The Broken Promise of Academia and How to Move Beyond the “Ivory Tower”

By Kallen Mohr

So, you have found your calling in the social sciences. You find your classes interesting and the work important. You decide to continue in your academic studies to grad school and beyond, where you plan on enacting real change that will make a difference in the lives of real people. You share a passion for social justice along with fellow students. You become part of an institution that prides itself on diversity and service. You believe you have all the ingredients to curate your career in academia, a career that will be based on your deep, intrinsic values of community service, social justice, and advocacy. You believe in the potential of academia to serve more than its own interests. You believe in the promise of research to bridge the gap between action and inaction and bring society one step closer to fixing its oppressive systems. You believe, after all, in the promise of academia.

According to Emily Kane, a sociologist who conducts feminist and community-based research, the promise is soon to be broken.

Emily Kane’s story of attending graduate school for sociology, which she details in her publication “Getting to Know People with Experiences and Knowledge Far beyond My Own: Feminism, Public Sociology, and Community-Based Research,” is hardly a new one. Nor is the outcome of her story. She never left academia and she never stopped her research, as others have inevitably done, but after twenty-five years she says she “[has] a deeper understanding of obstacles.” This seems to be a recurring theme with those who enter academia with aspirations of change. The academy has long been a kind of “bubble,” distinctly apart and separate from anything outside of itself. And the bubble is not an easy one to pop. As Kane cites in her work, academia has become more and more “professionalized” in recent years with institutions pressuring academics to become as credentialed as they can, no matter how many hoops come their way. Add to this the pressure of churning out publications with regular frequency, and academic research becomes not a calling but a box that threatens back at you when it remains unchecked.

Now, more than ever, academia is all about the numbers game. How many donors? How much funding? How many PhD candidates? How many publications? How many students enrolled in your course? In such a culture that thinks solely in terms of “input” and “output,” burnout and disillusionment are free to run rampant. Any and all work quickly loses motive as well as meaning, and social justice work is no different. If working within the system of academia is a slog, it is no wonder that the academy continues to operate as a closed ecosystem. It is difficult enough to change what is already known, much less bring in people and ideas from outside the “ivory tower.” But perhaps there is still hope.

Obviously, there are many things that much change in academia, too many to list in such a short write-up. But one way to ensure that at least some of the promise given to young academics hoping to enact social change is kept is to conduct and publish research that is based outside of academia’s “bubble.” Engaging with public sociology, which emphasizes communication and collaboration with non-academics, and utilizing community-based research (CBR), which aims to produce research for the public, are just two steps on the way to promise-keeping.

Especially in the social sciences, like sociology and WGS, where people are our subject and our motive, our goal must always be to achieve justice and social change. In order to reach this goal and ensure that the promise of academia is upheld, we must climb down from our ivory tower and work with the people who are and will be affected by us the researchers. Maybe, one day if we’re lucky, the tower will become nothing more than a pile of old rubble.

The Socialization of Women’s Low Self-Esteem

By Erin Powers

It is no secret that women in western society face an epidemic of low self-esteem. There is a billion-dollar beauty industry that targets women in an effort to show them how to look better than the natural version of themselves. This is often done through marketing schemes that focus on women’s need to look good for men. The question then becomes why these schemes work and why women have such low levels of confidence. This seems like an obvious or natural question, but it isn’t.

Joey Sprague, in her book Feminist Methodologies for Critical Researchers, raises the idea that in methodology, “Research questions are more likely to explore the deficiencies of those in disadvantaged social positions than of those with social power” (Sprague 14). She goes on to give a specific example, writing,

“It has been much more common to ask, why women have so little self-confidence than why men have so little modesty.”

(Sprague 14)

This became a jumping-off point for me to evaluate why this statement is true, and what architecture has been put in place to support it. I think continued power dynamics where men are placed above women and women are expected to submit to and exist for the male in addition to the beauty industry are some of the largest contributors. Our capitalist society has socialized women through power dynamics and the beauty and fashion industry to have low self-confidence.

