WGS and the World: Alumni Interview-Allyson Harper

Meet Our Alumni: Allyson Harper ’14

by Kendra R. Parker

Allyson Harper graduated with a double major in Women’s and Gender Studies and Psychology.  Allyson discusses one of her most formative experiences: organizing the 2014 Gender Issues Conference on Hope’s campus.

What are you doing now? What paths led you to this point?

I am currently the Lead Shelter Advocate at the Center for Women in Transition in Holland, MI, and I have been with the agency since October 2016. While at Hope College, I interned with CWIT in 2013. After my time at the internship, I knew I wanted to work with survivors of domestic violence. I was employed in with some other social work organizations which provided me with the experience necessary to be well-equipped for my current position with CWIT.

So, you majored in WGS. How did your degree shape you? 

I double majored in WGS and Psychology, but honestly, it was not until my senior year of the WGS program that I realized my passion for women’s and gender concerns. I had the opportunity to attend the National Women Studies Association (NWSA) conference in 2013. NWSA was an eye-opener. It made me realize I could make a career out of this work—the interdisciplinarity of Women’s and Gender Studies—and NWSA encouraged me to look into furthering my education with the possibility of a Master’s degree in WGS. Though I have not yet pursued a Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies, I am thankful NWSA; it shaped my approaches to my life and career.

WGS led me to so many of my passions. While at Hope, I was part of the Women’s Issues Organization (WIO),* and  I coordinated multiple Domestic Violence Awareness events during October, which is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

But the most memorable impact was in 2014 when I organized a day-long Gender Issues Conference for a senior project. The “Gender Issues Conference” (GIC) was a six-hour long conference on Hope’s campus.

This image is the design of the Gender Issues Conference T-Shirt. It was designed by a Hope Student. The first 100 attendees at the Gender Issues Conference received this t-shirt at no cost.

The GIC included presentations from a variety of groups focusing on sexual violence, pregnancy, and disordered eating. Songs Against Slavery presented on sex trafficking; representatives from Holland’s Center for Women in Transition (CWIT)  presented on sexual assault;  Planned Parenthood representatives facilitated a workshop on organizing and activism, and representatives from Lakeshore Pregnancy Center (currently named Positive Options) facilitated an information session on pregnancy resources. Additionally, representatives from Hope’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)  presented on stress, eating disorders, and a healthy diet. The conference ended with a screening of Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women (2010), a documentary focusing on the dehumanizing depictions of women in advertisements.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

Use this opportunity to gain as much experience as you can. It will make all the difference. Reach out, go to the events, and just participate. You won’t regret it.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

I would love to teach a course on domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.  I don’t have specific people I would include, but it is important to me to include the voices and perspectives of survivors.

What is a WGS book you read–recently or not-so-recently–that you would call your “favorite”? Why?

My most recent favorite is the Hulu documentary Minding the Gapon Hulu. It from the point of view of an adult who witnessed domestic violence and was abused in his home growing up. My other favorite is Killing Us Softly IV.

*The Women’s Issues Organization was rebranded to the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) in 2016. 

Are you a WGS alum who would like to be featured on our blog? Email us! wgs AT hope DOT edu

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview-Dr. Phillip Waalkes

Meet Our Alumni: Dr. Phillip Waalkes ’04

by Kendra R. Parker

Dr. Phillip Waalkes ‘ 04 graduated with a dual major in English and Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies.* Dr. Waalkes is a faculty member at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He credits his Women’s Studies minor as helping him “become more fully [himself].”

What are you doing now? What paths led you to this point?

I am currently an assistant professor in counselor education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I have taught classes including theories of counseling, helping relationship skills, individual inventories, and multicultural counseling to students seeking to become clinical mental health counselors or school counselors. I am also conducting research on the development of teaching for counselor educators and college access and persistence for first-generation college students, including lower SES students and students of color.

Before becoming a counselor educator, I worked as a school counselor at a rural k-12 school in western North Carolina. During this time, I got to help develop, implement a virtual early college program where our predominantly first-generation college student population could earn up to a two-year associates degree tuition-free and with the innovative structured supports offer by our program (including student lead conferences, career and college planning, a peer mediation program, and college visits).

How did your WGS education shape you?

 I double majored in English and Psychology at Hope with a minor in Women’s Studies. I had numerous excellent professors who taught my Women’s Studies courses, including Dr. Natalie Dykstra, Dr. Julie Kipp, and Dr. Jane Dickie. My minor in Women’s Studies at Hope helped plant seeds to shape me in numerous ways throughout my life. I would be a lesser counselor, teacher, researcher, husband, and friend if it wasn’t for my WGS minor at Hope. It helped me become more humble and more willing to listen to and empathize with the experiences of everyone. It helped me gain more awareness of my privilege that can hamper my openness to the experiences of others because it is difficult to accept the ways I contribute to a system that caused so much suffering. It also helped me see outside of my own perspective and feel more validated in being the kind of man that fit with who I am instead of who our culture says that men should be. Counseling requires skills our culture has stereotypically classified as more feminine like understanding and discussing emotions, listening, and being responsive to the needs of others. It is hard for me to imagine embracing this fulfilling career path without my Women’s Studies minor. In other words, not being as focused on living up to the limiting traditional parameters of masculinity helped me become more fully myself.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

 Everyone’s path and life experiences are different, but I would say: Keep an open mind. Think critically about patriarchy and systems of oppression and ways you see them functioning systemically, institutionally, interpersonally, and interpersonally. Question elements of our culture that many privileged people push out of their minds. Examine yourself. Take action. Discover your voice to challenge prejudiced comments or discriminatory practices. Find connection and solidarity with other WGS students.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

I would love to teach a course called “Unpacking Toxic Masculinity in the Media.” There are so many movies, tv shows, video games–and more–that portray masculinity in narrow and harmful ways. They often encourage men to put their needs ahead of others and disconnect from their emotions and the important relationships in their lives. For example, think of how many romantic comedies portray heterosexual men “getting the girl” after essentially stalking her despite her repeated assertions that she isn’t interested.

