Claiming Our Education–The Vagina Monologues (Student Feature)

Claiming Our Education: The Vagina Monologues

By Emma Holman, Heaven Silas, and Joivenae Uribe

“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” focuses on WGS 200 student-scholars who attended Hope’s 2019 production of The Vagina Monologues.

What is The Vagina Monologues?

From February 14-16 2019, the Women’s Empowerment Organization and S.T.E.P hosted Hope College’s production of The Vagina Monologues. It took place in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of the Martha Miller Center at 7:30 pm each night. The event started out with the two co-directors of the production, Rachel Dion and Nina Kay,  informing the audience about the origin of The Vagina Monologues: Eve Ensler interviewed over 200 women of various ages, races, and sexualities and asked them all the same questions about their vaginas. The result? The Vagina Monologues.

During this particular event, about 15 women performed different monologues that focused on vaginas. The women (enrolled students at Hope) performed pieces that encouraged women to embrace their bodies, their sexuality, their womanhood, and most importantly, their vaginas. These monologues focused on topics like sex, gender, sexuality, gender identity, sexual assault, periods, mutilation of women’s bodies, childbirth, and masturbation.

The whole production lasted a little over an hour, and after each show, there was a discussion session with panelists.

The co-directors and two panelists sit on stage preparing for the post-production discussion on Saturday, February 16, 2019. (L-R Nina Kay, Rachel Dion, Dr. Kendra R. Parker, Dr. Marissa J. Doshi)

Learning Beyond the Classroom

“One reason I chose to go to this event was that the high school I went to (Mercy High San Francisco, all-girls) also put on the Vagina Monologues as an assemble every year around Valentine’s day. It was a day that many of us looked forward to because we all left feeling empowered and good about our bodies and giddy after spelling out vagina together as a whole school (imagine a theater full of about 400 girls screaming “VAGINA” simultaneously–IT WAS GREAT). Though I did not expect Hope’s version to be the exact same, I did enjoy it back home and I wanted to see what the event would be like here.”

“While watching these performances, I was immediately taken back to middle and high school where I was uncomfortable with talking about my body, periods, and anything that had to do with sex. Hearing these ladies say “vagina” over again the way that they did [during the production] would have made me extremely uncomfortable [back then]; I am not sure if it was because of my age and my lack of sexual maturity and/or knowledge about the female body, but I hated talking about it; not so much of hearing about it.”

“I learned many different things from this event. One of the first things I learned about this event is what it actually is. I have heard about The Vagina Monologues when I first started going to Hope College and went to the activities fair. One of the women at the booth for WEO said that we should sign up for the vagina monologues and my first thought was what is that. I did not know what to fully expect until I went and listened to what the hosts said. Another thing I learned from this event is that every woman’s experience is different. I already knew this, but it was reinforced when I was watching the play.”

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

One of the last monologues (the one about moaning) connects back to Pop Culture Gone Mad” chapter from Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (2014). The chapter discusses how in pornography women put on a kind of act. Porn plays a big role in our society however in negatively portrays what healthy sexual encounters should be like and expects that all women have the same needs and are only trying to please the men: “a generation of girls who think porn sex is the only way to please guys…the problem is that we’re expected to imitate something that’s acted” (Valenti 53-54). The monologue relates to this because this woman has discovered the pleasures of genuinely making another woman feel good, and how her experiences with these women have been more pleasurable than with men because it is more genuine. Porn culture creates expectations for both men and women and if those expectations are not met, then people tend to become sexually embarrassed and do not feel comfortable exploring their own bodies or others sexually. While porn may be empowering for some people, for others it can be a harmful, unrealistic expectation.

One of the monologues was about a woman and how her skirt does not ask for it. This idea connects to chapter four of Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. She writes how wearing a skirt equates to asking to be raped in our current society and how horrible that idea is. Both the woman’s monologue and Valenti’s chapter maintains that a woman should wear whatever she wants without the fear of getting raped.

In the section “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe, Which Wave Are We in and How Do We Know?,” of Victoria L. Bromley’s  Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism (2012), readers learn about the different waves of feminists and the different strategies
that each wave did. Eve Ensler, the creator of 
The Vagina Monologues, was a part of the third wave feminism which began in the 1990s. An activist tactic of the third wave was writing personal narratives. The production is full of personal narratives from hundreds of women who are sharing their experiences with their vaginas and their feelings about their vaginas.

