WGS in Review: Reflections from the Interim Director

WGS in Review: Reflections from the Interim Director

by Kendra R. Parker

We have had a busy academic year in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and I have been pleased to serve as the interim director for the Spring 2019 semester.

It is only fitting, then, that our last blog post of the 2018-2019 academic year offers some of our Program’s highlights. Check out our infographic for a snapshot. Want additional details or to know our plans for next academic year? Scroll down for more!

In Review: WGS 2018-2019 

Our 2019 Phi Beta Kappa recipient is Nina D. Kay, a double major in Women’s & Gender Studies and Art History with a minor in Creative Writing. Nina has an impressive record at Hope, both in and out of the classroom. Nina is a Mellon Scholar, the founder and past president of the Women’s Empowerment Organization, and a co-director of Hope’s 2019 Vagina Monologues production. Additionally, Nina is the recipient of several awards including the 2017 Recipient of Arts & Humanities Dean’s Award for Research and the 2016 recipient of The Stephenson First-Year Writing Prize recipient. The latter was awarded for her fall 2015 essay, “Bowing to No One: Black Feminism in Frances E.W. Harper’s ‘Vashti’ and Janelle Monae’s ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’” Nina’s research interests in children’s media led to a national presentation at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in November 2017. Congratulations, Nina!

This academic year, WGS co-sponsored 2 Panel Discussions. In October, WGS Program was one of several co-sponsors for “A Civil Dialogue on Abortion,” a two-person panel featuring philosophers Dr. Jack Mulder (Hope Philosophy) and Dr. Bertha Manninen.

In January, WGS co-sponsored and organized three-week series with S.T.E.P and the Communication Department to educate Hope’s campus about sexual assault, provide historical context for contemporary discussions, and offer safe spaces for discussion. The three-week series began with the screening of  Confirmation (2016), and the second event was a moderated faculty and staff panel. The final event was a small group discussion series. Special thanks go out to Dr. Marissa Doshi, Christian Gibson,  and Dr. Sarah Kornfield for their work in organizing the event series.

Additionally, 3 WGS co-sponsored three speakers.

  1. Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield’s November visit which boasted standing room only in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium. If you missed Dr. Crutchfield’s presentation, don’t fret. Watch “Faith, Intersectionality, and Black Masculinity: Kendrick Lamar’s Urban Theology,” on YouTube.
  2. In early April, we hosted  Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong (2016). In addition to her lecture, “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us,”  (reviewed by Gracyn Carter) Sara dined with two WGS faculty and several students enrolled in WGS 200. They enjoyed a candid dinner conversation and got a sneak peek at some of her insights for her lecture.
  3. The third speaker, Crystal Carr, a Ph.D. Candidate in Biopsychology at the University of Michigan, spoke on “A Novel Model of Cocaine Addiction.” Part of Carr’s presentation included a discussion of sex differences in cocaine addiction (among mice), and students were fascinated with the results.

Four WGS majors/minors participated in the  2019 Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity held on Friday, April 12, 2019, in DeVos Fieldhouse.

  1. Hannah Barnes, “Disability in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction”
  2. Ester Fletcher, “The Alternative Black Girl in Popular Culture: An Examination”
  3. Cadence Jones, “Hysteria: A Look at Sexism in Medicine”
  4. Kamryn Ramsay, “Legalized Abortion and Women’s Health: The True Defender of Life”

For the 2018-2019 academic year, 5 faculty published articles and books. Check out the list below!

  1. Dr. Marissa J. Doshi, “Barbies, Goddesses, and Entrepreneurs: Discourses of Gendered Digital Embodiment in Women’s Health Apps”
  2. Doshi,Hybridizing National Identity: Reflections on the Media Consumption of Middle-Class Catholic Women in Urban India.
  3. Dr. Sarah J. Kornfield, “Speaking in the Language of White Women: Second- and Third-Wave Metaphors”
  4. Dr. Kendra R. Parker, She Bites Back: Black Female Vampires in African American Women’s Novels, 1977-2011
  5. Dr. Jeanne Petit, “’We Must Not Fail Either the Church or the Nation’: Mobilizing Laywomen in the World War I United States.”

We honored 8 Graduating Seniors at the 2019 Senior Celebration “Brinner,” held Monday, April 29, 2019, at Haworth Inn.

L-R: Nora McClure, Cadence Jones, Nina Kay, Ester Fletcher, Emilia Antons, Hannah Barnes, and Elena Galano. Not pictured: Jocelyn Echevarria

This year, graduating seniors chose their own book gifts from a list of 8 curated by WGS faculty.  The books they chose?

  1. Living a Feminist Life (Sara Ahmed)
  2. Thick: And Other Essays (Tressie McMillan Cottom)
  3. Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry (Adrienne Rich; edited by Sandra Gilbert)
  4. Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence (edited by Lexie Bean)
  5. The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues (Angela Davis)

Below is a photo gallery of the 2019 Senior Celebration, featuring guests, students, and faculty (current and emeritus).