Our society, despite efforts for change and inclusion, still places the heterosexual experience of a feminine woman and a masculine man in the spotlight as the “norm” for gender relationships. Girls are taught to look and act a certain way to find a man so they can have “a good life.” Our world says you aren’t pretty unless he says so, and you must not be performing the role of a woman well enough if you are not in a heterosexual relationship. So much female value is found in whether you are in a heterosexual relationship or if you are receiving external validation from a man. Yet women are also told that confidence is attractive and being insecure isn’t “cute” even though we live in a power structure that gives us every reason to struggle with these feelings of insecurity.

Thinking about Joey Sprague’s question, I do wonder if we would find a better approach to this problem if we studied why men had such confidence instead of focusing on why women are so self-conscious. I think we would find that men do not have the pressure to change to appeal to women in the same ways. Yes, there are obviously male stereotypes of attractiveness, but one thing I’ve always noticed is that relationships, where the woman is more attractive than the man, are significantly more common than relationships where the man is more attractive. The continued power dynamics where women are convinced into needing a man is one of the reasons that women suffer from such struggles with self-esteem.

From a more Marxist feminist standpoint, we live in a time where the beauty and fashion industries are worth billions of dollars and are targeted significantly more toward women. Whether it is a company telling women they need to completely cover their face in makeup or change their hair to be beautiful or a company telling you how to “enhance” your natural look it is still focused on the consumption of a product. Women spend countless dollars and hours on wearing makeup every day and getting their hair done nearly every month. Even as efforts toward changing the reason why you are doing these things develop, and people claim it’s for me, not anyone else, it is still directly benefiting the capitalist beauty industry. The industry has developed an architecture that directly benefits from the continuation of women’s low self-esteem. As long as these industries make a profit from women’s low self-esteem, they will continue to exist and thus continue the cycle.

Sprague’s work in methodology inspired me to question the question of why women have such low self-confidence. Now the question becomes how do we change these power dynamics and industry structures to free women?

The Model Minority Myth, Relative Privilege, AAPI Experiences, and Why it’s All Oppression Anyway

By Carole Chee

As part of our studies on how to apply feminist theory in WGS 350: “Feminist Visions of Justice,” my classmates and I analyzed and discussed “(Trans)forming #MeToo: Toward a Networked Response to Gender Violence,” a journal article by Dr. V. Jo Hsu detailing the exclusionary characteristics of the #MeToo movement, the inequities of our judicial system, and the need for inclusive, ground-up approaches that center those most oppressed by systemic violence. Hsu, an assistant professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, focuses specifically on the unjust “criminalization” of marginalized peoples—especially that of transgender women of color—and uses the story of Nan-Hui Jo to exemplify the legal processes by which these persecutions are enacted (280). Jo, an undocumented Korean immigrant who fled and later re-entered the United States in efforts to defend herself and her daughter against domestic violence, was arrested and separated from her daughter based on racist and xenophobic arguments (Hsu 280). Rather than vilifying the abuse and trauma Jo faced, the courts vilified Jo. This example makes it clear that despite the existence of “model minority” sentiments, Asian and Asian-American communities are harmfully impacted by the dehumanizing generalizations prevalent throughout American legislation, judicial practice, societal ideologies, and history.

These sentiments, which make up the “model minority” myth that some marginalized groups—here, namely Asian Americans—are better than others, spread false, divisive ideology based on those groups’ ability to assimilate into white culture. Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen, acclaimed author of The Sympathiser, explains in Time Magazine that while this myth may seem like a positive thing, it pushes Asian Americans “to be invisible in most circumstances because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing… until we become hypervisible because we are doing what we do too well.” The voices of AAPI community members are simultaneously uplifted and silenced, our “high” status balancing on a thin, splitting rope. Additionally, these lies only succeed in perpetuating injustice for all. As Nguyen explains, “no matter how low down we are, we know that America allows us to stand on the shoulders of Black, brown and Native people.” Kat Chow from NPR further describes this false racial hierarchy as a “wedge” that aims only to sow division among oppressed groups; although it grants relative privileges to Asian Americans, all it truly achieves is “minimizing the role racism plays in the persistent struggles of other racial/ethnic minority groups.” Our challenge is to recognize that privilege while also admonishing it, “to be both Asian American and to imagine a world beyond it, one in which being Asian American isn’t necessary” (Nguyen).

Until that reality is achieved, however, Asian community members are stuck in a double-bind; trapped between high expectations and the harmful raced characterizations that continue to exist.

