Throughout this trip, I encountered many difficult questions that I have been struggling to answer. After three weeks of exploring Berlin, meeting with local activists, visiting museums, and attending walking tours, I find myself only a little closer to understanding their answers. More often than not, my experiences have left me with new questions, wishing I could spend more time in Berlin. On my final day in the city, I would like to consider these questions and reflect on how my recent experiences have allowed me to more critically examine them. I hope to apply what I have learned in the course and continue furthering my understanding of identities, forms of oppression, and memorials.
First, I want to consider our navigation of identities and subjectivities. How do we see ourselves and acknowledge how others see us? This question has helped me reflect more deeply on my own positionality and how society chooses to perceive it. In the spaces I have been welcomed into during this trip, it was important for me to understand how my own experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others. Having a greater awareness of this has better enabled me to listen critically and appreciate the narratives people share. Therefore, I discovered that my primary role ought to be that of a curious listener. This blog serves as an extension of this curiosity and as an ongoing attempt to understand the marginalized communities of Berlin and my role in it.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]
After speaking with local activists, I began to question how and when people decide to confront forms of oppression and when they choose to affirm or challenge stereotypes. These questions reminded me of our “Rethinking Masculinities” panel and our discussion with Post-War Generation Black German Women. Spending time with Black and Turkish activists in Berlin has allowed me to better understand how individuals chose to deal with racism and sexism. While each experience is unique to the individual, it was clear that in their navigation of public space, they are never divorced from activism. As Musa Okwonga plainly stated, “You’re Black all the time in Berlin.” And although it is the Afro-German’s right not be discriminated against and exhibit self-determination, they must to spend their life in opposition to racism. They are not getting paid to spend their time confronting oppression, yet the burden so greatly lies on them.
How people choose to confront different forms of oppression also reminded me of our discussion with Salma Arzouni about their work with Gladt and SAWA. I felt that Salma consciously and efficiently navigated what needed to be achieved in their own fight against racism and sexism. Although it is exhausting work, it seems as if they effectively prioritize their goals when trying to combat oppression in a community. As someone who works day and night to support queer communities in Berlin, Salma has to carefully decided how to spend their time. They described the sacrifices they had to make in order to achieve their short-term initiatives. For example, instead of spending their time arguing with the local government at the risk of receiving cuts to Gladt’s government funding, Salma decided to temporarily halt a particular kind of political activism. For the sake of Gladt, Salma now chooses to spend that time helping queer people secure a permanent place to live. While this achievement might not seem monumental to some, it is life-changing for those people who now have a place to sleep at night.
Memorial in Schöneberg [Photo Credit: Nikki Mills]
Additionally, after visiting many museums and memorials, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how certain histories have been told. I personally need to take more time to consider who writes these stories. More specifically, I want to understand the implications for those who speak for themselves and those who are being spoken for. Also, it was important for me to learn more about what groups of people were involved in the creation of Jewish memorials. I was curious if Jewish-Germans often gave input on their construction and who decided what to include in it. As Sabine Offe writes in “Sites of Remembrance? Jewish Museums in Contemporary Germany,” “We do not know whether individuals, confronted with the obligation to remember, do indeed remember what they are supposed to” (79). However, while some forms of remembrance can be more accurate than others, figuring out a way to accurately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust is beyond complicated and nearly impossible to accomplish. As a result, I am reminded of the importance of looking at historical sites more critically. This causes me to further question how we decide to honor a community that is not monolithic. For instance, I hope to better understand how a memorial can erase the individual experiences of a population. As R. Ruth Linden describes in “Troubling Categories I Can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” a generalized representation of a group of people “fails to be accountable to lives that are actually lived: situated in bodies with limited means of making sense of…world-historic events in which they participate as…cultural subjects” (27). As a result, this adds another layer to the complexities of memorials and how people choose to represent communities. I hope that we more often attempt to honor the experiences of individuals since it can be easy to erase these differences when trying to honor an entire group.
