Breana Kathleen Taylor
The longest member of the FemGeniuses crew (at least within this group)—Breana Kathleen Taylor (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘16)—took her first course at Colorado College with me (FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies) during Block 1 of First-Year Experience in 2012. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow over the last few years, and I’m ecstatic that her growth has, at least in some small part, been recorded on FemGeniuses. In FG110, Breana and her classmates produced a group video project entitled “Gender Roles in Heterosexual Relationships: Expectations and Reality,” which examines gender and sexuality on college campuses. Just over a year later, Breana and her classmates in FG309/ES300 Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (including Kadesha Caradine and Stefani Messick of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin and Jazlyn Andrews of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) produced a group magazine project entitled Divide, which is “dedicated to bridging the gap between white women and women of color in hopes of creating a discourse around race and feminism.” And just this past spring, Breana really stepped into her own as a leader in FG200 Feminist Theory, serving as Editor for Eve’s Apple, a group magazine project that provides adolescents with “information on issues ranging from sexuality, body image, and identity.” Along those lines, I’m really looking forward to Breana acting as a leader with this group. She’s more than ready.
I first came to know Thabiso Ratalane (French and International Political Economy ‘16) during summer 2013 when she enrolled in my Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course. I almost can’t believe that it’s been two years since she’s taken a course with me, but I’m glad to have this happen before she graduates. While we haven’t had a lot of in-class experience together, I know for certain that Thabiso will bring a level of transnational theory and analysis to the group from which we will all benefit. Probably the most well-traveled member of the group this year, Thabiso will also undoubtedly benefit from this new experience, as she is acutely aware of the similar and unique ways in which race and other social, cultural, and political markers—like gender and sexuality—are constructed throughout the world. I remember several times in CWS when Thabiso would say things like, “That’s definitely not the way race functions in my country!” And then this would, of course, prompt us to delve deeper into transnational race analyses. I’m most looking forward to hearing similar assertions and questions in Berlin, as I know Thabiso will soak up such discussions like a sponge.
It wasn’t until I was preparing this introduction that I realized Spencer Spotts (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) is the third most experienced member of the FemGeniuses in the group, having first taken a course with me during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013. I admittedly didn’t realize that Spencer was a star at that time (he was really quiet back then—at least with me), but that soon changed when he enrolled in my FG314 Critical Race Feminism course during the Half-Block term of his first year. Afterwards, he really stepped into his purpose as a leader in various areas of social justice on and off-campus, writing “Don’t Come Out of the Closet (Yet)” for The Monthly Rag this past fall, as well as an essay co-authored with Melissa L. Barnes (Feminist & Gender Studies and Psychology ‘15 and member of the Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin) urging other on-campus leaders to make stronger efforts to understand and enact intersectional activism. Around this same time, Spencer enrolled in my FG212 Critical Media Studies course, at which time he participated in a group project entitled “Leave the ‘Blank Space’ Blank: Taylor Swift, Dating Violence, & Gender Role Performance,” which remains one of my favorite student projects. And most recently, in FG200 this past spring, he served as Graphic Designer (alongside Jade Frost of the 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin) for College Grrrl: An Alternative Magazine for the Liberal Arts Woman, a magazine that acts as “a space where women are encouraged to liberate themselves through critical thinking, agency, empowerment, and raised awareness.” I’m most looking forward to watching Spencer become inspired by what he learns in Berlin, and strengthening his understanding of and commitment to transnational and intersectional activism.
Even though Jade Frost (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) was also in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during Block 1 First-Year Experience with Jazlyn and Lyric also 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin, we first met during the Bridge Scholars Program in August 2013 before FYE even began. From the moment I met her, I realized that Jade is one of the most kind and caring students I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—and she’s so eager to talk and learn about justice and all that encourages or negates it. This became even more clear to me after she and her group members submitted one of the first projects she ever completed in one of my classes, a group video project entitled “Let’s Talk about Sex: Slut-Shaming and Hookup Culture” (alongside Jazlyn). Most recently, when Jade submitted College Grrrl along with her group members in FG200, I realized that her curiosity and passion for intellect had not waned. I’m eager, then, to see the turns Jade’s intellectual interests take as a result of this experience. In other words, I’m interested to see where she pins them down and decides to make her mark.
Jazlyn Andrews (Feminist & Gender Studies ‘17) and I first met when she took her first course at Colorado College, FG110 Feminist & Gender Studies, during Block 1 First-Year Experience 2013. It’s been such a joy for me to watch Jazlyn take ownership of our campus and to become a strong voice and leader, especially over the past year. She’s also a tremendous thinker and writer. I chuckle looking back at “Let’s Talk about Sex” and Divide. It’s still amazing to me that a student can grow so much intellectually in such a short period of time, evidenced by the Critical Media Studies project she created (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Melissa L. Barnes), “Some Relationships Should Never Die: A Feminist Critique of the Female Relationships in Twilight,” which “examines how the Twilight series continues to depict women in a light that subordinates and marginalizes them,” and the project she created in FG200 (serving as Journalist) entitled Guns & Rosie, a magazine for women in the military. One of the great things about Jazlyn is that she pays close attention, reads carefully, thinks hard, soaks it all in, and then blows your mind with analyses that you didn’t even know were brewing in her head. Because of this, I’m no longer surprised when she’s able to teach me new things. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most—her learning a lot and then sharing her newfound knowledges with the rest of the group.