Works Cited

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

Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters. 2007. 2nd edition. Seal Press, 2014.

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

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview–Sophia Bouma-Prediger, ‘17

Meet Our Alumni: Sophia Bouma-Prediger

by Kendra R. Parker

Sophia Bouma-Prediger graduated with a double major in Spanish and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Psychology. She shares “WGS gave me the vocabulary and community I needed to learn more about myself, and the world, through a variety of lenses and perspectives.” Read on to find out about Sophia’s work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mexico

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

I am currently living and working in Oaxaca, Mexico. I moved to Oaxaca in Spring of 2018 in order to work with a local NGO–Fundación En Vía. En Vía works in women’s empowerment through the areas of microfinance, business education, and responsible tourism. The organization’s focus on women’s empowerment, and work with women in some of the smaller communities outside of the city of Oaxaca, were what originally drew me to them. After 9 months with Fundación En Vía, my stint as the English Coordinator was up, but my interest in working in language education had only grown. This interest led me to my current position as the Academic Coordinator at a local language school, Nágora Language Academy.

I love my work at Nágora as we work with all ages of students, from all backgrounds of life. At Nágora, although the focus may not be women’s issues, empowerment is definitely something we strive for. We work to create a space for empowerment through language learning and the ability to communicate across cultures. In our conflict-ridden world, communication is incredibly important, and too few of us are able to cross language barriers. Therefore, knowledge of a language different from one’s own, can open up endless opportunities and empower us to take action.

Did you major/minor in WGS? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

During my time at Hope College, I was a WGS major along with majoring in Spanish and minoring in Psychology.

What I love most about my WGS major is that it is applicable to just about any work environment. However, I use what I learned in my WGS classes not just in my work, but also in my everyday life. It affects the way I view advertisements and the news, the way I build relationships with friends and the way I view the world around me.

How did your WGS education shape you?

My WGS education showed me that I could (& should) follow my dreams. Pre-WGS courses I knew I was interested in Feminism but I didn’t have the courage to tackle it head-on. WGS gave me the vocabulary and community I needed to learn more about myself, and the world, through a variety of lenses and perspectives.

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

Take that first class!

If you never give it a try, you’ll never know if you like it. But also, WGS is such an important discipline and you’re truly missing out if you don’t at least dip your toes in.

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

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview–Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook ’05

Meet Our Alumni: Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook (‘05)

by Kendra R. Parker

Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook graduated with a double major in Women’s Studies* and History. Anna is a reference librarian in Boston, and she discusses the various ways she has “sought … to put [her] feminist, social justice ethics into practice.”

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

I currently work as a reference librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) in Boston, Massachusetts. Following my graduation from Hope College (1997-2005) with a degree in Women’s Studies and History, I worked in book retail for two years while applying for graduate studies in library science and history. I did not want to pursue a Ph.D., but I wanted to continue in a field that combined my love of research with my feminist commitment to anti-oppression politics. Working in a library felt like a good way to combine my scholarly and work histories in a viable career path. I moved to Boston in 2007 to begin a graduate program in History and Library and Information Science.

I grew up in Holland and attended Hope College because my father worked there; apart from brief residencies in Oregon, Indiana, and Aberdeen, Scotland, I had not lived outside of West Michigan before moving to Boston. I was ready for a change of scene! At the time, I imagined that I would spend four years earning my M.A/M.L.S and then relocate where the job market or family ties took me. Instead, both my job and family ties — I met my wife, an archivist, in graduate school, and her family is in New England — have anchored me in the Boston area for the past decade.

In addition to my work as a reference librarian, I have sought out other ways to put my feminist, social justice ethics into practice. In the library field, I stay current in histories of sexuality and gender, religion, race, and politics by reviewing for Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. Two recent projects have been an annotated bibliography of LGBTQ titles for Library Journal (forthcoming, April 2019) and an in-progress review essay on three reproductive justice titles for the BMJ Medical Humanities journal. I have served as a facilitator for online courses on equity, diversity, and inclusion in libraries and served a three-year term as Inclusion and Diversity Coordinator for the New England Archivists regional professional association. I also volunteer at the queer community-based archives The History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston (founded in 1980).