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In a new move this year, Hope’s Day of Giving allowed for donors to give to their areas of choice, and we are so thankful for our 9 Day of Giving Donors!
Thank you for giving to the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

Last, but not least, we showcased 10 Interviews on our blog. Did you miss the interviews? No worries! They are hyperlinked below for your convenience.

  1. Sophia Bouma-Prediger ’17
  2. Crystal Carr
  3. Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus, 08
  4. Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, ’05
  5. Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield
  6. Allyson Harper, ’14
  7. Rebekah Taylor, ’12
  8. Emme Veenbaas, ’16
  9. Dr. Phillip Waalkes, ’04
  10. Sara Wachter-Boettcher

On behalf of the WGS Program, I’d like to thank the 7 WGS alumni who offered interviews for our blog. Your insight and experiences are invaluable, and I thank you for contributing to the life of the program. Your blogs were also quite important for incoming students.  Dr. Sarah Kornfield, who hosted admitted student day, remarked, “[the alumni interviews] made it so easy to put together brief alumni profiles and show a range of careers and applications of WGS.”

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Final Remarks

As we look back at this academic year, it is safe to say it has been a whirlwind; we completed an external review; we’ve had several speakers; we’ve featured student insights on the blog; we celebrated Dr. Kornfield’s tenure  & promotion–and more. So, what’s next? In addition to our fall course offerings (pictured to your right), we have a new course coming your way.

In Spring 2020, Dr. Marissa Doshi will offer a new 300-level course: WGS 395. WGS 395, or “Transnational Feminisms: From Allies to Accomplices,” will meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:30-10:20 AM.

And still, there’s more. The “what’s next?” question also warrants a personal response from me:

As I step down as interim WGS director, I also step away from Hope College; I will join the Department of Literature at the Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus in Savannah, GA. I look forward to the new opportunity, and I take with me the wisdom and good memories from the WGS Program, WGS students, and WGS alumni. To each of you, I tip my proverbial hat.

Spera in Deo.

Dr. KP

Claiming My Education, Claiming My Truth as a Survivor

Claiming My Education, Claiming My Truth as a Survivor

By Makenna Clarke

“Student Feature” is our newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (NSAAM), and this year the Students Teaching and Educating Peers (S.T.E.P) chose the theme  “I Stand With Survivors.”  Thus, it is fitting that our final  Student Feature of the semester comes from one student who is claiming her truth. Makenna Clarke discusses her attendance at author Laurie Halse Anderson’s Grand Rapids book tour and how Anderson’s words, “empower[ed] [her]  to take a step in accepting [her] own truth.” Content Warning: sexual assault. 

On March 16, 2019, I attended Laurie Halse Anderson’s Grand Rapids stop of her Shout book tour.  Anderson was my favorite author in my early middle school years, so I was definitely “fangirling” at the opportunity to hear her speak.  The event was run by an interviewer and lasted a little over an hour, while the last 15 minutes were opened up to audience Q&A. Following the discussion, Anderson signed books and took pictures with fans.  Overall, this event was a fantastic experience.

Laurie Halse Anderson has a previous fictional work, Speak, that tackles the subject of sexual assault, but in her newest book Shout, Anderson shares her own experience and how it has affected her. She talked a lot about toxic masculinity and how our society needs to more openly talk about sexual assault and support those survivors.  

This event was really valuable for me because it helped me to finally come to a realization and accept my truth.  Throughout the event, Laurie continuously mentioned how most instances of sexual violence are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, and not by a random stranger like the media so often portrays.  Because of this, it can often be difficult for the victim to recognize or accept that they were assaulted. As a WGS student and a S.T.E.P. Educator, I had already known this information, but hearing it from Laurie Halse Anderson made it that much more meaningful and real.

Anderson (L) and Clarke (R) Grand Rapids book tour

In fact, while listening to Anderson, I remembered a time when I said no, but the guy didn’t listen. I remember telling myself that it “didn’t count as assault.”  I am so grateful to  Anderson for using her voice and empowering me to take a step in accepting my own truth. I had the privilege of speaking with Anderson while getting my book signed, and although she didn’t know it, she was the first person I had ever told about the assault.  She then asked to give me a hug and gave me some words of wisdom, which meant so much to me.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how much I relate to a quote from Roxane Gay’s Hunger: “I don’t know how to talk about rape and sexual violence when it comes to my own story.  It is easier to say, ‘Something terrible happened’” (38). In the previous paragraph, I found myself wanting to say, “what happened to me” instead of using the word “assault.”  It absolutely baffles me how much power language has, and as someone who works to advocate on behalf of others, I wholeheartedly understand Gay when she says how difficult it is to directly use certain words when acknowledging her own assault.  For a while, I think it might be hard for me to open up to other people about this part of my story, but I’m proud of myself for even coming this far in defining the assault which has helped me to validate my feelings and claim my truth.

Work Cited

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please contact Christian Gibson, Hope College’s Victim Advocate and Prevention Educator. 

Claiming My Education: “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us”: An Event Review

Claiming My Education: “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us”–An Event Review

By Gracyn Carter

“Student Feature” is our newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today, one student reviews the April 2, 2019 event, “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us.”

