Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Event Highlight: Eid Dinner 10.04.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

Eid Mubarak!

On Saturday, October 4th, Hayat hosted a fantastic dinner to celebrate Eid. Eid al-Adha, also referred as the "Feast of Sacrifice," is one of the biggest and most important Islamic holidays (not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr, the "Feast of Breaking the Fast," which marks the end of Ramadan). The three day festival commemorates Abraham's trials and marks the end of Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. In honor of humanity's connections to one another, Eid is a time where Muslims come together and celebrate with prayer, sharing food, music, and dance. Here at Skidmore in the small city of Saratoga Springs, we had the opportunity to participate in the celebration through Hayat's Eid Dinner.

The dinner started with a brief introduction from Mustafa. He explained the meaning of Eid and why people celebrate it. After Mustafa's short talk, people were invited to get food. Everyone was really excited and a long line formed quickly, because, definitely, food is an exciting part of a festival! There was great Indian food with vegetable samosas, naan, vegetable masala, lamb rogan josh, and biriyani. The food was fantastic, and I couldn't help but get two full plates. Here are some pictures of the food we had during Eid Dinner.

While people were enjoying the food and each other's company, a group of students went on the stage and performed a dance. After their first performance, the dancers invited other students to come and join, and the Spa suddenly turned into a dance floor!

Yes, I love food and dance, but I have to say that the highlight of the day for me was henna. I have seen people doing and having henna done, but never had henna on myself before. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have henna, but with some peer pressure, I decided, why not?! I really enjoyed my experience, and one of my friends asked me to do henna on her. First, I was really nervous, but after my first try, I was fascinated with it.

After both having henna done and doing henna on someone for the first time, I realized that I really don't know much about the cultural background of henna. I knew some general facts about how henna is usually done during special days, such as weddings or religious holidays, but not in detail. So I decided to do some research!

Henna has been practiced for over 5000 years (some argue even 9000 years!) in different cultures all over South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. With its long history, henna has been used in very special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays. Some records even suggest that in ancient Egypt, mummies had henna designs! Henna has become popular in the west, including here in the United States, starting from the 90s, when celebrities appeared on media with their bodies with henna tattoos.

This made me wonder if henna is cultural appropriation. I read some blog posts which helped me organize my thoughts around henna and cultural appropriation. Since henna is used in various cultures with different meanings, it is hard to say that simply having henna done itself is appropriative. However, as a person of not one of those cultures, I believe that we should be mindful that there are special meanings and do not use henna that might be disrespectful, especially towards religion.

Overall, Eid Dinner was fantastic and gave me space to reflect on my actions toward different cultures. I hope that there will be more opportunities on campus where people can truly enjoy their own culture and where others will come with a respecting and learning attitude.

  • Want to know more about Eid, Islam, South Asian or Middle Eastern culture? Come and join Hayat on Thursdays at 6pm in the ICC!!!Also LIKE their Facebook page!
  • Want to know more about henna? Click HERE!
  • Want to know more about cultural appropriation? Click HERE!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Event Highlight: OSDP's "I Speak What I Like" Brown Bag - Respectability Politics in the Queer Community (with QLICxPride) - 10.09.14

