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9th Annual Women's Studies Student Conference - Student Paper Abstracts - University at Albany

Friday, December 3, 2010 - Humanities 354

11:00 am - MORNING SESSION: NATIONS IN TURMOIL: WOMEN, WAR AND SURVIVAL

Alyssa Hennessy, Women's Studies/English Major, "Forced Silence: The Social Consequences Faced by Female War Rape Survivors in the Congo."

Extreme instances of violence caused by war have been affecting the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo since the mid 1990s. None are more affected by this than the Congolese women and girls whose bodies have been used in horrifying ways and in appalling numbers as the sites of battle. Rape is being used as a weapon of the war on an epidemic level. Estimates suggest that upwards of 200,000 women or more have been systematically raped during the last 20 years of conflict in the Congo. It is not the sheer numbers that are so startling and so important; it is the actual human lives that are being destroyed or, at the very least, altered dramatically by the atrocities these women face. With my research of rape as a weapon of war, I intend to use the stories of Congolese survivors to look at the social conditions they face as survivors (the rejection by their families and neighbors, the forced silence, etc.) in hopes of breaking through the silence surrounding war rape and offering insight into what social conditions allow it to take place on such a vast scale in this region of Africa.

Suzanne Boatenreiter, MFA Candidate in Art, "Beg for Just This."

Beg for Just This is an animated collage that explores the birth and pathos of the War Baby. This 3-minute video seduces its viewers into a tumultuous world where eastern and western stereotypes and Hollywood-driven fallacies collide and ultimately crumble via the multiplied birth of a little monster known as Fuuma Dooma.

Danielle Charlestin, Africana Studies M.A. Student, "Finding the Head of the Rising Sun: Poetry and Art on Haiti and Black Women."

This project is a compilation of visual art and poetry threading themes of resistance, struggle, hope and beauty. The poetic focus is Haiti- specifically centered on the earthquake this year, Haitian women, history and my own experience. My poem about the earthquake, “Pi Devan Na We” (“Up Ahead We'll See”), incorporates my version of a Kreyol song and is accompanied by slides that show the trauma and beauty of Haiti. “Beyond What They Say,” written before the earthquake, is an attempt to get people beyond thinking of Haiti only in terms of poverty. It weaves in much Haitian history and highlights the achievements of the Haitian Diaspora. “Haiti, Mwen Pat Jamn Kite-ou” (“ Haiti , I Never Left You”), expresses my love for Haiti and her often overlooked beauty. The last piece entitled “Femmes Haitiennes” (Haitian women) has two parts: the first using water to describe women's struggles and resistance and the second inspired by Haitian poet Philippe Thoby-Marcelin's poem, “Yo Koupe Tet Soley” (They Cut the Sun's Head Off). “Femmes Haitiennes” is also inspiration for some of the visual art. In the artwork, I hope to capture Black women as beautiful and also as having a textured spirit.

1:00 pm - AFTERNOON SESSION: PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES IN A TIME OF CRISIS

Matt McGregor, Department of English, "'It's the Media's Fault': Publics, Polemics, and the Long Crisis of North American Higher Education."

As is now well known, public universities in North America have been progressively de-funded for at least a generation. Punctuating this trend have been moments of 'crisis,' which tend to provoke two categories of response. Responses of the first category question the peculiar structure of the institution, its contradictions, its various fissures and pressures. Critics might, for example, outline how management is suffused with neoliberal ideology, or expose the inter-penetration of research and business. Responses of the second category underline the failure of various disciplines to publicly defend their important social function, as when Christopher Newfield, in Ivy and Industry, points to “the apparent muteness of the humanities.” These two responses suggest a relatively simple social model of inside and outside, the structure of which recalls debates in Marxism over ‘determination' and base/superstructure: on the one hand, there is the university, with its core activities of research and teaching; on the other hand, there is society, business, and the state. In this paper, I will argue for a more complicated model of the economy and institutions of late capital, in which many different social fields interrelate. Using the concept of “semi-autonomy” found in Louis Althusser's Reading Capital, and expanded in the work of Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, and Pierre Bourdieu, I will focus specifically on how a critical understanding of the media, and its relation to the ‘public,' can fruitfully complicate contemporary polemics on the future of publicly funded higher education.

