It’s been a while since I contributed to “Some Final Thoughts.” So, bear with me, please, as I shake some of the rust off.
Despite earning tenure and promotion to Associate Professor this spring, this year had its rough spots—some worse than others, especially the death of one of my closest aunts. Because of that, a few people—some who I thought were close to me and others who I knew weren’t—recommended that I cancel this course. In some strange way, I’m glad they did, because it reminded me of two very important things:
A lot of people who compliment me on this course have no idea what it is, what it does, and/or what it means—not just to me but to my students and my friends and comrades in Berlin.
This course means a lot to me and my students and my friends and comrades in Berlin.
My faith in the course was rewarded by a great group of students. They were thoughtful, kind, patient, interested, curious, and outright hilarious. I had so much fun with them, and I miss them already even though it’s only been one week since the course concluded. I could fill this page with memories:
Charles declaring, “Those two left at the same time.”
Me and Charles, singing, “If you liked it, you shoulda put a ring on it.”
Laila’s hilarious faces and hand gestures—I wish I could type the sound she made to complement her monster face and hands.
Dana’s and my “cheese fight.”
Our first long-distance trip in the course.
The constant references to John’s future run for Senate.
Sarah’s broad-shouldered dinner jacket.
The search for mom jeans and the finding of a pair “in pristine condition.”
Dereka’s new nose ring.
And as always, we had such a great time with and learned so much from everyone in Berlin who gave their time and energy to the course. Best of all, I think everyone knew just how much we appreciated them, because these students made every effort to ensure that from start to finish. If you haven’t yet, please check out the student podcasts (index below) and share them with anyone you know who may be interested in what we study here.
2018 FemGeniuses in Berlin Podcast Index:
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The FemGeniuses greeted the day with a rainy walk to the U-Bahn and a stuffy, damp subway ride. Peeling off our wet jackets, we settled in for class. This morning, we were lucky enough to sit down with the editors of Winter Shorts, the latest installment of the Witnessed Series. It was a pleasure to hear from Sharon Dodua Otoo and Clementine Burnley, co-editors of the influential collection. Otoo, a London-born artist and activist, moved to Berlin in 2006 with her three sons (she now has four). She described the motivation for the Witnessed Series as a desire to use her international connections to create momentum, shared understanding, and support for Black German activism through writing. Burnley has been in Berlin for 6 years, and writes poetry when she isn’t working for MSO Inklusiv. In 2015, MSO focused its work on youth, Black, and Queer people of color communities, collaborating with organizations like Street Univercity, Jugend Theater Büro, Katharina Oguntoye’s Joliba, and the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland. This year, they’re working with Wagenplatz Kanal, a Queer grouping within the Sinti and Roma community, a Black Trans organisation hosted by Der Braune Mob, and a youth organisation in Heidelberg.
Otoo and Burnley emphasized that Witnessed, the first English-language series about the experience of Black people in Germany, is not meant to replace anything already written in German about the Black German experience. Witnessed is, rather, a diverse collection, a reflection of the myriad experiences that comprise a Black German collective consciousness. Previous installments include The Little Book of Big Visions How to Be an Artist and Revolutionize the Worldedited by Otoo and Sandrine Micossé-Aikins (2012), Daimaby Nzitu Mawakha (2013), Also by Mail: A Play a Olumide Popoola (2013), and The Most Unsatisfied Town by Amy Evans (2015), which is based on the deeply controversial Oury Jalloh case. The original book launch and reading of this play was a collaboration with Roses for Refugees, a project Otoo developed that sought to engage with refugees living and protesting in Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg in order to improve the policies and discourses around refugees in Germany. A catalyst for activism, Witnessed also organized and hosted youth workshops in schools, along with performances of the play.
After Otoo and Burnley discussed their work, we asked questions about the texts we read for class from Winter Shorts, including Burnley’s “Boom,” and Otoo’s “Whtnacig Pnait (Watching Paint).” I found it interesting that Otoo explained that the latter was inspired by her son’s struggles with dyslexia. The protagonist hates school, in part due to this and also his new, unfamiliar home in Germany. Still, when the boy finds himself in a magical, secret safe space for people of color, he still feels somewhat out of place. This story, Otoo shared with us, was her way of saying “Look, I’ve been listening!” not only to her son, but also to all people on the margins of the Black community, estranged by forces like ableism, cissexism, and heterosexism.