I also met Lyric Jackson (Psychology ‘17) in the FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies Block 1 First-Year Experience course almost two years ago. She was full of personality then and that fact remains today. I remember being impressed by the group video project she created in that class (alongside Inaugural FemGeniuses in Berlin member Stefani Messick) entitled “They Like It Hot,” which “explores the fetishization of women’s sexual engagement with other women.” I couldn’t believe that a group of women that young—after maybe 15 days of class—critiqued fetishization so seriously. Still, one of my favorite things about Lyric is that she’s full of joy and laughter, but make no mistake—I wouldn’t make any attempts to pee on her leg and call it rain either. I remember during FYE, she came to my office and asked, “Miss Heidi, how can I get a quiz exemption?” I was so shocked, because most students never ask. They just continue to write ineffective questions. But Lyric is different. She’s not afraid of critique; in fact, she embraces it. I can’t lie, though, I’m most excited about the fun Lyric will ensure we all have. And I’m curious about the ways in which she’ll make us all think, even as we’re laughing, pointing out things that I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to see without her.
I was so glad when Mackenzie Murphy (Film & New Media Studies ‘16) applied for this course. While she isn’t new to the FemGeniuses crew, she has only taken one other class with me, FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies, and it was over one year ago as of this past spring. That class, when I’m not teaching it for FYE, is always full (at 25 students) or near full, so it’s a bit harder for me to get as close to the students as I do in my other smaller classes or as I do when students take multiple classes with me over the years. But I must say that I will never forget the group video project Mackenzie created with her classmates entitled “Bound 2 Oppress You: Mediated Constructions of Pregnant Bodies,” which “examines constructions of women’s bodies during and after pregnancy” in popular culture. It’s still one of my favorite student projects, and I screen it to students in future classes to give them an idea of what a solid group video project should entail. It was such an original idea, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the original and unique ways I know Mackenzie will experience Berlin.
I was admittedly a little shocked when I saw the application Meredith Bower (Undeclared: Psychology ’18) submitted for the course. I was shocked, because Meredith was most recently a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience. I guess I’m still not used to students making it through that class and having any interest in taking another course with me—it’s a hard one!—this soon after. Still, she did produce a great group vide project entitled “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant” (alongside 2015 FemGeniuses in Berlin member Samantha Gilbert) that raised some important questions and concerns about constructions of hegemonic masculinity, femininity, pregnancy, and parenthood in popular culture. For that reason and so many others, I was happy she applied. Meredith is bright and has a subtle sense of humor, but she’s not easy to “pin down,” meaning that I don’t have a clear idea regarding who she is and/or who she’s trying to become. That’s what will be fun—me getting another chance to watch her learn and grow and having the opportunity to help her along the way.
Even though Samantha Gilbert (Undeclared: Film & New Media Studies ’18) was also a student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies during this past Block 1 during First-Year Experience with Meredith, I wasn’t exactly surprised when she applied for the course. That’s probably because Sam is my academic advisee, and we’ve actually bonded a great deal over the past academic year. In a lot of ways, Samantha reminds me of myself. She was bored with high school by the time she got to college, so she has a lot of ambition and drive. She’s smart, but she’s still trying to figure out why and how. She understands that something isn’t quite right with the world—evidenced by “16 and (not Ready to Be) Pregnant“—but is eager to continue learning how to most effectively theorize and eradicate the problems. I think that’s why I’ve been so drawn to her (and maybe vice versa). In any case, I’m glad she’s having her first college study abroad experience with me, and I’m looking forward to watching her figure herself out even more over the next few weeks.
When I first accepted the application submitted by Willa Rentel (Undeclared: Sociology ’18), I thought she would be another new member of the FemGeniuses crew, and then she showed up in my FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies course this past spring. While I would have been completely happy getting to know her in Berlin, I’m glad I got the chance to get to know her better sooner. Willa is razor sharp, especially considering her youth, but is so open to learning that I shudder to think about what she’ll accomplish throughout the remainder of her college career and subsequently. Willa served a Journalist for College Grrrl (alongside Spencer), and really illustrated her knack for conducting analyses through multiple relevant frameworks in order to produce the most salient examinations possible. I realized this even more after reading a fall edition of The Monthly Rag in which Willa wrote an essay entitled “What is Flibanserin?” It’s funny, because as I was reading the article, I kept thinking about the faces she makes that lets me (and everyone around her) know when she’s contemplating—I’m hoping we get a good snapshot of it while we’re abroad—and I’m really looking forward to hearing her thoughts when she’s ready to share, as I expect nothing less than dynamite.