I attended a presentation by speaker and author Sara Wachter-Boettcher entitled “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us” on April 2, 2019, an event co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Computer Science Department, the Dean of Natural and Applied Sciences, and the Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative.

Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong, discussed the importance of being aware of the harm done in subtle ways through technology, we use every day. She shed light on the issues caused when the lack of inclusivity permeating the tech industry has direct effects on the community of users it is focusing on.

This presentation was particularly eye-opening to me regarding my own relationship with technology in everyday life. Her specific examples of how different phrasing can have serious effects on the perpetuation of destructive “social norms.” Her example of the cupcake icon used by Google Maps to encourage walking rather than driving was a particularly bizarre example of this kind of perpetuation.

However, what really struck me about that example, besides the reasons listed as to why it was an inconsiderate and destructive new program, was her comment about how much time must have gone into making that kind of a program in the first place. This brings about the primary issue that faces the tech industry today: small choices regarding the details of new programs and applications that can lead to big consequences for their users.

While there is a significant amount of detail and planning that goes into the process of creating these things, the question becomes more about who is suggesting rather than what they are suggesting. Another aspect of this lecture that struck me was the reactions from major tech companies on how they deal with many of these problematic small choices discussed. CEOs of major companies such as Facebook seem to have very little remorse or concern for the areas in which they are neglecting their users. This mentality of quantity of content versus quality is plaguing the whole industry.

One example of how these concepts are brought about in the texts we have read so far has been through Roxane Gay’s discussion of social comparison in the media. Gay has been particularly outspoken about the shortcomings of our society in general towards people who do not fit the “norm” of this culture. When detailing her experiences Gay says, “People prefer the stories of the too-skinny girls who starve themselves and exercise too much…disappearing into plain sight” (Gay, 191).

Gay’s observation emphasizes the importance of an inclusive perspective when considering the implications of an application change, such as the Google Maps mini-cupcake incident. Another connection to texts from this semester comes from Ch. 3 of Jessica Valenti’s book, Full Frontal Feminism. In this chapter, titled “Pop Culture Gone Wild”, we hear from Valenti how she feels about the climate of pop culture in relation to women. She states: “We’re all trapped in the limiting version of sexuality that’s put out there – a sexuality that caters almost exclusively to men” (Valenti, 45).

The reality of the fight for equitable representation, not only for women but for all people, is that it will involve very intentional and well-organized demands to be made of institutions that have endless resources. Being able to combat this trap, as I believe Wachter-Boettcher spoke to in her lecture, is about finding what you want from the tech industry and asking for it directly.

Works Cited

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 2017.

Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Seal Press,  2007.


Claiming My Education: Could Hope Be More Inclusive? An Event Review

Claiming My Education: Could Hope Be More Inclusive? An Event Review

by Kelly Gotham

“Student Feature” is our newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today, one student reviews the April 9, 2019 event, “Could Hope Be More Inclusive?”

On April 9, 2019, I attended the event, “Could Hope Be More Inclusive?,” a student research and activism showcase run by the “Challenging Bodies: Disability, Gender, and Culture” Cultural Heritage class, taught by Dr. Christiana Salah.  

There were several groups presenting about a number of topics, and I walked around to each group’s station to learn more. I could say a lot about each topic, but I will keep it brief.

  • Group one researched American Sign Language (ASL). This group emphasized people’s interest in learning ASL, jobs that incorporate ASL, and the unfortunate reasons why ASL is not taught at Hope.
  • After researching Gender Inclusive Housing, the second group shared Hope is not as gender inclusive as it could be,  mostly because of its affiliation with the Reformed Church in America (RCA) which does not accept the LGBTQ community. The group suggested that for gender inclusivity, Hope would likely have to separate from the RCA.
  • The third group discussed the inaccessibility of Dykstra Hall, a campus dormitory, noting that Dykstra is not wheelchair accessible. They proposed building a ramp next to the external stairs and changing clusters 1-6 to be fully accessible.
  • The next group discussed the need for a Women’s Center on campus. Their research included justifications for a safe space for sexual assault survivors.
  • The following group presented solutions for making the location of The Pull more accessible. The best part? They created a model. The model shows a clear pathway and accessible sitting areas for assistive mobility devices.
  • The last group created a mock patient portal for the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) website where anyone can submit an anonymous entry to get help with mental illness treatment.

    Pictured is the group’s model; this model offers accessibility features for The Pull location.

I thought the event was very well presented and I learned more about how Hope is trying to be a more inclusive campus. A few things there had already been discussed in my WGS 200 class like how Dykstra is not accessible and the need for Gender Inclusive Housing. Something I had never thought of before this event, however, was making the Pull accessible and having an online portal for CAPS.

I have a friend who lived in Dykstra and had to be moved to Cook Hall because she injured her back severely and is unable to use stairs. It is so sad that she was not able to continue living where she has been comfortable all year and be with her friends because of Dykstra’s inaccessibility. It seems like Hope pushes important issues aside because it costs too much to resolve, and that is somewhat concerning. Taking this class and going to this event really broadened my perspective on these topics and now I can share the information I learned with others. Overall, I think the event was very informative and something people should be talking about more. All of the issues presented are important, and I hope they can be adopted. 


