Diverse students share studies on gender and sexuality

Mary Morse recognizes John Modica, recipient of the 2017-18 Virginia J. Cyrus scholarship for academic achievement and potential to benefit the lives of women and girls.

By Megan Lupo

Students from different majors and backgrounds came together to present their research on feminist and diversity issues at the 35th Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquium in Sweigart Auditorium on March 29.

This year, junior English major John Modica won the Best Paper First Place award and senior history major Kate Bradley won the Best Paper Second Place Award.

The various topics discussed throughout the day were reflected in the inspiration of each piece for each student.

For College of Business Administration graduate assistant, Shanza Arooj, her inspiration came from her identity experience and the public perception of Muslim women.

“Growing up, I saw many confident, intellectual, strong and successful women who greatly inspired me,” Arooj said. “While in the U.S. after 9/11, I saw that the media extensively covered the horror stories of women in Islamic countries by presenting them as oppressed.

“I wanted to educate people that the struggles of Muslim women are no different then the struggles of women around the world, and they are not as oppressed as people think they are.”

At the colloquium, Arooj presented her piece, “Islam and Feminism,” which she hoped would compel the audience to champion “global justice for all women.”

“I hope people gained from my presentation that all women are products of histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured societies that are shaped over the course of time with culture,” Arooj said.

Another performer advocating for his cause was Modica, who presented “Invisible Students: A Study of the LGBQ Campus Climate at Rider University.”

“In student government, I’ve been trying to bring more queer-friendly resources, and educational opportunities and facilities to campus,” Modica said. “That started about two years ago, and then when I entered my Intro to Women’s Studies class in the fall, and we started talking about community action projects. It was actually right around the time that I started doing research about the ways that queer students really encounter higher education differently than their straight or cis-gendered peers.”

Modica’s research influenced him to send out a campus climate survey in November 2016 that asked questions on various aspects of identity, including race, gender, faith and primarily focused on sexual orientation.

“My piece was basically about taking the data that I got from the campus climate survey in terms of queer students’ experiences and comparing it to national trends,” Modica said.

Modica used his results from hundreds of students to reveal how students of “different historically underrepresented groups encounter their education.”

“Racism and Islamophobia and xenophobia are all very present on college campuses because they’re present throughout the world, but homophobia and transphobia and all these different phobias related to sexual orientation never get discussed,” Modica said. “I want to start bringing those conversations to the forefront.”

In addition to believing that discussions about identity issues are imperative today, Arooj wanted people to get to know Muslims and learn their stories.

“We are more similar than different,” said Arooj. “I want people at Rider to celebrate diversity and respect different perspectives.”

Additionally, Arooj addressed the need to appreciate the differences in women and acknowledge women’s rights violations to progress in the world.

“Today, many Islamic feminists and activists carry out their work towards women advancement and gender equality within Islamic discursive framework in the Islamic world,” Arooj said. “On the other hand, women in other parts of the world are also fighting social, economic, and political inequalities. Every woman’s experience is shaped differently because of racial difference, class position, geographic location and culture of the region.”

No matter the activism that these presenters encourage, the colloquium presented a small-scale representation of the essence of America.

“This colloquium really shows different perspectives of who Americans really are,” said Modica. “They are people of all colors, genders, sexual orientation, backgrounds, identities and, now more than ever, there’s conversations that needs to be happening to help understand and not to alienate.”


Printed in the 4/05/17 edition.

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