Unlike most of the Jewish memorials, there were two important instances during our trip where I noticed groups of people deliberately telling their own story: the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (FHXB) Museum and the Roma and Sinti Historical Walking Tour. The FHXB Museum exhibit was a collaborative piece that the local community came together to create. They directly told the history of the district where generations of their own families grew up. I felt this participatory exhibit was representative of strong community relationships and also much more effective in the telling the histories they chose to portray. Additionally, the Roma and Sinti walking tour did much of the same work. The Roma high school students who led the tour self-organized and researched all the material presented. Further, when I asked the students what their parents thought about the tours they were giving, they responded, smiling: “Our families are very proud.” The energy and passion the students exhibited on the tour I feel could have been easily lost if non-Roma and Sinti people led it.
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism [Photo Credit: Annie Zlevor]
Lastly, after three weeks of listening to and engaging with marginalized people in Berlin, I am left wondering how I can take what I have learned out into the world. Firstly, I hope to do this by recognizing the importance of going beyond academic work. While reading and discussing articles and books are beneficial in developing a basic understand of the material, the practical application of Feminist and Gender Studies outside the classroom is a hard-fought war. By spending time both inside and outside the classroom, I feel as if I can most effectively support marginalized communities and become more consciously aware of their situation. As Sidonia Blättler and Irene M. Marti describe in “Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt: Against the Destruction of Political Spheres of Freedom,” if people understand the complexities of human relationships, this subsequently “drives them toward solidarity with outcasts and emboldens them to a collective struggle against the oppressors” (89). I feel my future goal must be to join this collective struggle. By knowing my place and understanding my own identity in relation to others, I feel as if I can do this and support marginalized groups in their fight against forms of oppression.
Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis
2017 FemGeniuses in Berlin Blog Index:
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Annie Zlevor is a rising junior from the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. She is an Organismal Biology & Ecology major and a Feminist & Gender Studies minor. Annie is also a pre-medicine student, and hopes to attend medical school. In her free time, Annie enjoys eating Lebanese food, going fishing with her family, and taking lots of naps. Currently, you can find her spending some time outside the lab learning about Berlin’s hidden histories. She is excited to be exploring Germany for the first time and hopes you enjoy reading about her experiences.
L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, and Marion Kraft [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]
By Nikki Mills
On a rainy Friday afternoon, three remarkable women sat quietly, listening to the rainfall on the roof of the FHXB Museum. While moms outside shielded children from the downpour and businessmen and women sprinted for the metro, we gathered, a class of nine, young and eager, into the museum’s auditory. Marion Kraft, Jasmin Eding, and Judy Gummich spent the next two and a half hours recounting their memories and their work, including stories about Audre Lorde and May Ayim, two remarkable people who led the way for Black women in Germany.
Marion began. She recalled the first time she met the legendary Audre Lorde. She was asked to interview her. “I was so nervous,” Marion told us. “Very shaky.” She went on to describe the tape recorder she brought along, not conveniently sized back in 1985, and her questionable ability to work the machine. Marion conducted the interview and after an hour Audre asked, “Are we done? That was beautiful! Can we listen to it now?” Marion clicked the play button and nothing played back. She hadn’t recorded any of it! Mortified, Marion apologized, to which Audre responded, “Oh well, let’s do it all over again!” And they did. Marion shared this anecdote with us to describe Audre’s honesty and genuine compassion for her work as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Marion continued, “I believe every word public or private came from her heart.” Her encounter with Audre Lorde was life-changing and the beginning of a personal friendship.
Photo Credit: Nikki Mills
Marion, Jasmin, and Judy have each had their own unique hand in shaping Black communities Germany. Marion, a scholar and philosopher, has spent decades trying to right the racist wrongs of society. For example, her recent book, Kinder der Befreiung: Transatlantische Erfahrungen und Perspektiven Schwarzer Deutscher der Nachkriegsgeneration, is a direct response to the lack of Black literature in Germany, because she, along with many other Black Germans of her generation, grew up in “total isolation.” Judy Gummich, diversity trainer and life-coach, recalled how before any organized Black German groups existed, it was sometimes hard to look at another Black person. She noted that it was like looking in to a mirror that reflected back the oppression and racism so prevalent in Germany. They didn’t even have a name for themselves. “Afro-German” and “Black German” wasn’t a common way for them to describe themselves until ADEFRA, a Black women’s organization claimed the name in 1986. Before then, being “Black” and “German” were not what we would call “compatible” identities. Along these lines, in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want To,” Jasmin, co-founder of ADEFRA writes, “We chose to define ourselves, name ourselves. We called ourselves Black Germans, Afro-German or Afropeans, Blacks in Europe (instead of Europeans) or simply Black. We felt it time to challenge German society that being German doesn’t always mean being white and that we also had a long Black history in Germany/Europe.” This statement lays the groundwork for the importance of the Black community to define itself rather than be defined by anyone else.