By Gerolly Lorenzo '15

“Respectability politics is simply telling which part of your community you’ll offer up for oppressor violence in exchange for less on you.” –Bankuei, Tumblr
On Wednesday, October 9, 2014 OSDP along with Pride Alliance and QLIC (Queer Lives in Color) hosted “I Speak What I Like” Brown Bag lunch (pizza and salad, yum!) on respectability politics and the policing in the queer community. The dialogue was successfully facilitated by Pride's very own President, Jonni Lynn, with programming contributions from QLIC President, Tobi Ewing.
The conversation began with the question, “what’s the face/voice of the queer movement?” a valuable question that led to the discussion of what it means to be an ally as a voice in the queer movement, especially at Skidmore College. We spoke about how being a queer ally has become a trendy form of identity without understanding the complications in doing so. Pronouncing oneself as an ally has become an act of putting on a badge of honor to fight for the rights of others without understanding the deep and nitty gritty complications of oppression and privilege. We went on to discuss the frustrations of claiming to be an ally without actually BEING an ally by doing social justice work. In this sense, allyship becomes a defense mechanism where people are “accepting” of everyone’s differences but do not put in the time, energy, or effort to actively fight for social justice change.
We then moved on to talk about terms of identity within the queer community that are are policed as derogatory terms. A few examples that Jonni offered were ‘dyke’, ‘fag’, ‘tranny’, and ‘sissy’. Participants in the dialogue expressed how these terms did have a negative meaning growing up but thought it was okay to use for self-identification. We then connected this to how people feel obligated to explain themselves when using specific terms. Identifying as a tranny is a personal decision that should not be questioned or challenged because it is being used as a PERSONAL form of identification. The discussion then took its course on discussing ‘acting’ and ‘dressing’ to fit a heterosexual norm in order to be the “accepted” (or "respectable") kind of queer individual.
This includes queer individuals that feel that gay marriage is a win for ALL queer people and rejecting other structures that do not fit the heterosexual template consisting of a happy monogamous marriage with a happy nuclear family. Is it possible for queer politics to involve embracing other forms of family structures and romantic partnerships?
We also discussed the implications of respectability politics in terms of privilege within the queer community. Queer White upper class individuals in many cases feel entitled to police the different terms of identification for queer members.  This was brought up in the conversation as something native to the values of colonialism. Hence, respectability politics becomes an issue concerning power dynamics within the queer community and accepting some while shunning other types of queer identity.
To conclude our stimulating conversation, participants reinforced their stance on how queer politics should be accepting of all forms of identification and ALL forms of expression. There is no right or wrong answer to identity and we need to embrace the complexity of self-identification. Queer identifications are a personal chose that is “freely expressed” not “imposed.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Event Highlight: Professor Chandra Mohanty Lecture - "Transnational Feminist Dialogues on Neoliberalism and Radical Praxis" 09.25.14.

"Creating collectivity is the way to survive."
By Timothy Kim '15

On September 25th, Professor Chandra Talpade Mohanty from Syracuse University spoke for the  Gender Studies Program's Karen Levin Coburn '63 Lecture. As an expert on transnational feminist theory, anti-capitalist feminist praxis, and anti-racist education, Professor Mohanty provided in-depth knowledge and insight regarding the politics of neoliberalism and its effects on feminist and anti-racist movements under the title of "Transnational Feminist Dialogues on Neoliberalism and Radical Praxis."

Definitely, Professor Mohanty's insight of the politics of neoliberalism was the highlight of the lecture. Over the past three years at Skidmore, I did not have that many opportunities to discuss the topic of neoliberalism except in classes taught by specific professors. As an International Affairs major, I believe that neoliberalism should be at the core of my classes. However, we mostly just went over the terminology without diving into the specific impact that neoliberalism has on politics, economics, culture, education, and basically everything! Professor Mohanty's analysis of neoliberalism explained how much neoliberal thought has been influencing our lives, which I had never heard on this campus.

Professor Mohanty argued that by privatizing social justice commitments, neoliberalism encouraged the disappearance of feminist and anti-racist conversations. I see that such influence of neoliberalism is relevant to our campus. Throughout my time at Skidmore, I have experienced a culture of not talking about racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of discrimination. People here do not want to be exposed to uncomfortable feelings, which leads to a thought that avoiding the "ugly talks" is how we form a community.

As a person in academia, Professor Mohanty said that she is working for change on the level of academia by forming solidarity and fighting neoliberalism with the goal of creating feminist and anti-racist movements. She emphasized while her ultimate dream is to see change in the whole world, she said that her role is to combat sexism, racism, and all the different forms of discrimination from where she is: academia. Professor Mohanty believes that such movements from the bottom can be the only way to bring social justice in our society.

As a response to Professor Mohanty's comment, a faculty member of Skidmore raised a question how can we fight against the institution, which is strongly embedded with a neoliberal culture. Professor Mohanty replied honestly by saying that it will be extremely hard to accomplish. However, she also urged that the people of color (and anti-racist whites) should come together and create a support system on this campus. Professor Mohanty said that such collective action is the only way for the people with marginalized identities at within higher education institutions can survive.

