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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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.
As we finish our first week in Berlin, our friendships are growing and the sass is as strong as ever (which is maybe too much at times). Several of us have commented that it feels like we have been here for weeks already (or I believe “years” was thrown around once). Yet, we have just made it to Friday with everyone still in one piece and with about ten new German words in our heads. Most of us are just now conquering jet lag, so getting to sleep in this morning was just what we needed. After a morning of rest, we headed to ReachOut. ReachOut Berlin is a counseling and support center for victims of racial profiling, as well as right-wing and anti-Semitic violence. When we arrived, we were greeted by Biplab Basu, one of the founding members of ReachOut. He has been working with victims of migration asylum and racial bias since 1980. After we explained who we are and why we were there, Biplab described the work he and his colleagues do. He is clearly passionate about his work and the need to help those who are told they do not belong in Berlin.
L to R: Stefani, Melissa, Beril, Biplab Basu, Casey, Ximena, and Kadesha
ReachOut is one of three programs under the larger organization ARIBA. ReachOut was the first of these programs and was founded in 2001. It is also the only program financed by the State, even though it is a NGO. This is very fortunate, because it allows ReachOut’s six employees to be paid, yet still offer free services to their clients. Five of the six employees at ReachOut are women, but they make a point to keep the racial and ethnic diversity at a balance of at least 50%. Hence, only three of the current employees are white Germans. ReachOut not only offers counseling to victims, but also provides assistance regarding how victims will proceed with their cases. ReachOut will help and follow their clients all the way through the legal process of filing a claim and taking it to court. They work with about 150 clients per year, which is only a very small percentage of those affected by racial discrimination.
L to R: Kadesha, Heidi, Nicole, Kaimara, Stefani, Melissa, Beril
Biplab explained the tendency for victims to blame themselves or their bad timing on the days they are victimized. He also discussed the work he does to create a safe space for victims to share their stories, similar to Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s work we learned about yesterday. Victims do not need to justify their feelings or testimony nor do they have to tell every detail. The victims also have no obligation to do more than they feel comfortable with and the counselors will believe them no matter what.
L to R: Beril, Biplab Basu, and Casey
Biplab also told us that most people do choose to take action against their perpetrator, even though 98% of their cases are dropped. Despite that, Biplab has no intention of backing down, as he feels his work is important to create change. He has been in this field for more than 30 years and because of this he has hope for the future. He has seen change, so he tries not to get too frustrated. He mentioned that he is seeing passionate young lawyers emerging, which will help make progress. He has also changed his method from focusing on changing the perpetrators to focusing on the victims and their experiences with racism.
A second organization under ARIBA that Biplab mentioned is KOP, which is for victims of racist police violence. One of the biggest issues this organization faces is the lack of awareness and public acknowledgment that racial violence and profiling is a problem. The police are supposed to be helpful and non-violent in their authority and that is exactly what many Germans believe. Yet, racial profiling is a serious issue that is being ignored. Unfortunately, people need to mobilize around their rights themselves because that is not always done for them. There is no funding for KOP, because the government and police departments have officially denied that this kind of racial profiling exists. Well, as Biplab said, they admit it is a problem…but only in the U.S.
To us, this is especially ridiculous since we have created a whole class around the issue of being discriminated against because of your race. And this is in Germany in particular! Unfortunately, it is absolutely an issue in the U.S as well, as with most of the world. As a white American, I have never come close to experiencing police violence myself, but I have certainly heard stories. Part of Biplab’s earlier frustration is that when he gave talks, he found that most people had never even heard of racial profiling and that they are skeptical, and sometimes he still has to start from scratch during those conversations. Hence, there is more funding for group violence, such as violence from Neo-Nazis.
Click the Picture to view a Link to the Trailer
As we have been learning in class, so many people become defined by their race, especially in a place such as Germany, where people of color are particularly visible if they are not white. It is important to bring the power back to those being defined and let them define themselves. As Toni Morrison wrote, and Heidi keeps repeating, “Definitions belong to the definers, not to the defined.” Just as Black Germans have begun identifying themselves by creating the word “Afro-German,” other ethnic minorities are fighting to feel comfortable and safe with their identity. Creating safe spaces, as Biplab and Cassandra encourage, is important for this progress.
Casey Schuller is entering her junior year at Colorado College. She is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, and she is particularly interested in media and gender. She has been particularly challenged by this class, since for the first time in her life, she is being out-sassed by those around her.