Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections on the Faculty Favorite Lecture Series

(originally posted 06/08 at wordpress)

by Emily Hutsell

This term I took the IST 499 engagement credit, which required my attendance at 6 PSU sponsored events. Because of the interesting subject matter, I chose to attend many of the Faculty Favorite Lecture Series, for which a faculty member is chosen to present their current work. The topics of the lectures covered sustainability, White Studies, interrupting oppression and why America isn’t ready for a female president. Each of these events was extremely thought provoking, and whether or not there was an opportunity for discussion, it has been part of my discussion with others.

Every event dealt with different aspects of power and privilege. Pramod Parajuli spoke of the difference between ecology, which he defines as nature’s household and economy, which is human’s household. Pramod explained that ecology and economy should be the same thing, but it is humans’ desire for power over nature that has created the divide. He also explained that his preferred style of teaching does not require overt critiques of individuals or society, because the critique is internally implicit, which eliminates the need for shame. This method promotes change through example and respect as opposed to criticism and control.

Interrupting oppression was another inspiring event. Sally Eck’s style is very participatory, and she encouraged everyone present to voice his or her opinions, ideas or concerns throughout the meeting. The premise of interruptions, whether they are large and dramatic or small and humorous, is to draw attention to oppressive behaviors, beliefs and/or attitudes in order to prevent them in the future. One great reminder I got from this workshop is that everyone holds some oppressive beliefs, often without realizing it, so it is important to be open to being interrupted as well as understanding when you are interrupting. It is institutionalized sexism, racism or heterosexism that fosters those oppressive thoughts, and they are harder to recognize if you hold power or privilege within that system. Sally’s point is that once you come to realize your privilege and power, you can stop the cycle of oppression by acknowledging it through interruptions.

Another discussion about power and privilege in which I participated was about “white studies” and was facilitated by Pedro Ferbel-Azc√°rate. White studies deals with institutionalized racism, which Pedro defines as a system without human merit, which gives greater privileges to people defined as “white.” The discussion revolved around the process of coming to recognize one’s privilege that starts with unawareness, then having recognition, which often leads to guilt, but hopefully leads to desire to create change. Pedro shared with us that a major challenge of teaching this class is to encourage and nurture students through their phase of recognition and heightened awareness, without continually turning discussions back to the white experience. That struck me as a difficult balance to maintain.

The theme of power and privilege continued through the lecture on why the United States is not ready for a woman president. Melody Rose talked about her research of women in politics and her focus on media coverage of this primary election season, which reflects the strongholds that racism and sexism still have in this culture. Women in politics are all forced to maneuver through the double bind. This is the concept that women must maintain their femininity while remaining capable. The fact that femininity and capability are at all in conflict seems so archaic, but it is a reality for female politicians. The assertive, opinionated, strong characteristics that are found desirable in (male) politicians do not coincide with views of femininity. Melody discussed how this could easily be viewed in the misogynistic attack ads against Hillary Clinton that compare her to Lady Macbeth, Nurse Ratchet and witches. The ads go so far as to wish Clinton dead saying, “I wish Hillary had married OJ.” The interesting aspect of this election season and topic of discussion at this event was the lack of racist ads compare to the large number of sexist ads, which just shows that sexism is more acceptable in this society, whereas racism is somewhat less overt.

The Faculty Favorite Lecture Series helped to expand my perspectives of these issues, while getting to know some PSU faculty and understanding some of the awesome work that is going on here at Portland State.

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