Being a senior here at Skidmore, I think it is easy to disregard the problems that occur on campus and just think and plan for post-graduation. However, Professor Mohanty's lecture reminded me of how I am still part of this community and how I should take part in fighting the injustices that reside on this campus. As Professor Mohanty suggested I will be more aware in both being the support and seeking support when facing prejudice on this campus, and I invite all of you (EVERY SINGLE ONE!) to be part in creating a support system to fight the deeply rooted cultural and institutional discrimination.

1. Do you need a support system here at Skidmore? This is why OSDP exists on this campus. Never hesitate to stop by our office in Case Center. We are always here and available for you.

2. Do you want to be part of already existing groups on campus that can be your support system? Check out the different OSDP clubs. They will be more than willing to connect with you. Click HERE for information of all the clubs.

3. Do you want to know more about neoliberalism and its impact on higher education? Here are some resources, but there are a lot more out there. Do some more research on your own and share them with us on our Facebook page.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Event Highlight: Dark Matter's Workshop on Race, Capitalism, & Desire - "Protect Me From What I Want" 9.12.14

By Tobi Ewing '15

They’re here! They’re there! Dark Matter was everywhere!

Last Friday, Skidmore was taken over by the dynamic artist group, DarkMatter. DarkMatter is a trans south asian art and activist collaboration comprised of Janani and Alok. Using poetry and polemic, tweet and tirade DarkMatter is committed to an art practice of gender self(ie) determination, racial justice, and movement building!

That afternoon, the duo led a workshop cleverly named “Protect Me From What I Want: A Workshop on Race, Capitalism and Desire". The workshop was a space to interrogate how our desires are informed by power and to consider how to build genders and sexualities that challenge white supremacy and imperialism. Janani and Alok had the group participate in activities that drove discussion about how desire, race and imperialism are connected and how beauty functions in relation to racist capitalism.

Dressed in complementary blazers, matching printed leggings and top heavy buzz cuts, DarkMatter started by introducing themselves, setting community guidelines and stretching! My favorite guideline: Be Weird! DarkMatter explained that they used weird as a way of queering normative and capitalist behaviors. After setting a shared understanding of terms such as capitalism, white supremacy, and cis patriarchy, we broke out into two-person groups and were prompted to answer the following questions: “What do you do to feel beautiful?” and “What do you think is beautiful?” I thought these questions, although so simple, were very insightful and forced you to consider indirect societal definitions of beauty and how you interact with these standards. Outwardly listing my own and hearing what others did to make themselves feel beautiful was so empowering! In larger, five-person groups, we discussed “How has race informed your desire?” and “How has race informed your gender and sexuality?” It was interesting to hear how identities, such as multiracial, and “small” family comments conflicted or worked with larger societal standards of beauty, and this affected us individually.

Through each exercise DarkMatter encouraged that we relate our comments and experiences to capitalism, white supremacy, cis patriarchy. DarkMatter had us do a "cross the line" exercise where they read statements related to certain traits, identities, and statuses, and if you associated with the comment, you would step forward and then turn around to face the group. One interesting statement was “I have financial means to shape my own personal style.” This question completely hit home as a fashion lover on a major tight budget! I recognized this privilege to be able to control and like what I wear. One of our activities even led to discussions about interracial dating/hooking up on campus. Our last exercise was the fish bowl, where we were supposed to break out in the center based on if we felt society validates our beauty or invalidates our beauty. Seeing that we all felt we were validated and invalidated in many ways- go figure- we just shared as a group.

The workshop was fantastic and really motivated me to think of my other desires from a critical lens! Afterwards, I had the privilege of attending dinner with the two, which was full of queer commentary and laughs for days!

DarkMatter ended their reign at Skidmore with a spoken word performance in Spa! One of the most queer and revolutionary events I have ever experienced here at Skidmore! Thank you DarkMatter!

Want to get involved? Great! Here some resources suggested by DarkMatter:
1. Please keep in touch by liking us on FB ( Darkmatter) and/or following us on Twitter @DarkMatterRage

2. You can see the text of all of the poems we read at Skidmore:
ALOK: www.returnthegayze.com
JANANI: queerdarkenergy.tumblr.com

3. The organization for young people with wealth we mentioned tonight was called Resource Generation. Consider getting involved to challenge the racial wealth divide!