Beyond my work life, I read romance (particularly queer romance), write fanfiction (particularly queer fanfiction), quilt and embroider, go on long walks, and spend time with my wife Hanna and our two cats. In January 2018 I founded Persistent Stitches, an all-volunteer crafting collaborative that raises money for resistance, social justice, and anti-oppression work through crafting. In March 2018, I formally joined the Unitarian Universalist Association through Arlington St. Church, a historic congregation in central Boston with a long history of support for LGBTQ folks and ongoing commitment to social justice action.

How did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

Shortly after I began taking classes at Hope College, the 1998 Critical Issues Symposium (CIS) topic was Feminism & Faith. Though I already identified as a feminist (and was nascently aware of my bisexuality), the Feminism & Faith CIS offered me a glimpse of feminist theory and theology that left me hungry for more. I enrolled in a course on Christian Feminism the following semester, then moved on from there to women’s history, and eventually histories of gender and sexuality.

During my time at Hope College, I would describe myself as an “over-invested ally”: someone who understands themselves to be straight but feels drawn to queer community, and eventually discerns that they actually aren’t allied to it but a community member themselves. I struggled with internalized biphobia, wondering if I was queer enough to identify as such. As a part-time, commuting student, who was initially younger than — and finally older than — many of my classmates, I never really made social connections with peers at Hope but did find an intellectual and political home in what was then the Women’s Studies department. One very formative experience was a multi-year student-faculty research project that involved collecting oral histories from queer women who had belonged to a lesbian feminist group in West Michigan during the 1970s and early 1980s. This project both taught me research skills that I used for my Master’s thesis (on the Oregon Extension) and also brought me into contact with older lesbian and bisexual women who had meaningful lives and same-sex relationships. It was an early experience in seeing queer possibilities for my own future.

How did your WGS education shape you?

As part of the department’s twentieth-anniversary celebrations in 2012, I participated in a panel where I spoke about how women’s studies has mattered in my life. At that time, I reflected:

My feminism, at Hope College, wove back and forth across the boundaries of personal and academic life. On the one hand, feminist analysis was a way for me to understand the political upheaval around religion and sexuality I experienced here at Hope (in the late 90s). I was politically queer long before I was sexually active, in a same-sex relationship, or had to grapple with how to label myself in a world that demands sexual identification. By the time I entered into my first relationship — with a lover who happened to be a woman — I had a rich history of engagement with feminist and queer literature, political activism, and support networks to draw upon. That history made the transition from thinking of myself as “mostly straight” to thinking of myself as someone who was in a lesbian relationship remarkably easy. And I owe the Women’s Studies program at Hope for at least some of that.

In an academic and professional sense, the exploration of gender and sexuality in historical context is at the heart of what I do as an historian. The Women’s Studies program here at Hope was my entry into thinking about women’s human rights as they are connected to broader socio-political struggles against racism, homophobia, economic inequality. Academic feminism is often criticized for being abstract, privileged, and out of touch with the urgent political engagement needed in “real” peoples lives. And I think that’s a critique worth listening to (if you haven’t already, check out the anthology Feminism For Real edited by Jessica Yee). But in my life, college classrooms became one of the places where I wrestled with notions of privilege and with the complicated histories of oppression. And in part because of that, my scholarship will never be entirely divorced from my political or personal selves.

The slow realization that, as I wrote to a Hope College faculty member, “the most valuable gifts that my Hope College education gave me are the things the college likes to keep at arm’s length” has come with both grief and responsibility. With some personal distance from the RCA-centric arguments around queer sexuality, I decided in 2010 to formally withhold financial and other forms of support from the institution until they changed their institutional policies to be welcoming of queer people. I was recently both heartened and heartbroken to see that current students continue to protest a campus climate that allows racism and homophobia to flourish. The Hope College community is far from unique in facing these challenges, and I am grateful that so many of you continue to struggle from within to make positive change.

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

The intellectual framework of critical, intersectional feminism is essential for us to cultivate in this historical moment of deep inequity and the urgent need for all people to engage in meaningful anti-oppression work. We must build a more just and sustainable future for humanity and all living beings with whom we are deeply interconnected. WGS classes can be a fruitful space in which to build the intellectual and emotional muscles necessary to identify and challenge oppression wherever you live and work, from wherever you are situated along the axes of privilege and oppression. They will also challenge you to identify and analyze your social privilege (in whatever forms it takes) and leverage it in power-with rather than power-over ways.