Before helping to found ADEFRA, Jasmin found influence in Audre Lorde’s work—more specifically, the back cover of one of her books. On the back was an advertisement for another book, Farbe Bekennen: Afro-Deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out), co-edited by May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz. It piqued the interest of a young Jasmin and soon enough she had the book in her hands. During our discussion, she said, “It was like looking into a mirror.” Everything she was reading in this book about the experiences of other Afro-German women paralleled her own. So, she wrote a letter to Katharina Oguntoye, and eventually heard back. The two women got together and started talking. Those conversations sparked the thought process behind ADEFRA. It was a “mission,” Jasmin explained. In the 1980s, with no Facebook or Whats App, these women had to resort to person-to-person interaction to build their collective community. Handing out fliers on the street and through word-of-mouth, ADEFRA grew bigger and bigger. Jasmin noted it was like a “Black coming out.” They were no longer in “total isolation,” as Marion had described earlier. It was no easy process but slowly a connection on a national level was built among Black German communities. These women, including Ria Cheatom—who made a surprise visit to our discussion, spent hours driving all around Germany, even venturing into former German Democratic Republic (GDR) to find the Black community in East Berlin.
L to R from Top: Nikki Mills, Dagmar Schultz, Ika Hügel-Marshall, Marion’s Partner Oury, Dana Asbury, and Nora Holmes [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]
They recalled their first office, a kitchen table, and laughed about the hours spent hand writing fliers because at that time print copies were expensive. A fascinating part of our conversation about ADEFRA’s beginnings were the challenges they faced venturing into East Berlin. There they found a common sentiment that there was “no racism,” an official position of the GDR. This inability to accept the racist discrimination made it incredibly difficult to have honest conversations about life for Black Germans. But as Marion recalled, after the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent plummet of the GDR economy, many minorities were blamed. The classic story of using a minority group as a scapegoat for the ruin of the economy. The racial violence toward Black and refugee communities in the former GDR spoke to the necessity of groups like ADEFRA. Marion, Judy, and Jasmin all attested to the fact that there are still “no-go” areas for minority groups within Berlin. The voice ADEFRA and other Black German organizations, such as the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD), gives to Black German communities is essential in their fight for equity.
With the help of members of ADEFRA like Jasmin and many other voices within Black German communities, Marion created Kinder der Befreiung to “write [Black Germans] into the discourse in [their] own voice, in [their] own language, that’s not imposed upon [them].” The book is composed of “life stories,” histories of the children of the liberation. For example, in an interview with the Jewish Museum of Berlin, Marion explains, “The title Children of the Liberation refers to the liberation of Germany from fascism” and “stands in contrast to the term ‘occupation’ and at the same time refers to liberation from the discriminating labels that prevailed for a long time to describe the children of Allied soldiers and German women, in particular the Black children.” The language used by ADEFRA and Marion is crucial to the liberation of Black Germans from colonial imposition and naming of certain minority groups. As she writes in “Coming in from the Cold: The Black German Experience Past and Present,” “The self-definition of Black Germans began in the 1980s, and the visions and actions of the generations born after World War II have had a profound influence on the development of a Black German cultural and political consciousness.” Our panelists and guests, which also included—to our surprise—Ika Hügel-Marshall and Dagmar Schultz, nodded in agreement that today’s young Black Germans admirably have a certain kind of self-confidence about their identity and belonging. We concluded that this confidence developed, in part, because of our guests’ generation, the children of the post-war era, a generation of elders that allowed this confidence to come to fruition.