Are you a WGS major or minor? Or are you enrolled in a WGS course? Would you like to contribute to “Student Feature”? Email wgs AT hope DOT edu.

“A Novel Model of Cocaine Addiction”: An Interview with Crystal Carr, M.S., Ph.D. Candidate

by Kendra R. Parker
Crystal Carr, M.S, is a  Ph.D. Candidate in Biopsychology and a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. On Thursday, April 18,  Carr will deliver her talk, “Exploring a Novel Model of Cocaine Addiction” in Schaap Auditorium (Science Center), at 11 AM. In today’s interview, Carr discusses her upcoming visit, her research inspirations, and a riveting recommended read.


Welcome back to Hope College, Crystal. Recently,  you were at Hope for Brain Day. What are you most excited to share with students, faculty, staff, and community members who will attend your lecture on Thursday, April 18?

My research findings! I have presented some of the results at conferences, but much of the data I will discuss is new.

What’s your current field of study?

The University of Michigan Psychology Department offers a Ph.D. program in six areas of psychology. I am in the Biopsychology area, which is sometimes referred to as Behavioral Neuroscience. We broadly study brain-behavior relationships (the brain is the biology component and the behavior is the psychology component).

So, you’re in STEM, but as an undergraduate did you minor in Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS), and if so, how did your WGS minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to learn about WGS as an academic discipline and how, if at all, does gender impact your research interests?

I did not minor in WGS, but for those interested, The University of Michigan offers several joint Ph.D. programs, with the option to combine Psychology with Education, Social Work, or Women’s Studies. In fact, a few of my colleagues are in the joint Women’s Studies and Psychology program and have shared their research with me. Though I am not jointly enrolled, I have conducted several sex-difference studies and I will share these results during my lecture.

If this does not give too much away before your lecture, what inspired you to research and write on cocaine addiction?

In short, addiction plagued my family. I consider relapse to be one of the most devastating aspects of addiction and I am interested in understanding the neurobiology in order to assist with treatment development. Unlike many other drugs of abuse, there is currently no approved medication to treat cocaine addiction.

Your talk will be on dangers of cocaine addiction, but I am wondering if you speak on any connections to race or gender and why your research is important for dispelling systemic myths about cocaine usage, addiction, and rehabilitation. 

There was a time when addicts were considered moral failures, with the logic being they could quit doing drugs if they really wanted. Addiction research has shown that addiction is a brain disease–a distinction that is especially important because it affects social and health policies.

What we know is this: repeated drug use results in neuroadaptations that contribute to compulsive drug use and a high propensity to relapse. The “telescope effect” refers to the observation that women typically transition to addiction faster, whereas women are seen for treatment sooner after first use and present with more severe addiction symptomology.  This knowledge and understanding are critical to dispelling stereotypes and myths.

What advice would you give to current Hope students, but Black women students especially, who are enrolled in STEM courses or who are interested in graduate school? Any words of wisdom? 

Great mentorship surely makes a difference!

In undergrad, I completed a plethora of biology courses, a neuroscience course, and even chemistry. While these courses were challenging, they provided a great foundation for my current degree. Although my Bachelor’s of Science degree is in Psychology, I spent a great deal of time in the Biology Department at Tuskegee Insitute, and I established relationships with the faculty, including Dr. Gerald D. Griffin.

So, as we wrap up a bit, tell me—what’s on your bookshelf these days? What’s the one book you recommend that we read—and why? 

For those who are interested in learning more about addiction, I would certainly suggest Dr. Carl Hart’s book, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. Hart’s prologue details an experiment he conducted in 1999 that gave “experienced and committed” crack users the choice between a hit of crack cocaine and an alternative reinforcer (five dollars).  Hart paints a vivid scene that ends in an unexpected outcome: after having sampled the dose, the participant, a thirty-nine-year-old Black man who worked as a street bookseller, chose the cash.


We really appreciate Crystal for taking the time to share with us! Intrigued? Want to learn more? Join us tomorrow at 11AM in  Schaap 1000. Crystal’s event is free and open to the public.

Claiming Our Education: She Bites Back (Student Feature)

Claiming Our Education: She Bites Back

by Silvia Lepe, Joivenae Uribe, and Hannah Weller

“Student Feature” is our newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today, three students share their insights from Dr. Kendra R. Parker’s February 28 lecture, “She Bites Back: Black Women as Predators in Life and Lit.”


What is “She Bites Back”?

On Thursday, February 28, 2019, we attended “She Bites Back: Black Women as Predators in Life and Lit” where Dr. Kendra R. Parker discussed her research on Black female vampires, including her book, Black Female Vampires in African American Women’s Novels, 1977-2011: She Bites Back (2018). This event was part of the 2019 Hope College Department of English Colloquium Series.