Histories of social justice activism teach us that the struggle for liberation began long before we were born and will be carried on by those who come after. This can be an overwhelming realization. Humanity has acute, urgent needs that you alone cannot possibly address. “No one person can fight all of this,” historian Angus Johnston wrote after the 2016 election:

but no one person needs to. Wherever you put your effort in the coming days and years, your effort is needed. Whatever work you do to fight this crisis is important work. What’s vital is not what precisely you do, but that you do something—that you pitch in and lend a hand.

In the words of journalist Rebecca Traister, writing after the 2018 midterms: “This will be our lives, this fight.” The intellectual, emotional, and practical skills you gain through WGS courses will help you develop the strength and experience you need to find your place in this long tradition of social justice work.

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

I would love to teach a course titled Queer Histories, Queer Lives: Sex, Sexuality, and Gender in the Long Twentieth Century, that would be an intellectual and cultural history centering the experiences of people whose genders, sexualities, and sexual activities were considered nonnormative. Heather R. White’s book Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (UNC Press, 2015) is a fascinating examination of the way mainline Protestants in the first half of the twentieth century understood the nature of same-sex desire, and how that understanding shaped their engagement around issues of human sexuality, the homophile movement, and gay liberation.

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

I don’t have a single favorite text, but Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (first published in 1973) was a formative reading experience for me as a young teenager. I devoured my mother’s copy of the first edition, and it was from OBOSthat I learned that being lesbian was possible, learned that I was entitled to sexual pleasure, and learned to think about my body, my sexuality, and my gender in explicitly political terms. I was also deeply honored and moved to participate in the revisions toward a 40th-anniversary edition, published in 2011. As a living resource for nearly fifty years, OBOS has had a long, rich presence in global movements for women’s rights.

Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook (‘05) may be found on the web at thefeministlibrarian.com, on Twitter @feministlib, and by email at feministlibrarian@gmail.com. If you find yourself in Boston, she treats students to coffee, offers behind-the-scenes tours of the MHS, and welcomes fellow travelers to her pew on Sunday mornings. Reach out!

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

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

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview-Allyson Harper

Meet Our Alumni: Allyson Harper ’14

by Kendra R. Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Our Alumni: Dr. Phillip Waalkes ’04

by Kendra R. Parker

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

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

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

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

How did your WGS education shape you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Our Alumni: Emme Veenbaas, Class of 2016 

by Kendra R. Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Our Alumni: Rebekah Taylor ‘12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WGS and the World: Alumni Interview–Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus ’08

Meet Our Alumni: Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus

by Kendra R. Parker

Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus ‘ 08 graduated with a dual major in Women’s Studies* and Communication. Dr. Claus is a Lead Faculty Member at Colorado State University-Global Campus teaching business and management courses and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. In 2013, she co-published “Culture and leadership: Women in nonprofit and for-profit leadership positions within the European Union” in Human Resource Development International.  Dr. Claus shares with us her formative experiences as a Hope student and the importance of Women’s Studies in developing critical thinking “outside the box.”  

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

I firmly believe that I have the best career in the world.  I am a Lead Faculty member at Colorado State University-Global Campus. Additionally, I am also the owner of Advanced Academic Editing & Coaching, LLC.

I have a Master of Science in Human Resources and Education Development from Eastern Michigan University and a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University (TAMU).  While at TAMU, I worked as a Graduate Assistant teaching online courses.  From there, I fell in love with teaching online.  A lot has brought me to where I am today, but I feel blessed to have a solid education.

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

I have a dual major from Hope College.  My majors are in Communication and Women’s Studies.  During my first semester at Hope College, I was enrolled in Dr. Julie Kipp’s First Year Seminar (FYS) course, “Activism and Advocates.”  Dr. Kipp is an instructor like no other. She is opinionated, humorous, brilliant, and unique.

Since Dr. Kipp was my FYS advisor and my instructor, she recommended I enroll in some Women’s Studies courses.  I was hesitant, but she pushed me to take one.  From there, I was hooked.  I took courses with Dr. Jane Dickie, Dr. Jane VanderVeld, and many other brilliant women who were passionate about different topics.

Side note: To the person who enrolled me in Dr. Kipp’s FYS, thank you! I could not ask for a better FYS experience, which opened so many paths and doors.

How did your WGS education shape you?

The ability to think critically and to analyze the world around you is essential.  While I learned so much from the faculty and my classmates in the WGS program, the most important skill that I acquired was thinking outside of the box.  In fact, without the WGS program, I likely would not be where I am today. Thinking critically has allowed me to successfully complete my graduate and doctoral programs.