What is a WGS book you read–recently or not-so-recently–that you would call your “favorite”? Why?

 This is a tough question, but if I have to choose just one, it would be Alan G. Johnson’s The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy (1997), which I first read at Hope. Johnson’s engaging and persuasive book was a revelation for me; it helped me understand the advantages white heterosexual men have in our culture and how patriarchy helps them keep those advantages at the expense of others.

* The Hope College Women’s and Gender Studies Program went under a formal name change from “Women’s Studies” to “Women’s and Gender Studies” in fall 2014.

Are you a WGS alum who would like to be featured on our blog? Email us! wgs AT hope DOT edu

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview–Emme Veenbaas ’16

Meet Our Alumni: Emme Veenbaas, Class of 2016 

by Kendra R. Parker

Emme Veenbass ’16  graduated with a double major in Women’s and Gender Studies and English. Currently, Emme works with the Chicago Bar Foundation, and she cites the WGS Program as the “most formative part of [her] college career.”

What are you doing now? What paths led you to this point?

I am currently the Development and Administrative Coordinator at The Chicago Bar Foundation which is the charitable arm of The Chicago Bar Association. Essentially, we raise money for grants to give out to legal aid organizations across Chicago. Before my current position, I was in graduate school at DePaul University for my Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies which I completed in June 2018. Both Hope and DePaul’s programs motivated me to go into a position that was focused on social justice and issues surrounding inequalities.

Did you major/minor in WGS, and if so, how did your WGS major/minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

I majored in WGS alongside English Literature. Being a part of the WGS program was the most formative part of my college career and shifted my plans for after graduation. It provided me with a new lens for how I view the world and to be a more critical consumer of the social structures and systems I participate in.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

Absolutely do it! The most common concern or criticism I hear for earning a degree in WGS is that “It’s not practical,” but that is the farthest thing from the truth. The skills and knowledge you learn in WGS support all aspects of your life from personal relationships to employment and beyond.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

I would teach “The Personal Is Political: An Exploration of the Impact of Feminism in U.S. Politics,” and I would have to include Angela Davis on the syllabus. If you haven’t read Davis’s Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2016), what are you waiting for?

What is a WGS book you read–recently or not-so-recently–that you would call your “favorite”? Why?

I referenced Dorothy E. Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty (1997) in almost all of my graduate school papers, and it’s a great critical examination reproductive injustices women have endured and continue to endure in the United States.

Are you a WGS alum who would like to be featured on our blog? Email us! wgs AT hope DOT edu

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview-Rebekah Taylor ’12

Meet Our Alumni: Rebekah Taylor ‘12

Rebekah Taylor ’12 graduated with a composite major in Religion and a minor in Women’s Studies.* Rebekah is a Health, Wellness, and Life Coach with experience working on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation and Black Hills Works in  South Dakota. Rebekah shares with us her formative experiences as a Hope student and the importance of Women’s Studies in developing critical thinking “outside the box.”  

What are you doing now? What paths led you to this point?

I am a Health, Wellness, and Life Coach. I only recently decided to take on this path, and I am still building my own business with my current client load.  It is difficult to choose one thing that led me here. But a big one has been my own motivation for my health and wellbeing. I have navigated an illness for the past few years and embracing it has truly enlightened me.  I believe that our bodies are capable of amazing things if we nurture them and guide them.

I would also say that the years my husband and I spent out on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota and with Black Hills Works in Rapid City, SD played a part in my decision to become a Health Coach.

Did you major/minor in WGS, and if so, how did your WGS major/minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

I completed a minor in Women’s Studies. I decided to have Women’s Studies become a part of my composite major, Religion with a Social Justice concentration. What I appreciated the most about Women’s Studies was the varied curriculum that it introduced me to. Women’s Studies allowed me to explore more territory in academia and it helped prepare me for the impact I hoped to have in my communities.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

Travel. Experience the stories. Meet the women. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not get to experience the places we read about.  I did not find the time to participate in community gatherings. Studying comes first, but experiences are what you carry with you throughout your life.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

During my first year at Hope, the 2008 election was going on, and I took an English class based only on each presidential debate. We wrote papers every week about what was being discussed and debated.  The class allowed me to be truly present to today’s reality.

Something I would have enjoyed in my Women’s Studies coursework would have been a closer look at current women in politics and the steps that are being taken to break the barriers of current issues of inequality including, but not limited to, fair wages, the correctional system, and medical care.

If I could teach any class, it would be a class similar to this. I do not have a course title, but I would include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, Emma Gonzalez, Malala Yousafzai, and other young activists.

What is a WGS book you read–recently or not-so-recently–that you would call your “favorite”? Why?

There are so many books to choose from during my studies at Hope, but two of my favorites were Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973) and Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky (2009).  They both provided lessons worthy to carry on through my life, and they still reside in my home library.

*The Hope College Women’s and Gender Studies Program went under a formal name change from “Women’s Studies” to “Women’s and Gender Studies” in fall 2014.

Are you a WGS alum who would like to be featured on our blog? Email us! wgs AT hope DOT edu