Mary Evans, Department of English, "The Space of Online Learning."

My paper will address the space of online learning, the possibilities and limitations of the cyber-classroom with a focus on women's education: broadening women's opportunities and providing a space for community and learning “formed around shared issues of identity” (Palloff and Pratt). The discipline of Women Studies provides an apt case point in my discussion because of the critical issues of visibility, voice, and body in women's experience. These issues not only comprise much of the content in women's studies classes, but structure its pedagogy. I will address the distinct disembodiment within cyberspace and the necessary reconstruction of individual presences through shared experiences and ideas, a community created “according to the principles of feminist pedagogy, in which knowledge is socially constructed in the classroom” (Rose). In addition, the online environment creates a collective of students who have virtually created the classroom and may continue their learning and activism on critical women's issues beyond the course structures. My paper will move from the example of Women Studies online to a broader examination of the problems and contributions of distance education and its effects on the academy. Although some writers see the potential for creating a community through online education, it has also been seen as problematic by replacing instructors with machines, raising issues of intellectual property, and creating dissociation between the instructor/laborer and her work. Online learning tantalizes with solutions, but accentuates those conflicts embedded within the academy.

James Searle, Department of English, "Educational Horizons in a Time of Crisis."

My paper will address the impact of the decline in public funding for universities on smaller programs in the social sciences and the humanities such as Women's Studies.  One key element in my analysis will be the historical irony that as new disciplines and departments started emerging a large scale Neo-Liberal assault on public education was taking place. In effect, from day one these disciplines faced not only cultural and political prejudices but economic and institutional ones as well. The central challenge for critical thought is tracing the consequences of this historical fact while at the same time pushing forwards towards more productive models for organization and education within the Social Sciences and Humanities. It has recently been noted that many of the liberatory multicultural and pluralist discourses have been co-opted as selling points for a new kind of education platform that is less concerned with the production of an ethically and politically informed citizenry but instead with the production of globally competitive employees. I argue that this was possible due to the persistence of certain disciplinary norms imposed by the forms of institutional organization.  My paper will explore the incompatibility of traditional institutional forms, methods of professionalization, and now the dominant model of knowledge production (i.e. the research model) with the aims of newer disciplines such as Women's Studies or Cultural Studies. I will attempt to show that what must be taken into account is the material relation between sites of instruction (institutions) and the forms of employment and instruction that universities house, support, and reproduce. In this matrix of relation it will become clear that problems of race, gender, and class are not exclusively problems of content (what is being taught) but problems of form (how students are taught, how departments are organized). What is needed now more than ever is a reimagining of the horizons of public education.   

Jackie Hayes, Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies, "Gendered Implications of Corporate Restructuring on Campus Food Service Workers."

The Public University as an institution and ideal has experienced significant transformations under neoliberal capitalism. Etzkowitz et al. note the emergence of what they call the “entrepreneurial university” or the incorporation of market ideals in the university mission as a global phenomenon. Rizvi explains that privatization has restructured how the public university is governed. Preist, Jacobs, and Boon point out that auxiliary corporations play an increasingly significant role in public university contracting. At the University at Albany, University Auxiliary Services (UAS) was established in 1953 to handle external contracting with food service, bookstore, and other providers. UAS is a site where University staff, faculty and students actively engage with corporations and have adopted some tenants of corporatism into the governance structure. The University Auxiliary Service Corporation can also be understood as a structure/institution established to function partly outside of the public and to be more flexible for market engagement thus helping to facilitate the privatization of the public. I plan to explore the gendered implications of this restructuring by looking at how UAS has historically engaged with the unionization efforts of the campus food service workers. Attention to the relationship between institutions (public and private) and discipline will guide my examination of how the University Auxiliary Service Corporation (a quasi-state organization) and food service corporations interact with a highly feminized workforce.

2:00 pm - CLOSING SESSION: ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

Conference organizers and other members of CATALYST (Women's Studies GSO group) will facilitate a closing discussion with audience members that synthesizes main points gathered from the guest performance, opening remarks, and the various conference presentations.