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Seneca Falls Dialogues promotes intersectionality

by Breonnah Colon - Editor-In-Chief
Tue, Oct 30th 2018 10:00 pm

Students and faculty making up the Women and Gender Studies department at The College at Brockport participated in the Sixth Biennial Seneca Falls Dialogues (SFD). Not only did the students attend the conference, they also presented a panel session, facilitated by the department’s Chair and Associate Professor, Barbara LeSavoy who is also one of the original founders of the dialogue. The conference took place two weeks ago, from Friday, Oct. 19 until Sunday, Oct. 21 at the Women’s Institute for Leadership and Learning in Seneca Falls, New York. The location of the conference was symbolic due to its connection with feminist work in the past, efforts attendants could pay homage to while participating. The official website for the event states the conference is exceptional in its approach to engaging those in attendance because “rather than featuring presentations of papers, [the conference] invites presenters to lead structured dialogues aimed at fostering collaboration and insightful conversation among students, faculty, and activists.” The title for this year’s conference was “Race and Intersecting Feminist Futures.”

While LeSavoy facilitated the event, the main highlight was the students themselves who presented at the conference. LeSavoy explained the presentations were works created for one of her own classes.

“[The conference] was an opportunity for the students in my Feminist Theory class to present and talk about their feminist manifestos,” LeSavoy said. “They each performed a little segment...the session was really about disrupting identities and looking at ways identity is fluid and how we understand the way identity shifts according to place and context.”

LeSavoy explained understanding the fluidity of gender was an impactful lesson for those in attendance were able to learn and discuss. This could serve as a way to not only become more inclusive of others, but also have a better understanding of the way different identities shape a person and their experiences in life. LeSavoy also explained the panel was made to be interactive, which changed the format from the typical speaker-audience discussion to one that was more engaging to attendees.

“The individuals that were at our session had an opportunity to experience how gender is fluid,” LeSavoy said. “[The panel gave the audience the opportunity] to see ways identity is imposed on bodies from a white-hetero-patriarchal stance. So, ways we repeat how we’re supposed to behave based on white,  heteropatriarchy. The panels were designed to have participants pause and examine those repeated, repetitive, stylized notions of how we’re supposed to behave based on ways society reads our bodies and how we can enact and perform identities in multiple ways that disrupt those boundaries of identity.”

Multiple students assisted LeSavoy in holding the panel: Jasmine Kamal Mohamed, Mackenzie April, Kelsi Kupiec, Zakiya Tripp, Kendra Pickett, Angelica Whitehorn and Megan Wright, all of whom are seniors. Kelsie Kupiec explained how diversity and intersectionality were very important this year due to its lack of acknowledgement in previous years.

“The main message of our panel, and really the whole conference, was speaking on intersectionality and how when certain identities are combined they may cause people to either be empowered or systematically disadvantaged,” Kupiec wrote in an email. “The Dialogues take place every two years, and a big critique from the last one was that it was very white, and didn’t really include many identities, especially race.”

Kupiec further explained, participating in the panel allowed for a better personal understanding, especially regarding “intersectionality in different spaces.” She went on to say while the topics and issues discussed at the conference can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, the ultimate outcome is one of increased understanding and inclusivity.

“These discussions are incredibly important to have,” Kupiec wrote. “Unfortunately, there are people in the world and society who do not even bother to embrace, let alone consider, people’s identities that can, and usually are very central to who they are.”

While the discussion panel intertwined similar themes, not every piece was the same. Senior Kendra Picket presented a manifesto and a dance inspired by the work of Audre Lorde and the Combahee River Collective. Picket explained the conversations that took place at the conference were invaluable and served as a reminder for work that still needs to be done.

“These conferences are eye-opening,” Picket said. “The conversations I had with other people were powerful. It is important to continue learning and finding what you want to change.”

Another student, senior April Mackenzie, agreed with this sentiment. Mackenzie explained such conferences are vital not only to understanding the self, but also others and how to become more aware and open to the needs and experiences of others throughout the course of their lives. With shifting views on gender identity as well as other ways of identification, intersectionality as well as open dialogue and acceptance are becoming much more of a need across different social spheres. Mackenzie expressed the idea that conferences such as the SFD allow this sort of change to be fostered and should be accessible to more students.

“I learned that these conferences need to be made more accessible to students,” Mackenzie wrote. “It was a wonderful learning experience and I wish that more students had these kind of opportunities especially in departments where faculty involvement is minimal. As gender fluidity and non-binary identities are becoming less marginalized [slowly], I think it’s really important that we engage in discussions about issues we may not agree on or understand. Gender is more important than just a social issue, it can mean validating or erasing a person’s existence. Understanding gender is extremely vital on a college campus for trans and non- binary people to safely be themselves.”

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