I loved reading fiction for a change, and these stories were no disappointment, inciting rich discussions of racism, hegemonic narratives, and the role of art in activism. For example, I asked, “What role does autobiography play in your stories? How much of your writing is rooted in personal experience?” The answers I received were far more nuanced than I expected. Otoo articulated that, for her, even if she writes about something directly from her own life, that the very act of writing it down is interpretation. She is wary of the term “autobiographical,” as it may limit the interpretations of her work. Her stories are invitations for connection and inspiration, not simply narrations of disparate, specific happenings. Burnley responded, “I can’t write what I don’t know,” explaining that even though everything she writes is fueled by something she has seen, heard, or imagined, as soon as she’s written a story down, she no longer has anything to do with it. “What is more important,” she argued, “is what the person reading the story brings to it.” For Burnley, delineations of fact and fiction matter not: “Sometimes you write a story, and it’s complete factual experience, but for me it doesn’t make a difference. It’s still a story.” These responses made it clear, then, that no matter how connected to reality stories are, what matters most is how the reader can relate to the story.
As a follow-up, Heidi raised a concern that too often marginalized writers, especially Black women writers (the literary community she’s most studied) are assumed only to write autobiographical content, that they rarely considered to be creative. Otoo agreed and added that the literary perspective of white men seems to be the neutral perspective, rich in variation and creative freedom, while perspectives of Black women and other marginalized groups are seen as a specialized, specific and connected to the narration of their marginal experiences. She suggested that since the wealth of literature catered to the masses is written by white men, the small amount of writing done by PoC or QPOC is usually assumed to be simply nonfictional, and not creative. It seems that writers from minority groups have been affected by what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of the single story,” something that Burnley mentions in the introduction to Winter Shorts. When dominant narratives are written only by those in power, those without power suffer. Burnley actually touches on this frustration through one of her characters, Mimi, in “Boom.” Upon researching the Bab el Mandeb straits for a vacation, “Mimi was at once pleased and annoyed at the morbid romanticism of the language and the way it entirely avoided mentioning the slave trade and the more recent wars in the region” (47). Otoo, Burnley, and the writers of the Witnessed Series are all painfully aware of the danger of the single story, and aim to complicate limited narratives about the Black experience with their colorful collection of writings.
Talking to Otoo and Burnley this morning helped us see a real relationship between creating art and Black political thought. All the scholars in the room seemed to agree that this work against the danger of the single story, the Witnessed Series, is certainly political. Along these lines in the introduction to Winter Shorts, Burnley reminds readers of Toni Morrison’s insight: “If there is a book you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Burnley laments that capitalism has turned the appreciation of the arts into an elitist endeavor that many do not have resources enough to access. But she urged us today that her art, and subsequently her manifestation of political thought, is not always found in the high, abstract realm, “because we don’t always have the time or the money.” Among capitalist frameworks that commodify creativity and impose limiting structures such as genres, Burnley sees an opportunity for artful dissent. “That’s freedom for me,” she states in a matter-of-fact manner, “writing what I want.” Otoo agrees, “I like to write in a way that leaves room for interpretation…leaves room for dreaming.” Through their collections of art, Otoo and Burnley have invited their readers to dream of liberation. Through conversing with them and getting acquainted with their work, it is clear that they see art as a powerful political tool.
The curation of the Witness Series, including Winter Shorts, is a glimpse into the multiplicitous nature of the Black German experience, meant to engender awareness and solidarity for their movement towards liberation. Winter Shorts does a beautiful job of showcasing the difficult everyday moments in which multiple intersections of identity manifest. Clearly, in these personal stories, rife with racially charged struggle, is where the revolution is situated. Otoo and Burnley are uniting people with these stories and inviting collaboration and change to be made. As Heidi writes in her book-jacket praise for Winter Shorts, “The revolution happens in our hearts, minds, and spirits during moments when we might least expect it.” I want to thank both Otoo and Burnley for sharing their keen, revolutionary, and poetic minds with the FemGeniuses this morning.
Ivy Wappler hails from Long Island Sound and is grateful to spend her summers in New England, and her winters in sunny Colorado. She is a Feminist and Gender Studies major, and an Environmental Issuesminor. After school, she hopes to explore environmentally and socially responsible tourism. She may also end up reforming sex education. An avid foodie, Ivy is ready to experience Berlin through its food and drink when she’s not in class. You may find her taking walks through sunny streets, seeking out farmer’s markets and green, open spaces.
Why is it that Michael Brown, an 18 year old black man who stole a few packets of cigarettes, can be shot on the spot by a white policeman, but James Holmes, a young white male, can shoot an entire movie theatre and kill 12 people, yet still be able to go to trial? This is a question that ensued after an emotional and eye-opening discussion we had today with Nadine Saeed and Mouctar Bah, extremely passionate activists part of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh.