Hsu is sure to point these out in the case of Nan-Hui Jo, explaining that District attorney Steve Mount’s portrayal of Jo as both a “manipulative illegal immigrant seeking to cheat the U.S. system” and a “‘tiger mom’ who was too competent to be a victim” refused her any chance at justice (279). “With a single phrase,” says Hsu, “Mount accessed notions of Asians as hypercompetent, emotionless, perpetual foreigners whose ambition threatened the security of ‘real’ U.S. citizens” (279). These hateful stereotypes, in combination with other generalizations—such as the “Dragon Lady,” or characterizing associations with disease—exacerbate the oppression faced by Asian individuals. These are most visible today in mass media and the anti-Asian rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but this hate has deep roots that contemporary ideologies and policies have only exposed and deepened.

The earliest influx of Asian immigrants into the United States took place in the second half of the 19th century, according to scholars H. Alexander Chen, Jessica Trinh, and George P. Yang. In their journal article entitled “Anti-Asian Sentiment in the United States—COVID-19 and History,” they explain that these immigrants were typically employed as cheap sources of labor for the mining, railroad, and agricultural industries; not only were these Asian immigrants pushed into dangerous and menial jobs, but they were also exploited and treated poorly. In their poor living conditions, outbreaks of smallpox and the bubonic plague were not uncommon, and thus Asian migration was tied to the idea of diseases (Chen et al.). Negative ideologies concerning Asian immigrants eventually culminated in exclusionary immigration policies, namely the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which denied immigration and naturalization rights from the entire Chinese ethnic group, and the 1924 Immigration Act, which effectively shut down immigration from other Asian countries (Chen et al.). These exclusionary policies cemented the anti-Asian sentiments already existent in America, criminalizing the very presence of Asian peoples in the country.

Even still, however, I’m acutely aware that as an Asian woman, I am far from over represented in the incarceration system. The numbers of Asian prisoners are low, and those of transgender Asian prisoners even lower. When seeking to enumerate the instances of sexual assault experiences by transgender women of color, a joint report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force failed to obtain a large enough sample size for Asian-American transgender women to present reliable data (168). On a greater scale, when comparing the number of incarcerations in the United States by race, Asians sit at a lower rate than other racial or ethnic minority groups (“Injustice at Every Turn” 163).

This is not to say that Asian and AAPI people are, by any stretch of the imagination, superior to or more conformable than any other racial group, but the embodiment of relative privilege here is certainly noteworthy. While people of color are all oppressed under the constrictions of this white supremacist system, it is vital to acknowledge the ways in which our differences are used to create division amongst ourselves. This is in no way a call for “oppression Olympics,” but a request for solidarity and understanding.

Works Cited

Chen, H. Alexander, et al. “Anti-Asian Sentiment in the United States – COVID-19 and History.” The American Journal of Surgery, vol. 220, no. 3, Elsevier Inc, 2020, pp. 556–57, https://doi:10.1016/j.amjsurg.2020.05.020.

Chow, Kat. “’Model Minority’ Myth Again Used as a Racial Wedge between Asians and Blacks.”

NPR, NPR, 19 Apr. 2017, ain-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks.

Hsu, V. Jo. “(Trans)forming #MeToo: Toward a Networked Response to Gender Violence.” Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 42, no. 3, 2019, pp. 269–86,

“Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.”

National LGBTQ Task Force, 11 July 2019, on-survey/.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “How the Model Minority Myth of Asian Americans Hurts Us All.” Time, Time, 26 June 2020,

Roe v. Wade, 2022

A Letter from Hope College’s Women’s Empowerment Organization–a Student Club

Dear WEO Community,
The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade weighs heavily on my heart. After taking a few days to process, I feel it is appropriate to release a statement to the community regarding my, and the Women’s Empowerment Organization’s, stance on the matter. The overturning of Roe does not only affect the right to get an abortion. It threatens our bodily autonomy, our humanity, and our freedom. We must understand the greater implications that this ruling will have on the lives of all women. 