Her research is focused on the identification of “predator” Black women have been given over centuries. She compared the political marginalization that both Black women and vampires have experienced in both reality and fiction and explains the terms “Black women” and “vampire” as interchangeable when considered political threats.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

“I learned way more than I thought I was going to. But I am going to highlight a few of the major points of the event. The first highlight was the presentation. Throughout the entire thing, I was shocked to learn what I did about racism and how vampires were used as a vessel in that. The second highlight was when Dr. Parker explained why she wrote the book and how it evolved from her dissertation to what is now a book. The research she put into it was fascinating to hear about. I also really enjoyed listening to why she chose the books she did in her book and her research. The final highlight for me was the question and answer session at the end. Sometimes when you go to presentations, no one in the audience wants to ask a question, but this was very different. The people in the audience were curious; they wanted to know more and even had comments about things that were shown in the presentation. Overall, it was one presentation that I enjoyed. I will definitely remember this information the next time I watch a vampire show/movie.”

“I have learned a lot from this presentation. I was never into reading books, let alone books about vampires. I never looked into the history of vampires and how many Black people were depicted as vampires and as blood-sucking predators throughout history. I had the chance to learn about many different works of literature about vampires, specifically those that include Black women as vampires or things of that sort or characteristics that can be seen as vampires.  I loved learning how Dr. Parker wanted to change the image of women, specifically the image of Black women, and how in Black women’s literature they are not the “typical” bad vampires that people usually envision. It was very interesting learning about the connections that many see between Black people and vampires. I would have never have seen the connection or would have never known that they were depicted that way until coming to this presentation.”

“One thing I learned from Dr. Parker’s lecture was the depiction of Black folks as vampires. Prior to this lecture, I learned about Black people depicted as animals, but vampires were an entirely new category. In simple terms, Black people were considered monsters. The photo titled “The Vampire that Hovers over North Carolina” depicts a Black person (looks more manly) as a vampire terrorizing a village. Since vampires are considered non-human, the “undead,” depicting a Black person meant society considered them as creatures and monsters that needed to be hunted and ‘eliminated.’”

From the Text to the Stage–and Back

This presentation made us think a lot about Octavia E. Butler’s Mind of My Mind. We know this was one of the books used in the research and presentation and one we read in WGS 200 (Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies), but we’re thinking more about the systems of oppression that we see throughout the book.

Black people face so much oppression as it is and seeing the ways that they are referred to as bloodsuckers or feeding off things makes it worse. In Mind of My Mind, there is a lot of privilege given to the characters who have telepathic power, and those without are seen as less than–they are even called “Mutes.”


Are you a WGS major or minor? Or are you enrolled in a WGS course? Would you like to contribute to “Student Feature”? Email wgs AT hope DOT edu.

Claiming Our Education: Reflections on “Speaking Truth to Power” with Austin Channing Brown

Claiming Our Education: Reflections on “Speaking Truth to Power” with Austin Channing Brown

by Gracyn Carter, Emma Holman, and Grace Kennedy

“Student Feature” is our newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today, three students share their insights from Austin Channing Brown’s February 27 lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power.”

What was “Speaking Truth to Power”?

On Wednesday, February 27, 2019, we went to the Black History Month lecture titled “Speaking Truth to Power” by Austin Channing Brown. The event was held in Jack Miller Music Hall and it was packed full of people. Before Brown spoke, there was a song sang by a fellow student from the Black Student Union accompanied by a piano player. After Image result for “Speaking Truth to Power” with Austin Channing Brownthat, there was a speech by a student from the Student Activities Committee. Then, Austin Channing Brown started her lecture which included stories and life-experiences from her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (2018). She talked about her life experience as a black woman in America and divided the rest of the lecture into three points- a world made for whiteness, black dignity, and the answer to the question “what is a white person supposed to do now?” The lecture was very lively and engaging because she did not want the lecture to become too formal and she wanted people to engage with her. Austin Channing Brown had a thought-provoking and action-provoking lecture on what it means to be Black in a world made for whiteness.

Brown’s keynote shed light on the instances of racial discrimination and bias that still take place not only on Hope’s campus but in our whole country. Through her empowering words and personal story, she brought about meaningful conversations on campus and enlightened the audience about how to bring about real change for our community.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

“The whole event was amazing. I can’t begin to fully grasp every point that Brown discussed in her speech, because it was so mind-boggling to be confronted with those issues and concepts . . . Like most white people who don’t know how it is to be oppressed based on the color of our skin, I cannot begin to understand how to reverse all of the pain that Black people and other people of color have experienced because of the white supremacy that is built into our society. I do agree with Brown when she said that ‘every single Black person is created with inherent dignity’ and that we need to stand in solidarity with one another to fight against oppression. Lastly, I fully support Brown in her belief that in order to make a change we need to use the advantage of our own privilege and show up for racial justice.” 

“Having grown up in a predominantly white environment my whole life, I had never really given much consideration to the ways that racial discrimination is evident in my life, I also ways knew that it was wrong, and I knew that it happened, but I considered myself and the people around me to be acceptations to the brainwashing that takes place in white communities. Hearing Brown speak about both the small and big ways that race has played a part in her daily life really struck me for numerous reasons. First, it made me think about how being an ally to people of color is not about how me. It is about standing up for those that are not me, those that do not always have the same socially constructed privileges I have and getting out of the way when there are things that I do not need to speak to. I am not meant to be a savior of people of color, but instead someone that can be trusted to listen and hear what people of color have to say and working with them to ensure they are being heard. Secondly, it empowered me to reconsider how I treat people based on factors that they cannot necessarily control. The overarching theme of this speech for me was not only about racial matters, but the way we treat each other in general.”