Photo Credit: Nikki Mills
Marion also argues that Kinder der Befreiung is a vital way of combatting the notion that racism is in the past. For example, the forward opens with Anton Wilhelm Amo, an influential Black German philosopher from Ghana who was also a contemporary of Immanuel Kant’s. At the same time that Amo was teaching and writing in Germany, Kant claimed that no African has ever made anything of a contribution to society. Marion used this anecdote to highlight the racism that has saturated society. But that was the 18th century right? Marion then juxtaposes this problem with a more contemporary philosopher, Hannah Arendt. Arendt wrote in the 1950s that the social structures of the Black community were something akin to that of animals. Even more contemporary, a current street sign in Berlin proudly sports an extremely racist slur about Black people despite their resistance.
This, of course, can best be understood through an intersectional lens that carefully considers multiple forms of oppression. Along these lines, Judy has found herself immersed in the particular discourse on inclusion and what that means in terms of human rights. It’s a discourse about how to live together and allow all people the fundamental right to live. It’s also about moving away from words like “integration” and “assimilation” so often the terminology used to describe “progress.” Whether it’s a salad bowl, mosaic, or a majestic multi-colored coat, the discourse remains the same. “Integration” is not the goal. In Germany, this word often targets “people with a migration background” and problematizes them rather than the barriers they face. It is also important, as Judy asserted, to include all Black Germans, to pull everyone out of the “total isolation” Marion described and give them a voice in the conversation on Black German identity.
L to R: Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, Jasmin Eding, Marion Kraft, and Nikki Mills [Photo Credit: Heidi R. Lewis]
The work that these women are and have been doing to give the next generation of Black Germans a clear identity, a cohesive history, a voice in a country that pretends they don’t exist, is remarkable. As I walked out of the museum into the evening drizzle I couldn’t help wonder, did I just meet this generation’s Audre Lorde and May Ayim?
Nikki Mills hails from the swampy Washington, D.C. area, and treasures the moments she gets to spend in sunny Colorado. She’s an Anthropology major and Political Science minor, but in an effort to leave her comfort zone and still explore issues close to her heart, she’s chosen to take her first official Feminist & Gender Studies course this summer. On campus, Nikki can be found hanging from ropes in the climbing gym and attending Shabbat dinners at the Interfaith House. Throughout school and beyond, she hopes to continue working hard for the disregarded in our society and find creative ways of moving past this particularly vile moment in U.S. history.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
As our third full day in Berlin comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect not only on all of the amazing opportunities we have already experienced, but also all of the amazing people we have been able to meet. Today alone, we were able to meet four women who worked closely with Audre Lorde and see first-hand how she influenced them, as well as the influence they have had on their own communities. The day started off at the Joliba Intercultural Network, where we met with Katharina Oguntoye, the organization’s Founder and Director. I had a small background on the work Katharina had done in the ’80s from reading Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, which was co-edited by her, Dagmar Schultz and May (Opitz) Ayim. Today, I got to see the work she continues to do now, and the changes she has been a part of for the past 30 years. After an exciting morning with Oguntoye, we were able to meet with Ika Hügel-Marshall, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, and Dagmar Schultz at Each One Teach One (EOTO), which felt like the perfect place. EOTO was created for the Black community, and its name means each Black person should teach another Black person their history/culture in order to form connections and build community. As the only Black student on this trip, this was a very special space for me.
Earlier this week, we watched Schultz’s film Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, and got a glimpse into Lorde’s time in Berlin, as well as her relationships with Schultz, Marshall, Oguntoye, Ayim, and other important people in the Black Women’s movement. As we learned in the movie, Lorde began visiting Berlin in 1984 as a guest professor. Schultz met Lorde in 1980 at the UN’s World Conference on Women in Copenhagen. Around 1984, the women’ss movement was just beginning in Germany, and Schultz believed Lorde would be a driving force. While teaching, Lorde met the Black Germans that came to her classes and encouraged them to write. Eventually, this led to the publication of Showing Our Colors. At this time, the term “Afro-German” was created, which exemplifies the influence of Black women activists. Along these liness, in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” Maisha Eggers writes,
The naming project set out to embrace and acknowledge the position of subjects of African ancestry/heritage and German linage/situatedness/identity. At the same time, it symbolized a conscious endeavor to discard derogatory (German) terms connoting Blackness. Political self-definition as Afro-Germans, later Black Germans, initiated a new sense of collective identity and self-appreciation (3).