WEO prides itself on being an intersectional feminist group. This means we fight for the freedom of ALL people. This includes trans women and men, women of color, queer women, and nonbinary people. Feminism is not feminism unless all women are being protected. bell hooks, a Black feminist, writes, “As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized.” Fighting for rights needs to include all women or it will make matters worse. Part of fighting for all women includes being pro-choice. Being pro-choice is different from being pro-abortion. Being pro-choice means that you believe that women have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies even if it is different than the choice you would make for yourself. Again, bell hooks phrases this perfectly, “Granting women the civil right to have control over our bodies is a basic feminist principle. Whether an individual female should have an abortion is purely a matter of choice. It is not anti-feminist for us to choose not to have abortions. But it is a feminist principle that women should have the right to choose.” 

In short, we want Reproductive Justice. This term was coined by a group of Black women in Chicago in 1994. According to, “Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” Anne Lamott, another social justice writer says, “As a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women are a crucial part of that. It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.” Roe protected our right to choose, but ultimately, we deserve much more than this. We deserve the right to choose, the right to make other decisions about our own bodies, have the ability to keep our health private, and to have our humanity recognized. While we are focused on the abortion aspect of the Supreme Court ruling, all of these things are now threatened. 

WEO wants to make it clear that we stand with ALL women and offer a safe place for those struggling with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I have listed below some additional readings and ways to get involved in the fight for reproductive freedom. We have lost this battle, but we will not lose the war on reproductive rights. 

Nina Cuthrell
President of Women’s Empowerment Organization

Further readings: 
Reproductive Justice: A Reading List
Reproductive Justice
Tragic and Cruel: Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade 
10 rules: following bell hooks’ instructions for our movement 
Roe v. Wade Overturned: Supreme Court Gives States the Right to Outlaw Abortion

How to get involved: 
Six Ways You Can Join the Fight for Abortion Rights
Make sure you are registered to vote at
Planned Parenthood

If you are a student struggling with this Supreme Court Decision please visit 
Hope College CAPS

Reflecting on “The Genesis of Gender”

By Megan Jacobs

On September 30, 2021, Abigail Favale, doctor of gender studies at George Fox University, came to Hope College and gave a lecture titled: “The Genesis of Gender: Christian and Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender.” When I (Megan Jacobs, ’22) first saw the talk advertised, I was excited to attend, as it was an intersection of my two majors: Women and Gender Studies and Christian History and Theology. However, as the event approached, I began to hear more about the speaker and I received a couple of emails warning members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community that this lecture could be triggering and/or harmful to their wellbeing, as Dr. Favale has written previously against trans-inclusive feminism. Because of this, I felt compelled to attend the event to not only listen to what she had to say regarding gender and Christianity, but also be an ally in hopes of pressing Favale with important questions of marginalization and the importance of intersectionality in feminism. Although this event has become quite controversial within Hope’s community, I am hoping to reflect on this lecture in an honest and open way that shares about how it has matched with, or not matched with what I have learned thus far about the intersection of religion and gender studies.

Favale began the lecture by introducing two paradigms that she called the “gender paradigm” and the “Genesis paradigm.” In her discussion of the gender paradigm, she shared research that she had done around the history of the word gender. She shared works from John Money, discussions of second wave feminism, and perspectives from Judith Butler on gender. After providing this brief overview, she stated, “The concept of gender has been helpful, but it has driven a wedge between body and identity.” I find this statement interesting because I don’t disagree, but I also do think that the rest of this lecture could have gone a different direction to try to understand how to find our bodily identity in God. Instead she used this point to make an argument for the Genesis paradigm, where we are to build our bodily identity in our male or female-ness.  

To introduce the Genesis paradigm, Favale explained that she chose to use the book of Genesis because it is our origin, showing us our identity and purpose. Something that I found to be startling about her discussion of the Genesis paradigm was the way in which she chose to organize her slides. Rather than presenting the Genesis paradigm in the same manner as the gender paradigm, she chose to present it by way of comparison, so that we could see the difference between each paradigm. She presented several slides, each of which had two sections: one in dark blue, representing the gender paradigm, and one in white, representing the Genesis paradigm. For example, on one side of the screen we would see a dark blue section that read “Humans create reality, so reality is a construct” while the other side of the screen in white read, “God creates reality, so reality is a gift.” Another slide had the gender paradigm point of view saying “Body as an object” while the opposite side of the screen read “body as a sacrament.” This made it seem as though the way that we should deal with gender as Christians should be black and white.