“One of the main ideas I learned from this event is the world is made for whiteness. I am privileged because I am white, and I don’t have to think about certain things that people of color do. The world welcomes us because we are white and makes room for us. Another idea I learned from this event is black dignity. Brown states there are two lies: white people are superior and colored people are inferior. The first lie is talked about a lot but the second one is never brought up. We need to discuss the second lie more. Also, Brown discussed the lie that hip hop music is seen as inherently bad because of its involvement with blackness. People constantly disregard Hip Hop without even listening to it. Further, I learned Brown’s answer to the question ‘what is a white person supposed to do now?’ Brown any answer she could give is too short and too easy. She said we should use the power that we have to change the college and curriculum to be more inclusive.”  

Connecting the Dots: From the Text to the Stage—and Back

When considering how this topic fits with our readings I was reminded of Andrew David Thaler’s article; Thaler speaks to the nature of being an ally:  “Being an ally is not something you are, it’s something you do. ‘Ally’ is not an identity, it is a set of behaviors that help acknowledge and promote underprivileged members of your community.” This definition strikes a chord for me as I consider how to better understand being a meaningful member of a community that is striving for diversity and inclusion in many ways. Remembering that being an ally is so much more about how you act than how you present yourself to want to act is such an important distinction.

Another reading that connects to Brown’s speech is Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh lists forty-six things that are privileges for her as a white woman. After listing these she states, “For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject… the appearance of being a good citizen rather than a trouble maker comes in large part from having all sorts of doors open automatically because of my color. Her acknowledgment of the privilege that she has is something that I find particularly admirable considering the topics that Brown addressed. Simple things that I all too often do not recognize as advantages can continue to add up to make a world that is not conducive to those that are different from the depiction of normality that we are fed, both as white people and people of color.

Works Cited

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Feminist Frontiers, 9th ed. Edited by Verta Taylor, Nancy Whittier, and Leila J. Rupp. McGraw-Hill, 2012. pp. 11-17.

Thaler, Andrew David. “On Being an Ally and Being Called Out for Your Privilege.” Weblog. Southern Fried Science, 19 November 2013.


Are you a WGS major or minor? Or are you enrolled in a WGS course? Would you like to contribute to “Student Feature”? Email wgs AT hope DOT edu.

Claiming My Education: Black Women in STEM–Knowledge and Inspiration

Claiming My Education: Black Women in STEM–Knowledge and Inspiration”

by Heaven Silas

“Student Feature” is our blog’s newest addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today,  Heaven Silas (Communication ’20) reviews Dr. Valerie Taylor’s visit from March 6. 

On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, at 7:00PM, in Winants Auditorium, I attended Dr. Valerie Taylor’s “High Performance Computing: A Case for Performance Analysis” lecture. In this event, Dr. Taylor, a STEM expert, gave a lecture to students and faculty members on her research on Computing Analysis and Parallels with Algorithms.

Dr. Taylor discussed the main topics of how power, time, communication, and frequency interact with each other in this specific form of math and science. She summarized her lecture with “High performance computing is important for some applications. Performance is important for efficient deception, and different applications require different strategies for efficiency.” 

If I’m being honest, the entire lecture went completely over my head. I am not in any way skilled and or knowledgeable about STEM  nor am I familiar with this form of research. I was not able to engage in the learning process of her actual lecture.

However, I was moved in a different way.

Seeing this Black woman as an expert in the STEM disciplines inspired me. Her knowledge and skill level of the subject was amazing, and I was even more excited by how many people had come out to hear her lecture. She was teaching amongst predominantly white people, and specifically white men. These men not only attended, but they were also open to learning from her and receiving all of what she had to share.

This was not a typical event that I have attended–where someone speaks and shares their life experiences; this woman was actually teaching some of her research in detail, and people were taking notes, solving problems, and following along with her lesson. I did also learn (proudly) that 9 megawatts are equivalent to the electricity necessary for 6,000 homes, and the cost of this would be about 9 million dollars. Not sure why, but this fact stood out to me (probably because it was the only thing that I understood).

Attending this event allowed me to see yet another way of Black women exceeding people’s expectations of their intelligence. Not that I had any doubt in my mind that Black women are not intelligent; I have never once thought that (I am, after all, a Black woman). However, our society perceives Black women as unintelligent. In fact, I have learned it is a common stereotype, and a lot of our readings on feminism and women’s rights in my WGS 200 class have spoken about.

For example, in Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay recounts experiences of racism amongst white men regarding her education. Specifically, she recalls a time when a white male student scoffed at her for getting into her ivy league school: “He looked at me with plain disgust. ‘Affirmative Action’ he sneered, unable to swallow the bitter truth that, I a black girl, had achieved something he could not” (85).