Not all of the activists involved in this movement were Black-Germans, though. Schultz spoke about how she interpreted her role in the movement as a white German woman, which often is not discussed. Regarding their participation in a movement for Black German women, Schultz arguess that White German women must critically analyze their role and intentions. In order to check her privilege and remain critical, Schultz said she would ask herself, “What am I missing out on by not including women of color?” instead of only asking, “How can I help them?”
While living in the U.S. from 1963-1973, Schultz learned from the activists she worked with and adopted the strategy of not primarily basing her participation on whether or not she would lose her job, something she had been threatened with many times. While in the U.S., Schultz lost multiple jobs for this reason, including a publishing job from which she was let go for publishing something questionable about the church and refusing to allow her boss to review all of her work after that article was published. By taking this and similar approaches, white Germans may find a way to escape the immobilizing white guilt Lorde discusses in the foreword to Showing Our Colors (xiii) and actively dismantle racism, sexism, xenophobia, heterosexuality, antisemitism, and other forms of oppression. As Schultz has aged and become less active in particular ways, her strategies have changed. Now, she works on telling her story of Audre Lorde in Berlin and teaches German to refugees.
We also got to speak with author Ika Hügel-Marshall, who was also a major factor in the formation of the Black women’s movement in Germany. Marshall is the author of Invisible Woman: Growing up Black in Germany (1997), which is the first autobiography written by a Black woman in Germany. In “Troubling Categories, I can’t Think Without: Reflections on Women in the Holocaust,” Ruth Linden argues that the histories we learn are a reflection of our own identities. In this case, Marshall is making history, and it is important this narrative is shared. Marshall spoke a lot about the tremendous impact of her relationship with Audre Lorde, so much that she was with Lorde the day she passed away, along with Schultz and Ayim. [Note: Early on, Marshall mentioned her English was not as good, so she didn’t speak as much. For that reason, we did not get to know her as well, but we were still learn a great deal about her life and her journey as a Black German woman.]
Last, we spoke with Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück, who is from an el barrio in New York City and has lived in Berlin for 30 years. It was important for her to provide us with a transnational and intergenerational perspective. She spoke about her early connections in Germany (through the work of Audre Lorde and ADEFFRA) with Ria Cheatom, Judy Gummich, and Jasmin Eding, and still considers them her sisters today. She was also mentored by Gloria Wekker through a women’s/gender studies summer school. Here, she was able to connect with Black German women and women from throughout the Black Diaspora here in Germany. I see this as a continuation of the successful work that the Black women’s movement started in connecting the Black community.
Dück also spoke about mental health and self-care. I was really able to relate to what she was saying, because many students of color back at Colorado College have been working to create spaces for people of color and to stress the importance of self-care. Dück discussed the toll that activism takes on the minds, bodies, and spirits of women of color and how spaces for women of color are crucial in mitigating this damage. As Eggers points out, “With the emergence of Black women activists, first individually and then collectively, belonging became a particular interest that required addressing” (3). Self-care is particularly important for women of color because of the battle fatigue they are constantly experiencing due to racism, sexism, heterosexism, and various other forms of oppression. By creating and nurturing these spaces, we allow for self-care, more opportunities for “Each One, Teach One” to occur, and more connections to be made.
Being in a room with these women was really grounding for me. Seeing them in films, reading about them, and reading their work made me a bit star-struck. But as Schultz’s movie intended to “humanize” Lorde, this opportunity “humanized” each of them to me. As our session was coming to an end, we were all sitting and looking at pictures and watching videos of Marshall and Oguntoye with Lorde from the accompanying website for Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, laughing and eating strawberries. Never would I have imagined I would get this opportunity, and I am beyond grateful to have been able to meet such influential women. I look forward to all the other amazing opportunities to come while I am here with my fellow #FemGeniusesInBerlin.
Cheanna Gavin is a rising Junior at Colorado College from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Feminist and Gender Studies and potentially minoring in Human Biology and Kinesiology. She is on the Pre-Health track and planning to attend Physical Therapy School. Cheanna loves playing sports and is ecstatic to be a FemGenius in Berlin, as she can’t wait to explore and learn about different German cultures.
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.
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.