In addition to the invaluable skill of critical thinking, I also found my voice.  I learned that my voice is important and that everyone is entitled to speaking their truth. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to interact with unique individuals, who I might not have met on campus otherwise, while in the WGS program.

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

I received a lot of backlash and comments for being a Women’s Studies major.  When I started my first Women’s Studies course, it was not uncommon for people to voice their questions, concerns, and offensive comments about my degree program choice.   Some of the comments that I vividly remember include, “What would anyone do with a degree in Women’s Studies?” or ”Are you a feminist now?” or “Are you a lesbian?” Honestly, I cannot even remember all of the comments that I heard from individuals, but I am so glad that I didn’t listen to the feedback of others.  Take a WGS course.  Enter the course with an open mind.  The WGS graduates are some of my dearest friends, to date. You will likely find your home in the WGS community.

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

Good question. I would title my course “Be Your Best Feminist”  because I believe feminism is personal. We each have our own worldviews, experiences,  and perspectives.  To make feminism a more acceptable term, it is important that we recognize who we are (as feminists) and how we can make a change given our passions, interests, and goals.

If I could include any speaker in the syllabus it would be Emma Watson.  I think she is poised, intelligent, and well spoken.  Her quote, “If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist.  Sorry to tell you,” is moving.  I wonder how many people would categorize themselves as feminists after recognizing what true feminism means?

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

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

“You were designed to intertwine with people who have stories different from your own”: An Interview with Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield

by Kendra R. Parker

Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield will be visiting Hope’s campus this week. Check out our interview with Dr. Crutchfield. She discusses her Women’s Studies certificate, the value of WGS courses, her research inspirations, and more. 

What are you most excited to share with students, faculty, staff, and community members who will attend your lecture on Thursday, November 8?

Honestly, I am most excited for the conversation following the lecture. I am eager to engage with Hope’s academic and surrounding community about secular rap and spirituality. I think the dialogue will be compelling and motivational.

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?

I completed the Women’s Studies certificate as part of my Master’s program at Howard University because I wanted to critically examine social and spiritual issues faced by Black women.  Taking part in a Women’s Studies Program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) provided me a space to explore Black women’s varied experiences, and I became aware of my own biases. I was more conscious of the varied ways oppression shows itself in various areas, especially in the areas of women’s contributions to various disciplines, spaces, art forms, and more.

What difficulties, if any, did you have reconciling your faith with your Women’s Studies certificate?

This is such an interesting question because I do not think I was conscious of how my learning impacted me until I recognized that the questions I was asking myself and others changed. For example, a couple of years ago I asked a few of my Christian friends: “As a Black Christian woman, how do you see yourself? Which descriptor comes first to you: Black, Christian, or woman?” The answers differed, but in some form, we all agreed that the three do not operate individually; they were collective. Our varied experiences as women, as Black women, and as Black Christian women have all contributed to our narratives, understandings, and interactions of our faith and the world.

I once heard a pastor state that as we enter the church our culture fades and falls away. The pastor commented that we adopt a Christian identity and our individual culture becomes obsolete. I was troubled by that—not because I don’t believe in a Christian identity—but because I think to typecast Christianity into a narrative that suits a particular group of people truly diminishes the lived experiences of those who have to “compromise more” than others to fit that identity. It creates a hazardous environment, and it offers another avenue to marginalize members of the congregation, especially when we live in a world that constantly tells a group of people “your voice is unimportant; your contributions are unimportant.”

If this does not give too much away before your lecture, what inspired you to research on Kendrick Lamar?

I began with puzzle pieces and the masterpiece followed. I knew I wanted to study the relationship between Christianity and secular rap music as I have sometimes met disdain from others because I enjoy secular rap music. Also, my younger brother, Malcolm Xavier, was a huge supporter of my interest in the complexities of Black masculinity, Christianity, and secular rap music. I knew I wanted to study these complexities in a way that did not look to demonize secular rap. As I unpacked my research on Black Liberation Theology, Black Radicalism, and secular rap music, I realized I wanted to examine how Black Christian men used secular rap music as part of their socialization and personal expression. Later, those ambitions turned into a textual analysis on secular lyrics. Enter Kendrick Lamar. His album, good kid, m. A. A. d city(2012), had just dropped, and his lyrics made headlines left and right. He also had an incredible body of music to study. The beauty began to unfold throughout my entire writing process. Looking back, it was incredible.