Additionally, in Feminisms Matter, Victoria Bromley discusses how women are often seen as less intelligent than men. Bromley explains that according to dominant assumptions, American women are “supposed” to be “Nurturing, irrational, subordinate, passive, domestic, virginal, and dependent” (3).

Did you see intelligent on that list? Neither did I.

Works Cited

Bromley, Victoria L. Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism. University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Harper Collins, 2017.


Are you a WGS major or minor? Or are you enrolled in a WGS course? Would you like to contribute to “Student Feature”? Email wgs AT hope DOT edu.

Toxic Tech: An Interview with Sara Wachter-Boettcher

by Kendra R. Parker

On Tuesday, April 2, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, principal of Rare Union, co-host of Strong Feelings podcast, and author of Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech (2017), will speak to the Hope College and Holland communities on “Inclusive Design, Ethical Tech, and All of Us.” In today’s interview, Sara discusses her upcoming visit and her interest in Women’s and Gender Studies. Sara also reminds us that “…filling computer science classes with women will not fix the problems in tech…if it’s toxic to the women, how does that help?”

 What are you most excited to share with students, faculty, staff, and community members who will attend your lecture on Tuesday, April 2?

I’m excited to really connect the dots between a bunch of things attendees have probably seen in the news about tech—from Facebook’s data breaches and lack of privacy to image recognition systems that don’t work for black and brown people—and talk about how those problems have manifested.

So often, news stories about tech are sensationalized, either positively or negatively. It’s either, “Ooooh! Shiny!” or “Tech is evil!” What we need is a deeper conversation about the cultural norms and financial incentives that have led the tech industry to build so many products laced with sexism, racism, bias, and other types of harm—because only when we can have this conversation in a nuanced and meaningful way can we begin to figure out how to fix it.

Did you major/minor in Women’s and Gender Studies (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 or research interest?

I took a bunch of classes and almost added a Women’s and Gender Studies minor to my program, but I didn’t because I was already knee-deep in two majors!

The experience that most shaped my feminist perspective and values, though, was working in a countywide sexual assault support center for three years during college. I answered crisis lines and did admin sometimes, but mostly, I worked with the education program, facilitating workshops with middle schoolers. We talked to the kids about recognizing abuse, how abusers will try to convince you it’s your fault, and where to turn for help. We also taught segments on power and control, consent, and assertiveness.

That experience taught me so many things, but one of the less obvious ones is how much it matters who and what shapes our norms. By middle school, these kids had already learned to accept a lot of things as normal that they shouldn’t have to—harassment, abuse, lack of bodily autonomy. Not to mention deeply ingrained, restrictive gender roles.

And so, I think a lot about how different aspects of our culture influence norms about sex, bodies, relationships, and gender. When I started seeing the lack of diversity and compassion within the tech industry, combined with the increasing power that industry had, I realized we needed to do a better job of talking about its role in reinforcing biases and narrow norms for the world.

Your response is great for all of our readers–you don’t have to major/minor in Women’s and Gender Studies to have a passion for justice. Thank you for that necessary reminder. Now, if this does not give too much away before your lecture, what inspired you to research and write on technology and sexist apps?

It started in 2015 when I was filling out a form online for a new doctor’s office. Halfway through, out of the blue, it asked me: “Have you ever been sexually abused or assaulted?” And it stopped me in my tracks. Because there was no information about why they wanted this info, how it would be used, where it would be stored. There were just these two checkboxes: yes, or no?

For a new doctor with no context to ask me this in a form I’m filling out online broke me open a little bit. And so I started looking at how data we collect online can be problematic—it can be collected non-consensually, it can be collected in biased ways, it can be collected to surveil you, it can be collected to hurt you. Once I was thinking about that problem, I started noticing a million other related problems—and how much worse those problems were getting the more we were relying on artificial intelligence and algorithms in software to make decisions about who you are, what you want, or what you deserve.

Amazing. I always like to say that “research is me-search,” so your experience encapsulates this perfectly. Now, your talk will be on dangers of toxic tech, and you’ll touch on a range of biases, but I am wondering if you will share your thoughts on the need for women in tech—as undergraduate majors, developers, and the like? What advice would you give to current women students who are not considering Computer Science or STEM courses as a major or minor (or even a course in their undergraduate studies) about their value and the necessity of women in the discipline?

I think women are absolutely needed to make technology products that work for a wider range of people, and I definitely think that computer science and STEM courses need to be much more open to women. However, I don’t think you have to study those things to be a crucial addition to a tech project (I didn’t).

One of the problems we are seeing in tech today is that the industry has prized technical skills above all for a long time: if you can code, you’re deemed a genius…even if what you code is an app that increases surveillance and incarceration of black people. Meanwhile, if you understand, say, the historical context of race in this country, or you know about the emotional and psychological effects of living under surveillance, you’re deemed unnecessary to building tech. This is a myth that needs to change if we ever want to have a more ethical tech industry—one that isn’t built on business models that exploit and harm. I think that is very slowly starting to change, precisely because the tech industry as it’s stood has started to show cracks; I know there’s now more emphasis in a lot of tech companies on hiring people with backgrounds in social sciences, humanities, and communication. But it’s big industry-wide bias to overcome.