When dealing with most of scripture, we see that not much is black and white, and the same applies to gender. I understand that we all have different points of view, and I think that should be welcome into discussion at Hope and in every academic/religious sphere. However when one option is presented as the superior or only option, I think that is where we should take a step back and remember that not everyone is an adherent of the Catholic faith. By presenting her ideas in a black or white structure, I think it promotes even more division as we debate about how to define gender. We begin to take sides and forget that there are other ways to refer to it. As I reflect on the event further, I am upset at how the Saint Benedict Institute decided to run the lecture. After Dr. Favale was done giving her lecture, there was a question and answer session wherein listeners were able to submit questions for her to answer concerning the lecture. The questions were submitted to Dr. Ortiz, the executive director of the Saint Benedict Institute, to choose from and present to Dr. Favale. I submitted six different questions. However, only two of my “safer” questions concerning what she thought of feminism were presented to her. While I understand that there was a limited amount of time for questions, I think there should have been someone else who was not from the Saint Benedict Institute facilitating the Q&A session, in order to promote a more open and well-rounded discussion in which attendees do not feel their questions are being cherry-picked to avoid controversy.

I also found Dr. Favale’s definition of feminism to be reductive and non-inclusive. The event was advertised as being the thoughts from a Christian and feminist perspective, so the first question that I submitted was about her views as a feminist. I wrote: How can you consider your feminist perspective to truly be feminist when it is so exclusive? To this, she replied that she is a feminist for women, saying,“If woman is purely a linguistic identity, then I don’t think there’s a point to feminism.” Frankly, I was taken aback by this statement. From what I have been studying in my gender studies classes for these past three and a half years, I have learned about the importance of intersectionality in feminism that is inclusive to communities that have been marginalized on the bases such as socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. In my eyes, Dr. Favale has created an incredibly narrow definition of what it means to be a feminist based purely on the linguistics of the word ‘woman.’ From the classes that I have taken here at Hope, it has become abundantly clear to me that being a feminist involves so much more then simply wanting to defy gender norms. While that is an important aspect of feminism, it is also crucial to acknowledge how this damaging system of patriarchal culture has affected all people.

Ultimately, I feel as though I could say quite a bit about what else in Dr. Favale’s presentation did not reflect what I have learned these past three and a half years in my study of the intersection of gender studies and religion here at Hope. Despite the fact that I didn’t agree with Dr. Favale on some of her points about gender, I believe that discussing gender is an important conversation that should be ongoing and welcomed at Hope College. I am hopeful that there will be other lectures in the future about Christian thought on gender that will be holistic and open to a wider range of more difficult questions. I think it’s important to have more events that aren’t strictly limited to a specific ideology. Gender is not black and white and our views on it should be built off of more than one person’s ideas of it.

WGS Professors’ Research featured in Spera

Spera is Hope College’s annual research magazine, a publication that highlights the scholarly accomplishments of Hope’s faculty. This year, the Women’s & Gender Studies program is thrilled to see the work of Dr. Lynn Japinga and Dr. Sarah Kornfield featured in this prestigious publication.

Dr. Lynn Japinga’s new book From Daughters to Disciples features research that developed out of her WGS course on Christian feminism.

“I joke that stories about women are always about either sex, violence, or sex and violence, but I think there’s a lot of substance and significance in these stories,” Japinga says. “People need to hear these stories, because reading about women and their struggles can make the Bible come to life in ways that it doesn’t if all you hear about is the men — even the heroic men.”

Dr. Japinga in Spera Magazine

Dr. Sarah Kornfield’s research on television’s portrayals of #MeToo is a joint project with WGS Major Hannah Jones. Together, they analyzed the narratives and techniques through which television episodes can help end sexual violence.

“People’s sense of ‘normal,’ and thus ‘real,’ are significantly derived from the images and narratives they see in media entertainment,” Kornfield says. “Essentially, the time people spend watching television each day matters. It shapes our thinking, assumptions and expectations … to bring healing, U.S. culture needs to reach new public agreements about what constitutes sexual violence and how to end sexual violence–and not much is more public than television.”

