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.


Claiming My Education: Cry It Out (Student Feature)

This is the third installment of “Student Feature”–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-scholar Kelly Gotham’s experience watching Cry It Out!

Claiming My Education: Cry It Out (Student Feature)

by Kelly Gotham

On Saturday, February 23, 2019, I attended Hope College’s production of Cry It Out. The play was about three new moms and how they navigate their new lives with children. Jessie and Lina have coffee together on the patio between their houses while simultaneously watching their children on the baby monitors. They discuss what it is like being home with a baby and Lina compares it to being held hostage. One day, their neighbor,  Adrienne, shows up she is clearly not like Jessie and Lina. She is dressed in a suit and was constantly looking at her iPad and not engaging in conversation with the other two. We later learned that she owns a jewelry company (which keeps her preoccupied), and we also learn Adrienne experienced a painful labor when she gave birth to her daughter. Adrienne’s husband, Mithcell, later confides to Jessie about  Adrienne’s postpartum depression and refusal to hold the baby. Later, after Adrienne confronts Jessie about speaking with her husband, Adrienne tells her truth; she explains her birthing complications, and Adrienne’s confession provides an entirely different outlook. The play ends with Jessie’s preparations to return to work.

I learned some more about the reality of being a mom and how they feel alone even though there are so many women with the same feelings. Throughout the story, it was evident that they all had different challenges and life certainly is not perfect. It gave me a perspective from the mom’s point of view that parenting is tough and there is a lot that it entails. It was a very real and un-sugarcoated story that is meant to captivate the audience.

Cry It Out relates to Octavia E. Butler’s Mind of My Mind (1977), specifically regarding privilege and socioeconomic status. In Butler’s novel, the actives (telepathic humans with control of their telepathy) are similar to Adrienne because they have more power than others. For example, Adrienne affords a mansion and assistants; the actives have power over “Mutes” (or humans), controlling the mutes’ behavior to ensure the telepaths have access to wealth.


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.

Claiming My Education: Women’s March Grand Rapids (Student Feature)

Claiming My Education: Women’s March Grand Rapids

by Hannah Weller

“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-scholar Hannah Weller and her participation in the Women’s March in Grand Rapids.

On January 19, 2019, I attended the Women’s March in Grand Rapids. This march was just one of the thousands of Women’s Marches happening across the country. This one was small, but we were mighty. There were about seven or eight women who gave speeches and shared their stories of everything from child poisoning to sexual assault. We all listened, cried at times, and cheered during most of the event. After the speakers were done, we marched through Grand Rapids and were welcomed with women and men leaving stores and restaurants to either join us or to offer their support for what we were marching for. As we crossed the streets women yelled and honked their horns to show that they were with us as well. It was my first Women’s March and it was a truly beautiful experience to share with people I knew and with people I didn’t.

I learned so much from going to this event; I thought I knew a lot about feminism and standing up to the patriarchy but wow, I was mistaken. The women that spoke had faced so many hardships in life and I was stunned. One speech that really impacted me was one of a mother who was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She spoke about her firsthand experience of coming to the United States and how the stories we hear about the dangerous journey are true. But, she spoke about how she overcame all these difficulties in order to give her children a better life and now she is a proud owner of two restaurants in Grand Rapids. Another speech that really touched me was one of a student, who was a Mexican lesbian. She wrote a poem about what it was like to grow up and learn that the affection of a man is what makes you a woman and how she felt alone because she wanted the affection of a woman instead. It really made me think about how Latina and Black women really are judged more harshly if they are a lesbian or even transgender. The final speech that was fascinating to me was one by a sex worker. She talked about all the benefits of sex work and how new laws being put in place are making their jobs more dangerous. The new laws were supposed to be helping find victims of sex trafficking, but this is also affecting the websites that sex workers use to find and vet clients. Without the laws they had in place, sex work is now dangerous and homicide rates could rise against them yet again.

Feminism today is not what it was 20 or even 30 years ago. While I was at the march and listening to these women speak, all I could think about was how narratives have helped play an important role in feminism. In Feminisms Matter, Victoria Bromley discusses how feminism has changed over time and so have the tactics, but narratives remain important. In chapter 10, Bromley talks about the different waves of feminism and how in the second wave tactics like “guerrilla theater” were used as a way to share the narrative of feminism. In the third wave, they told personal stories about their experiences to show other women that they are not alone. Some feminists even wrote stories and novels under pen names to share their stories, since women authors were marginalized. Protests and marches are just another way of spreading feminism and showing why it is important. It shows why even men need to be feminists. The number of men I saw at the march helped reassure me that men really do care and they are willing to come out and do what’s right for women too. There were so many men that were there just to help lift their wives and girlfriends and friends up. Some were passing out hand warmers and extra signs because they wanted to show us that they support us and that they too believe in what feminism means.

Works Cited

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

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–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, on Twitter @feministlib, and by email at 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