4. Some other organizations we get inspiration from include Audre Lorde Project FIERCE! Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York Black and Pink INCITE Community News TGI Justice Project (TGIJP) Trans Justice Funding Project. Consider supporting and learning from their work!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Event Highlight: OSDP's "I Speak What I Like Brown Bag" - Social Justice and Sustainability (with Sustainable Skidmore) 9.08.14

By Tobi Ewing '15

“My family has always recycled old containers, we’re sustainable… but it’s out of need, not for show.”

Monday, September 8, 2014 not only kicked off the first full week of school, but also the first session of OSDP’s “I Speak What I Like” Brown Bag Lunch Series!! The series is a new initiative with the goal to provide space to consider academics, art, hot topics, forms of resistance, or just as an open space for dialogue. The series was inspired by Jared Ball’s groundbreaking manifesto “I Mix What I Like”. OSDP provides the lunch and participants provide insightful dialogue. 

Monday’s lunch topic was Social Justice and Sustainability, co-hosted with Sustainable Skidmore as a part of the JUSTSustainability series. The facilitators hoped to "discuss what it means to be sustainable in American culture: how does it impact communities of color or marginalized groups that have indirectly been a part of the sustainability movement?"

The brown bag was facilitated by Gerolly Lorenzo ‘15, a senior Sociology major and OSDP Student Assistant, and Zia O'Neill '17, a sophomore Environmental Studies major and a Sustainable Skidmore S-Rep. The conversation started with an icebreaker asking attendees what brought people to the event. There were a myriad of reasons from wanting to learn about perspectives on sustainability and  social justice to seeking ways to apply sustainable practices to honoring sustainable practices of indigenous people of color. With these many points of interest, we were in for a treat!

Gerolly and Zia started the conversation with a clever and very telling question: Describe what comes to mind when you picture a sustainable, environmentally friendly individual. Completely acknowledging stereotypes, people answered, “white” “friendly” “vegan or vegetarian” “rich” “strict” “mason jars”. We were then asked why we thought of these particular narratives and images, which led to a bigger conversation on whose stories and practices of sustainability are praised and whose are criticized. Very shortly, we realized that sustainability work was not exempt from racism and privilege.

The conversation highlighted the relationships between race, class and resources. A couple of students shared that they promoted sustainability by reusing old food containers and plastic bags, using an alternative instead of buying branded food containers. A student posed the question, “Why wasn’t using extra sheets from home not as acceptable and respected as buying ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘organic’ sheets that were imported from another country”?

The group noticed that if your sustainable lifestyle wasn’t a luxurious and a choice, then your story wasn’t worth sharing and weren't considered sustainable. Those who chose sustainable options out of need and/or culture are marked as primitive, usually people of color, while those who are wealthier and choose sustainable options are the face of the movement. For example early practices of farming and composting were implemented by indigenous people of color, but as a society we rarely hear these stories.

$20 glass water bottles and expensive organic juices aren’t practical for all individuals, but the group suggested many other ways to contribute to sustainable causes: One suggestion was community building, creating a mentally and emotionally sustainable living environment to promote positivity and collaboration. Two, learning from each other; respectfully giving and adopting sustainable practices from other cultures and communities.

The event ended will delicious pizza, last comments and a group photo!

Join us for the next “I Speak What I Like” JUSTSustainability Brown Bag Lunch Series on October 8th, 2014 12:30pm-1:30 in the ICC, co-hosted with QLIC (Queer Lives in Color) and Skidmore Pride Alliance!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Event Highlight (Part 2 of 2): Holi 4.11.2014

By Sarah Arndt '14

"Fun" apparently has a very narrow definition on Skidmore's campus – it's whatever is perceived as easy and comfortable for a certain demographic of students. Essentially, Hayat was told that the way they wanted to host THEIR (!!) event was not "fun" enough for Skidmore's campus. This begs the questions, who get's to decide what is fun? What is fun (i.e. easy and comfortable)? And for who?

In the case of "powder day" (aka Holi), "fun" was defined not by those whose culture we were partaking in and had nothing to do with ensuring a positive experience for those who celebrate Holi regularly. Instead, it was the same people deciding and the same people benefiting from what is easy and comfortable for them. Which means that Holi got reduced to throwing color powder on each other because it would be too "hard" (and not "fun") to make it what it actually is.