Dr. Kornfield in Spera Magazine

WGS Student Awards 2019-2020

During the 2019-2020 academic year, Hope College’s Women’s & Gender Studies students won several college-wide and academic awards. We are excited to celebrate WGS students’ accomplishments! Each student is featured with a photo of their choosing, the award they won, and a quote that inspires their feminist scholarship.

Madeleine Zimmerman (’20) won the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars in the Arts and Humanities award and was awarded membership into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society. Maddie’s quote features the words of Audre Lorde–a black feminist, lesbian, poet activist.

“[W]e have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation… But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”

Audre Lorde

Emily Wolfe (’20) won the Excellence in Scholarship Award and the A.A. Raven Prize in Communication. Emily’s quote also features the words of Audre Lorde.

“Your silence will not protect you.”

Audre Lorde

Sage Mikkelsen won the Center for Ministry Studies Lilly Scholars award. Sage’s quote is the closing lines from black feminist scholar bell hooks’ famous book, Feminism is for Everybody.

“Feminist politics aims to end domination to free us to be who we are — to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace. Feminism is for everybody.”

bell hooks

Corri Zimmerman won the James M. Zoetewey Political Science Sophomore Book Award. Corri’s quote by black feminist scholar bell hooks focuses on intersectional feminism.

“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”

bell hooks

Greer Gardner won the Theatre Department Sophomore Award. Greer’s quote borrows the voice of a great literary character.

“I intend to make my own way in the world.”

Jo March in Greta Gerwig’s (2019) rendition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Gracyn Carter won the James M. Zoetewey Political Science Sophomore Book Award. Gracyn’s quote by Nigerian author and feminist advocate Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlights the role that people play in creating culture and the potential we have to create better lives for everyone.

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Students Reflect on Christian Feminism (REL 264 w Dr. Japinga)

Rev. Dr. Japinga teaches a number of courses that are cross-listed between Religion and Women’s & Gender Studies at Hope College–and she teaches WGS 494 Keystone Seminar. But she might be best known on campus for her WGS cross-listed course, REL 264 Christian Feminism.

This year, the WGS blog is excited to showcase the final course projects of five students: Grace Mitchell, Grace Kennedy, Katy Smith, Riki Ediger, and Rachel Johnson. Even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hope’s students’ learning and insights are remarkable.

Grace Mitchell rendered her learning as a short story titled The Prodigal Daughter. This story imagines sisterhood and community, contrasting cycles of insecurity with cycles of grace.

Grace Kennedy artistically rendered her learning through this artwork, “She, God’s Masterpiece.” This artwork incorporates quotes from feminist theologians and visually echo’s van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Katy Smith created a poetic video to express women’s voices and history. Through prayer, dance, and poetry, Katy Smith celebrates the lineage and holy callings portrayed through the lives of biblical women and women from more recent history. Throughout, Katy calls upon God as El Shaddai, a maternal name for God.

Riki Ediger’s artwork focuses on the way humans reflect God’s glory, depicting God as a black, queer, feminist woman. Riki describes her painting, saying, “She wears the pride flag on her shoulder to represent her queerness. She is depicted as naked to show her femininity and the vulnerability that goes along with that.” The globe’s symbolism is twofold: God is pregnant with the earth and she is holding the weight of the world. Riki doubled this imagery in order to “encompass what it means to be a woman and what it means to carry the weight of the world.”

Rachel Johnson featured her learning through a portfolio that highlights the voices and ideas that most influenced her thinking. Her portfolio answers the intertwining questions, “Why would a self-respecting feminist be a Christian?” and “Why would a self-respecting Christian be a feminist?”

As these final course projects demonstrate, Rev. Dr. Japinga teaches her courses with the same creativity and expertise that led to her most recent book, Teaching the Women of the Old Testament. This book is intended for anyone interested in learning more about these under-taught portions of the Old Testament, and especially for pastors who can learn to incorporate these scriptures into their sermons.

Forbidden Voices

I (Hannah Jones, ’21) attended a screening of the film Forbidden Voices on November 18, 2019, at the Knickerbocker Theater in downtown Holland. This event was sponsored by Hope College’s Markets & Morality students organization and co-sponsored by the Center for Global Engagement, Global Studies Program, Asian Studies Program, Phelps Scholars Program, Department of Political Science, Department of Religion, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and a chapter of Engineers Without Borders. 