I say all of this because I think it’s important to note that just filling computer science classes with women will not fix the problems in tech—particularly because there’s a huge issue of women leaving the industry because it’s so unwelcoming. And I don’t think it’s useful to tell women they “should” study computer science, just because it would be good for tech—if it’s toxic to the women, how does that help?

However, I would say, if you are interested in technology, even a little bit, I would absolutely give it a try. There are so many myths about programming —that it’s really hard, that you have to be great at math, that you should have started when you were 12 if you want to be good at it. None of those things are true, and you absolutely belong in those classes if you’re interested at all. So many people gain technical skills at so many points in their lives, from every background you can imagine.

That’s very insightful. Thank you for sharing. I have one last question. What’s on your bookshelf these days—the one book you recommend that we read—and why? 

Recommending one book is an impossible task! But one that sticks out at this current moment is definitely Thick, a new book of essays by Tressie McMillan
Cottom. She does an amazing job bringing together a rigorous background in sociology with incredibly accessible, moving, personal writing, which is rare! But she also gets at the heart of so much happening in this current moment around race, gender, privilege, and political power. Once you read her work, you’ll want more of her in your life, I promise.


We really appreciate Sara for taking the time to share with us! Intrigued? Want to learn more? Join us next week at 4PM in Winants Auditorium (located in Graves Hall). Sara’s event is free and open to the public.

Claiming My Education: Defining Mental Health–Disability or Debilitating? (Student Feature)

Claiming My Education: Defining Mental Health–Disability or Debilitating?

by Makenna Clarke

“Student Feature” is a new addition to the WGS blog. Student-scholars enrolled in WGS courses have consented to share their experiences inside and outside the classroom with the Hope community. Today, the “Student Feature” features  WGS 200 student-scholar Makenna Clarke.

On February 22, 2019, I attended Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s lecture, “Disclosure Blues: Transforming Mental Health in Higher Education.”  I chose to attend this event because of my passion for mental health awareness as well as my own experiences with it. Pryal started out the event by documenting her personal experience with mental health which included bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD.  She talked about her time as a student but mainly focused on how mental health played a role in her position as a professional in higher education. Pryal discussed how she taught at a school where she was a non-tenured faculty member. Despite her many credentials, she still had no job security as long as she wasn’t tenured and was even more worried about reaching tenure as a person with a psychiatric disability.  For the years that she worked in higher education, Pryal never disclosed her disability to any coworkers or superiors, which caused her an immense amount of stress. Ultimately, Pryal decided to leave higher education because the stress of hiding his disability was no longer worth it to her. She goes on to explain how the higher education system needs to fix contingency in order to better accommodate neurodivergent people. She goes on to defining terms one should know in order to have effective conversations about disability and what we must do to “get to a better world.”  According to Pryal, this includes examining fears such as gut-level reactions to neurodiversity, examining structural problems, as well as ableism. After the event was over I decided to buy her book and asked her to sign my copy. She asked me why I came to the event and I told her my story which was really neat. We had a great conversation and I was so appreciative that she was willing to spend her time listening and talking with me.

Pryal called one of the sections of her presentation “Use the Right Words” which I found to be very informative.  She explains how when discussing disability it is important to use identity-first language (i.e. disabled person).  Pryal explains how “normate” is a better term than “able-bodied” because it implies that not all disabilities are physical.  To me, the most interesting term she talked about was “psychiatric disability” as opposed to “mental illness,” which implies a sickness that can be cured. Pryal prefers the term psychiatric disability because it can be an identity that one can claim, or even be proud of.  She then discusses neurodiversity and neurodivergence which spans broader than psychiatric disability. Lastly, she defines accessibility and universal design, and even shares a quote from her book, Life of the Mind Interrupted, which says: “Usually, when we talk about helping people get what they need to make their way in the world – whatever their disability – the standard is ‘accommodation.’  That term connotes ‘doing something extra’ to meet someone’s needs” (102). As a student who receives academic accommodations, I really appreciated this quote because there are times that having accommodations makes one feel like an outsider.

I thought this event related very well to Susan Wendell’s “The Social Construction of Disability.”  Wendell writes, “I see disability as socially constructed in ways ranging from social conditions that straightforwardly create illnesses, injuries,
and pour physical functioning, to subtle cultural factors that determine standards of normality and exclude those who do not meet them from full participation in their societies” (58).  At the beginning of the event, Pryal made a comment how when she was first given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD, and she felt uncomfortable identifying herself as a disabled person because society typically doesn’t define disability in such a way. Over time she realized that she wasn’t going to let this language have power over her, and instead she would allow herself to identify how she truly felt.

Works Cited

  1. Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. Life of the Mind Interrupted: Essays on Mental Health and Disability in Higher Education. Blue Crow Publishing, LLC, 2017.
  2. Wendell, Susan. “The Social Construction of Disability.”  The Rejected Body. New York, Routledge, 1996, pp. 57-68.