 Your talk will be on the intersections of faith and Black masculinity in the context of Kendrick Lamar’s music, and you have mentioned you have a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. What advice would you give to current students who are not considering WGS as a major or minor (or even a course in their undergraduate studies) about the value of a course in WGS?

I would ask “why deny yourself such a good thing?” Just start with one course and allow yourself to grow in it; it will truly strengthen your perspective–not only on other people’s experiences but also your own. My own Women’s Studies courses helped me formulate a language to tell my own story that was so empowering. Regardless of your gender or gender identification, I think a WGS course offers what many courses do not always allow—another voice, seat, perspective, lens. And that is essential because we are not designed to live life in a vacuum. You were designed to intertwine with people who have stories different from your own. It is dangerous to live in a monolithic world because you deny yourself the good fortune of growing in an awareness that will only strengthen you as you continue to live in this world.

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

I would teach a course on Black women artists who use their platforms for social activism. I would include Jenifer Lewis, actress and author of The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir (2017), on the syllabus, and I would petition for her to lead a lecture. Lewis’ boldness is beautiful; she speaks on mental illness (a taboo topic for many within Black communities), on social engagement, social responsibility, personal growth, accountability, and more.

What is a WGS book you read—recently or not so recently—that you would call your favorite? Why?

I am currently reading Dr. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and it is incredible. I love her voice, her perspective, and her account of her experiences.

Do you want to learn more? On Thursday, November 8, at 3:30 PM, Dr. Crutchfield will be speaking in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium at 3:30 PM on “Faith, Intersectionality, and Black Masculinity: Kendrick Lamar’s Urban Theology.” On Friday, November 9, she will be speaking on “Unfinished Business” in Dimnet Chapel at 10:30 AM and guest teaching Dr. Kendra R. Parker’s “The Secular and the Sacred: Black Biblical Appropriations” cultural heritage course at 12 PM. On Sunday, November 11, she will meet with the Black Student Union in the Bultman Student Center at 8 PM. All events are free and open to the public.

Dr. Crutchfield’s visit is co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Emmaus Scholars Program, the Cultural Affairs Committee, and the Global Learning Director.

Meet the WGS Faculty: Dr. Sarah Kornfield

How long have you been teaching at Hope College?

This is my 4thyear teaching at Hope College.

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

The college I attended did not have a WGS major/minor, and I didn’t really understand what WGS was about or why it might be useful to study. Then, during my research in Graduate School (at Penn State), I added a dual degree in Women’s Studies. I came to realize that just because I was a woman and had a gender, I didn’t understand the history of women and gender, what women’s experiences are (or how gender shapes experiences), how creatively and productively women are affecting change in the world, or how our current gendered social systems affect women and men. Essentially, just because I speak English doesn’t mean I understand English Literature the way an English Major does, or just because I can communicate with others doesn’t mean I understand how Communication works the way a Comm Major does; so too with Women’s Studies. More specifically, I came to realize that I didn’t really understand my own life experiences of harassment, assault, and oppression. I came to WGS to learn theories, tools, skills, and practices that would help me live.

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

WGS is the most life-giving major I can imagine. My advice: try a class! WGS 160 Women in a Global Society; WGS 200 Intro to Women’s & Gender Studies; WGS 350 Feminist Visions of Justice. These courses are designed to help you live good and flourishing lives, with thriving careers, relationships, and community involvement.

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

Feminist Activism. It would be a class that focuses explicitly on the successful strategies of feminist activism (coalitions, specific argument forms, protests, civil disobedience, speeches, persuasive techniques, activism in popular culture, activism in literature, etc.). Whose work would we read? Anita Hill (law professor famous for the 1990s’ version of #MeToo activism); Adrienne Davis (law professor); Adrienne Rich (poet, activist); Emma Goldman (anarchist political activist); Ursula Le Guin (sci-fi feminist author); Kimberlé Crenshaw (legal activist and scholar); and so much more!

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

Manliness & Civilization by Gail Bederman (who, fun fact, was History/WGS Professor Dr. Jeanne Petit’s doctoral advisor!). This book is a US history of sex/race in America from about 1880-1920. It’s well written, has outstanding case studies (Tarzan, Boxing!) and covers a whole range of institutions (medicine, education, politics, war, news, women’s activism, and sports).