empowering and productive in our advancement for the equal opportunity of women.”
—Kadesha Caradine, Editor