To start off our session, Nadine shared with us the story of Oury Jalloh. 10 years ago, three women cleaning the streets called the police because they claimed that a young black man named Oury Jalloh was “harassing” them. Though he was only asking to use one of their cellphones to call his girlfriend, the police showed up immediately, eager to arrest any person of color, especially a migrant. At 8:15 am, Jalloh was aggressively arrested and thrown into a police cell. Four hours later, he was chained to a bed and burned alive. The police claim Jalloh set himself on fire, and without any further investigation of the crime scene, this became the concrete story. But there was no possible way for this to be a suicide. For one, Jalloh was tightly cuffed by each arm and leg to the mattress which made any movement of his hands impossible. Secondly, the lighter “found at the crime scene” had no traces of fibers from Jalloh’s clothing or the mattress, and was not turned in as evidence until three days after the burning took place. And finally, the extent to which Jalloh was burned was only capable through the use of a combustive agent and the absence of the anti-flammable mattress cover. However, the courts didn’t care. Even with this evidence, they ruled Jalloh’s death a homicide, and only charged a 10,800€ fine to one police officer for not saving Jalloh when the fire alarm initially went off. They also charged the police chief for turning off the fire alarm despite his excuse that the fire alarm was broken. As this case continued to be appealed, video evidence disappeared and police stories kept changing, but the verdict stayed the same.
Hearing this story physically made my heart hurt, and it reminded me of the contemporary Black Lives Matter (also referred to as Black Life Matters) movement in the United States. The Brown vs. Ferguson case brought needed attention to this issue, but there are dozens of cases just like Brown’s. Take for example the story of Victor White. He was a young Black man who police claimed “shot himself in the head” in the back of a police car in Louisiana after being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Despite being handcuffed with no ability to move his hands, his death was ruled a suicide. There are countless other Black men and women who have similar stories, so I am very aware of racism in America. However, racism in Germany is brought to a whole different, unique level.
Not only are police able to get away with killing minorities here, but the secret service in Germany actually funds and organizes the National Socialist Underground, a racist and terrorist group associated with the KKK that has been killing innocent minorities for years. Racism is not only tolerated in this country, but is deeply rooted in every system of power. I am shocked. I am appalled. I am disgusted. As Maureen Maisha Eggers made clear in her article “Knowledges of (Un-) Belonging,” it’s difficult to even achieve a discussion of racism, let alone find a way to fight it and end it. Sandrine Micossé-Aikins, who we met with earlier today, echoes this idea in the introduction of The Little Book of Big Visions, a text she co-edited with Sharon Dodua Otoo (whom we’ll meet with next week). Micossé-Aikins told us that racism is so rarely talked about in Germany that people don’t even understand it exists, even though it is happening everywhere every day. She tightly links racism with nationalism—since the normative narrative is that Germans are white, so if you are not white, then you “can’t be German.”
The Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh has been investigating this case for years, with the hope of finally exposing the truth. They have worked with investigative journalists and have interviewed dozens of people connected to Jalloh and the police officers responsible for this crime. They have also made short films and held conferences to inform people of the situation. Ten years later and Oury Jalloh’s case is still being fought, and I can only hope that this time the courts bring him the justice he deserves. The Initiative is aware that the lawyers involved in Jalloh’s case aren’t activists and that they aren’t concerned about fighting for the truth, but rather doing what is best for them and their reputation. Nadine told us today that although she no longer has any belief in the judicial system, she believes it’s crucial for everyone to try to change the things they see going wrong in the world. Similarly, Philipp Khabo Köpsell gives hope to ending racism in “A Futurist’s Manifesto,” in which he writes, “This poem tells nothing about racism…. / In the future we rap about love / over beats made from smashing laptops against walls / rhythmically in sync with the tapping of / next door’s love birds. / In the future we love too much.” I can only hope that Koepsell’s vision comes true, but until then, the fight for justice and equality will continue. Oury Jalloh may be gone, but he is most certainly not forgotten.
Samantha Gilbert is a sophomore who hails from Northern California and loves to be outside. From hiking to snowboarding to just breathing fresh air, nature really has her heart. She also really loves being active, as she runs track and field at CC as the team’s main female sprinter. She also writes for the sports section of The Catalyst, and is extremely passionate about journalism. She hopes to create her own major in Sports Psychology and double minor in Film & New Media Studies and Feminist & Gender Studies. Other hobbies of hers include watching The Food Network (specifically Chopped), going exploring with friends, and developing strong one on one connections with unique souls. Samantha loves traveling and learning, so this course has her super excited!
To read and hear what students have written and said about the course, click here.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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. 🙂
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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 Unger. After 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.
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.
Me and the Daima Team: Nzitu, Me, Jamile, Tina, and Sharon
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.
2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index: Also, click here to view a slideshow of the course.