DeAira Cooper (Anthropology ‘17) is officially new to the FemGeniuses crew, but we’ve been getting to know each other slowly but surely over the past couple years on campus and social media. I’m glad that she’s finally taking a course with me, and I sure hope this isn’t the last time. DeAira is one of these “skyrocket students” who came onto campus and immediately began to stake her claim on the space in order to serve as a leader among her peers. One of the things that I think will help DeAira continue to build strong leadership abilities is her openness to the kind of vulnerability required to understand yourself and your comrades and those you are fighting alongside in any struggle. I was so comforted by her application materials, including her interview with me, because of her willingness to share her unclear and uncertain thoughts about things that she’s eager to learn about in the course. Hence, it’ll be a treat for me to watch her learn and grow in the process of trying to understand herself better.
Nia Abram (Environmental Science ‘17) is one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least. But can I just admit that, because of that, I’m most excited about spending time with her and getting to know her better? More specifically, for a while, I have been growing more committed to building relationships with my colleagues in Environmental Studies, especially since our students seem to be urging this through their own interests in theorizing the relationship between the environment and justice. For instance, on her application, Nia wrote, “I hope to address issues of environmental social justice, potentially on a global scale. Environmental justice hinges on intersectional analyses: ecological needs are related to race, class, and sexuality. Additionally, the hidden ecological narratives of minorities can surface through. This course, then, can help me come to understand how intersectionality manifests on a cultural and global level, while allowing me to apply this knowledge to my desired subject of interest in the future.” How could I say “no” to that?
Similarly, Jessica “Jesse” Crane (Sociology ‘15) is also one of the FemGeniuses in Berlin that I know the least, and I’m glad that we’ll be spending this time together, as she just graduated this past May! Additionally, this will be her first college course abroad, so I’m really thrilled to be able to provide that opportunity for her. Most importantly, though, Jesse’s interests in marginalized people and communities will most certainly grow exponentially through intersectional and transnational analyses, something she emphasized a great deal in her application materials. One thing about Jesse that really intrigued me was her statement, “As I grew to view life through a sociological lens, this understanding has made me passionate, angry, and curious.” I wanted the opportunity to encourage Jesse to thrive in the anger she’s feeling alongside her passion and curiosity. So often, intellectuals are taught and encouraged to pacify their anger, which is antithetical to my own theories about anger—influenced, of course, by the late Audre Lorde (who was, and continues to be, a great inspiration for me and this course). Hence, I thought it would be great for Jesse to also develop the kind of anger that fuels her intellectualism during her last Colorado College course.
My little cousin Dezerae Terrell (Human & Family Development ’15—Kent State University) is an honorary member of the FemGeniuses in Berlin, as she’ll be spending some time with us during the first week of class. This came about after Dezerae talked to me about her uneasiness about taking a course abroad in Ireland. I, of course, encouraged her to take the course, and was extremely ecstatic when I learned that the last day of her course coincided with my arrival in Berlin. So, we both emailed her professor—Dr. Maureen Blankenmeyer—and asked if it would be okay for Dezerae to adjust her flight home so that she could spend a week with us in Berlin. I shouted when I read the first couple sentences of Dr. Blankenmeyer’s response, “What an amazing opportunity that will be for you! Yes, absolutely take the opportunity to meet up with your cousin and her students after we’re done with the Ireland trip.” Hence, Dezerae is here getting another unique “taste” of Europe, and I’m also grateful to be able to provide her with this opportunity. Dezerae is still in the process of figuring out just exactly what she wants to pursue after her graduation this winter, but I can tell you this—if she continues to be encouraged to fulfill her own budding dreams and goals—it’ll most certainly entail some kind of work on behalf of justice for marginalized people and communities. And I’m excited to see how this course helps her to develop her interests even further.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Last, but certainly not least, our Course Associate Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Creator of the Ford Foundation-funded internationally acclaimed and award-winning feature-length film NO! The Rape Documentary, Sterling Brown Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College for spring 2016, and former Adjunct Professor of Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies at Temple University) is also one of the brand new members of the FemGeniuses in Berlin. Aishah and I began developing a relationship through our work with The Feminist Wire (TFW), for which we both serve as Associate Editors, a website co-founded by Dr. Hortense Spiller and Dr. Tamura Lomax that “was inspired by a deep sense of crisis, shared by many, regarding the state of the U.S. nation and society at large, including popular misperceptions about the achievements of feminist critique and practice.” We bonded immensely during our work on TFW’s global forum in honor of “Audre Lorde’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Year,” curated by Aishah and featuring many Berlin comrades and collaborators with the 2014 FemGeniuses in Berlin, such as Ika Hügel-Marshall, Ria Cheatom, Dagmar Schultz, and Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, as well as Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, Gloria I. Joseph, M. Jacqui Alexander, Jewelle Gomez, Cheryl Clarke, Robert Reid-Pharr, Jennifer Abod, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, among many others. Aishah and I also co-curated TFW’s forum in honor of “Toni Cade Bambara’s 75th Birthday Anniversary Year,” featuring Linda Janet Holmes, Sarah C. Poindexter, Louis Massiah, Nikky Finney, Cara Page, Kalamu ya Salaam, Kamili and Tom Feelings, Pearl Cleage, Clyde Taylor, Nikki Harmon, Eleanor Traylor, Malaika Adero, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, and many others.