It seems unclear to some people why this is "cultural appropriation" and why it's problematic – I've heard complaints of making too much of a "fuss" of "shaming" etc. I think it's a matter of contextualizing - this is cultural appropriation because it is just one more step in a long history of colonization, exploitation, and commodification of another culture. The other day I read something that compared cultural appropriation to an experience in a restaurant abroad that tried to celebrate 4th of July. This is NOT the same thing (a non-sensical comparison on many levels…). When Hayat was stripped of their autonomy to decide how to celebrate Holi and what makes it "fun," we see another manifestation of the same oppressive power dynamics - when we think about the historical relationship between Indian and South Asian societies and Western white society, it is Indian and South Asian culture that has been stolen without permission or proper credit, removed of its intended significance, and then commodified and sold for profit. In today's world, one example is that "Holi" becomes "powder day" (or color runs) and nothing more.

Furthermore, it's extremely frustrating to me that decision-makers assumed that taking the time to learn about another culture and traditions is not "fun" for students. This is a poor decision in multiple ways. It sends the message to students who actually celebrate Holi that their celebration as it exists is not fun. It also promotes the idea that actually learning about a different culture is not fun – as it might make students feel uncomfortable, alienated, or that they enjoy themselves less – and that therefore we should avoid it. Well, I for one think that sounds fun. And even more so, on a campus where the dominant culture means that students experience microaggressions, alienation, and discrimination on the daily, well, too bad, if learning about Holi isn't fun or comfortable or easy for students (even though it is)... get over it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Event Highlight: "Quelling Dissent" and "Beyond Buzzwords" with Environmental Justice Organizer Kat Yang-Stevens 4.16.14 & 4.17.14

Sarah Arndt '14 

OSDP and Sustainable Skidmore hosted an impressive third event for their JUSTSustainability Series - "Quelling Dissent: A Reading &Discussion About the Non-Profit Industrial Complex" and "Beyond Buzzwords: Building Praxis for Social and Environmental Justice Organizing" with environmental justice organizer Kat Yang-Stevens.

During the “Quelling Dissent” workshop we spoke about the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada all the way to the Gulf Coast. Tar sands is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels and consists of heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay, and bitumen. A proposed expansion of the pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day all the way to Gulf Coast refineries to be refined, exported, and burned - along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems, pollute water sources, and jeopardize public health. Worse, the extraction already happening in Alberta has caused the unfair exploitation and destruction of local communities who must absorb a disproportionately high amount of the negative impacts of oil sands growth while failing to receive their fair share of the benefits. Finally, the ancestral lands of many First Nations members are being destroyed. First Nation communities have not received proper consultation and accommodation, nor adequate compensation. They have lost traditional hunting and trapping territory; habitat destruction (particularly fishing grounds) and are experiencing health concerns related to surrounding air and water pollution.
In response, we discussed how and why the U.S. mainstream environmental “movement” and "big green" NGO's are failing in the context of the Tar Sands pipeline. Their failure stems directly from their inability to work with primarily-impacted communities and the direct use of racist and colonialist elements in their recruitment tactics. In doing so, the movement does not counter the political and economic conditions that make participation in environmental movements an impossibility for many people from the very communities that are bearing the brunt of degradation, various forms of violence, and genocide.

Following the Wednesday discussion, many of us were back on Thursday for "Beyond Buzzwords" which focused on understanding systematic racism in the "United States," particularly as it manifests as environmental racism and genocide. Kat spent a lot of time going over what systematic racism is and provided worksheets outlining key concepts. Kat emphasized the importance and relevancy of understanding intersectionality and creating praxis for social and environmental justice organizing work.

I thought the workshop also revealed the challenges of actualizing and embodying intersectionality. Rather than truly deconstructing intersectionality, the workshop spent a lot of time explaining racism, which in many ways, served to re-center the white experience. Thus raising the question - how can we understand environmental justice through an intersectional lens that accounts for the diverse range of experiences, opinions, and modes of communication- particularly as the “environment” is something we all experience and thus can give voice to?

To learn more from Kat, check out more of their work here: http://groundworkforpraxis.com/