By Theresa Evans
Students, faculty and staff gathered in the William M. Rue ’69 Auditorium on April 11 for the 37th Gender and Sexuality Studies Colloquium where students of various academic disciplines presented their research.
Senior English major Susan Russo was awarded with the Best Paper Second Place for her work on “Queer Enviro-mentality in So Far from God and Heroes and Saints.”
“[The Colloquium] gives students at Rider a chance to share their research that’s important to them,” she said. “It also lets the people around them learn something about how gender studies can change the way we think about everyday things.”
Russo found inspiration for her research during her independent study with English professor Terra Walston Joseph.
“Joseph recommended the books to me and I really enjoyed them so I knew I wanted to write my thesis on them,” said Russo. “Throughout that independent study, I also read a lot of theoretical material on ecofeminism and environmental justice literature. And from there, I decided to pursue a queer ecocritical lens because I saw a lot to be said about it in the books.”
Students presented works on music, art, literature, politics, action and inclusion during various panels throughout the day.
The keynote address speaker, Premilla Nadasen, history professor at Barnard College, presented her work “Building an Intersectional Feminist Agenda for the 21st Century.”
“[Intersectionality is] a way of interpreting and understanding the world,” said Nadasen. “Intersectionality is not a descriptive term for a group of people. It is not the same as diversity. Our multiple, intersecting identities are very important. They constitute who we are. None of us should be put into nor would we feel comfortable inside a box. But those intersecting identities have either empower or disempower us, are part of a larger system of social organization. To practice intersectionality, means not just embracing individuals in their diversity, but addressing and confronting the inequalities that inform and give meaning to those identities.”
Nadasen said that intersectionality is misunderstood by both conservatives and liberals.
“Some people believe that the proliferation of intersectional discourse has divided the women’s movement as well as class-based struggles,” said Nadasen. “They claim it has further polarized the country, creating a casms between those on college campuses and supposed real americans. Between the white-working class and the so called identity based groups. They argue that the focus on identity has distracted from the more important issues of class and poverty. They fail to realize, however, that the present form of capitalism is gendered and racialized and that identity is a product of these structural inequalities.”
She suggested that intersectionality has room to make social changes.
“Intersectionality has become part of the culture wars in which white men are victimized and college students are the most visible culprits. The weaponization of intersectionality has been used to justify the emergence of a right-wing nationalism that has demonstrated deadly tendencies.”
According to Nadasen, inclusivity in the workplace and on college campuses is important and may lead to intersectionality.
“Many college and university administrators embrace the politics of intersectionality,” she said. “It’s an important marker of inclusivity that has become part of the college brand. Colleges tap their diverse student body, safe spaces and identity groups that include first generation college students, and various racial and ethnic groups. Yet, as administrators market intersectionality, access to education is further out of reach for many Americans. With tuition cost at an all-time high and government support for higher education at an all-time low. Barriers to accessibility means that colleges reproduce rather than mitigate inequality, Even as they articulate the virtues of inclusion, universities continue to gentrify, to exploit the labor of service workers and contingent faculty.”
Nadasen emphasized that to be inclusive, people should consider the various aspects of intersectional characteristics including identity, class, gender, race, sexuality, religion and disability, which can be encompassed in one individual.
She said that the intention of intersectionality is to “create a more just an equal world for everyone.”