Forbidden Voices focuses on the stories of three female bloggers– Yoani Sanchez from Cuba, Zeng Jinyan from China, and Farnaz Seifi from Iran. The film is specifically interested in the ways that the Internet can be a platform for those who are silenced by oppressive governments. Sanchez, Jinyan, and Seifi have all used the Internet to draw attention to human rights violations in each of their countries. One of the most powerful aspects of the documentary was the way that it showed the consequences of speaking out in protest– Sanchez has been beaten and arrested, Jinyan has been forced into house arrest, and Seifi has been forced to leave her country.

After the film, WGS student Maddie Zimmerman hosted a talk-back. Before entering the theater, attendees were given a slip of paper with post-film discussion questions about our initial reactions to the film, the importance of free speech as it contributes to human flourishing, and how blogging is a powerful tool for women living in oppressive societies. We were encouraged to form small groups and discuss these questions before sharing our answers with everyone else.

The screening of Forbidden Voices was part of the NEA Big Read Lakeshore. This year, the Big Read chose Julia Alvarez’s books In the Time of the Butterflies and Before We Were Free, which was selected for middle-grade readers. These historical fiction books are set in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo dictatorship that lasted from 1930-1961 and ended when he was assassinated. Although both accounts are fictional, they focus on themes of resistance and silence, and more specifically, speaking out when doing so is punished by the government.

The Little Read Lakeshore chose the children’s picture book The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. The theme of this book is similar to those written by Alvarez– when the mayor of the city of La Paz institutes a new law against singing, one rooster speaks up in protest.

The concept of speaking up for one’s self or for others when they are unable to do so has been an important and ongoing discussion in my WGS classes. It can be challenging to know how and when to speak up for others, but the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool for the oppressed to talk back. Various platforms– blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, among others– have been excellent resources for many women like Sanchez, Jinyan, and Seifi. Because voices on the Internet can be so easily shared, blogs and other platforms are able to reach an unprecedented number of people and do so quickly. This has created the opportunity for widespread, international attention to violations of human rights and free speech around the world. In societies in which women are not respected and valued as fully human, online tools give voices to those who have for so long been rendered voiceless.

Finding one’s voice during a time of political unrest and violence has been a theme in the Children’s and Young Adult Literature that I took this semester. As both an English and a WGS major, one of my favorite things is finding interdisciplinary connections. My class read Alvarez’s book Before We Were Free and focused on the protagonist’s journey to use diary-keeping as a tool of resistance. Anita, the protagonist, begins her diary as a way to leave a record that will help others who are in hiding. She discovers the power of using words to document her trauma and gain control over her voice. Towards the end of the book, Anita writes, “if I stop now, they’ve really won. They’ve taken away everything, even the story of what is happening to us” (Alvarez 124). Alvarez expands on this idea in the author’s note, writing, “the silencing of those who have lived in terror is not just an external thing; it’s also a way in which the whole self shuts down. Anita’s silence is symbolic of what is happening to her country” (177). Like Anita, Sanchez, Jinyan, and Seifi have used online writing as a tool of resistance during a time of intense oppression. This documentary, especially when paired with the Big Read, serves as a great testimony to the power of finding one’s voice when it is forbidden.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. Before We Were Free. Ember, 2018.

Powerful Literature

The students in WGS 200: Introduction to Women’s & Gender Studies recently finished a course module on bodies. This module focuses on answering the question: How does society (including ourselves) understand women’s bodies?

At the end of this module, students read Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. This book gave students an opportunity to read a coming of age story that powerfully weaves together the threads of bodies, identities, and the experiences that shape girls’ understandings of their bodies.

Some members of WGS 200 with Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño.

After reading this book, we were joined by Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño for a special round-table discussion as Dr. Postma-Montaño shared her experiences writing an analysis of Gabi, co-authored with Dr. Jesus Montaño. These Hope professors include their analysis of Gabi in their upcoming book, Tactics of Hope in Latinx Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Discussing the power of literature to capture and convey difficult experiences, and to spark a sense of creativity and excitement, Dr. Postma-Montaño recommended some additional reading!