Earlier this month, Chelsea Yarborough and I took a 10 day trip across Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to meet with campus groups and discuss feminist activism, challenges they face, as well as our upcoming conference and resources that we offer.
The cherry on top of an amazing trip was getting the opportunity to attend the National Women’s Studies Conference where we saw Sara Ahmed and met dozens of awesome faculty and students working to improve their campuses.
Below are some of our thoughts and findings from the trip – MV is Mari Vangen and CY is Chelsea Yarborough.
MV: Our first stop was in Evanston to meet with the Northwestern College Feminists – I was excited to discuss their upcoming clinic escort training with the Illinois Choice Action Team. Clinic escorting is a great way to get involved in supporting the community that your campus lives in. The NU College Fems were organized and excited to take action – it was an inspiring meeting.
CY: After we left Evanston, we stopped in Chicago at Loyola University to meet with Sabrina, Erin and Emma from the Feminist Forum. They’re doing really awesome work on their campus-they plan a conference each semester that has a pretty huge draw! We were really impressed with how much large programming they do each year, especially considering that Loyola is a Jesuit Catholic school. It just goes to show determined voices will not be silenced!
MV: Our first stop, after introducing Chelsea to our amazing regional delicacy, “fried cheese curds,” was the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I was of course overjoyed to be back in badger country at my alma mater. Our first event was a brown bag hosted with Nina Valeo Cooke, the UW – Madison Gender and Women’s Studies advisor. Over 30 UW students attended and we discussed YikYak and online harassment, professional feminism and ways to effectively Get Out Her vote in 2016. We are really thankful to the Wisconsin Gender and Women’s Studies Department for organizing the event! That night I sat on the Gender and Women’s Studies Alum panel put on by the GWS club. It was an opportunity to discuss the ways that my degree has been helpful to me and connect with students around feminist issues.
CY: While at UW-Madison, we joined a #SolidarityWithMizzou march planned and executed by a group of blacks students and students of color on the campus. The march went from Bascom Hill at the University all the way to the Capitol in center city Madison. Along the way, students stopped and read off incidents of racism that occurred at the University from the 1960’s to the present day and State rep.Mandela Barnes joined at the Capitol. It was so moving and humbling to be a part of it and to see how well it went off, especially since organizers pulled it together in a matter of days.
MV: While in Milwaukee, our next stop, at the National Women’s Studies Conference we were able to meet with a new group from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. They are currently transitioning between a more discussion based group to an activist one, which is an exciting, if not difficult process. We discussed non hierarchical organizing, clinic defense and strategies for increasing membership over chicken tenders and mac and cheese. It was both delicious and enlightening.
CY: Our next stop after Milwaukee was Eau Claire to meet with Helen and Kessa from the UWEC College Feminists! They’re moving more into direct action work and we were really excited to discuss how to start doing that work. We were also pretty pumped for the deep dish pizza we got to chow down on, too.
MV: Tabling at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference with Ms. Magazine was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was an opportunity to meet new people, including folks from across the Wisconsin System, Gloria Steinem and students and faculty from around the United States. A highlight of the conference, aside from the 1 block proximity from Culvers custard, was hearing Sara Ahmed speak about the obstacles that faculty charged with increasing diversity on campuses face. A few of my favorite quotes from her talk can be found here: http://feministcampus.wpengine.com/14095/
CY: Getting to attend the National Women’s Studies Association Conference was like a dream for my little scholarly heart. So many panels! All the workshops! I was in the same hotel as Kimberle Crenshaw and Gloria Steinem! I got to meet a lot of really amazing faculty members from colleges and universities like Ithaca, Keene State and Southern Connecticut State! I also got to see four of my favorite professors at the conference, which was a wonderful surprise! My favorite panel was with the Crunk Feminist Collective- a panel full of women of color talking about digital scholarship, activism and radical joy gave me all the life I needed after getting up at six am to make it on time!
MVA: I’m from Minneapolis, so I delighted in showing Chelsea what a great city it is. After partaking in a pre thanksgiving dinner with my mom – we set out on Monday to learn more about the ERA movement in Minnesota. First, we had coffee with Betty Folliard to discuss ways that students can support their new ERA movement. Their next big event is a march on 3/8/15, the first day of the MN legislative session and the International Day of the Woman. I’m excited to connect interested students to this movement – I’m sure it’ll be an eventful spring in Minnesota!
That evening we were able to meet with Students for Feminism of Augsburg College. While they are newly formed, they are also very energetic and organized. It was inspiring to hear about all their plans for GOHV, ERA and dating violence on campus.
CY: Our second stop in Minneapolis was with the Feminists Organizing Change at the Minnesota Community and Technical College. They are a really awesome group working really hard to make change on their campus. It was very illuminating to talk to a group at a community college; they face unique challenges but are prepared to do what it takes to keep their group strong which was really inspiring to witness. And they had a dope Clothesline Project up on campus that day!
MV: Our last visit in Minnesota was to the Feminist Student Activist Collective at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. We met with about 12 students to discuss the issues they are facing with campus climate, GOHV and YikYak. YikYak and online abuse and harassment is something we discussed at every campus – because it’s pervasive across the United States. Something that stuck out to me at this meeting was that students at the University of Minnesota would use YikYak to specifically threaten rape, for example: “I want to rape the girl with the blue backpack in my bio class.” The threatening, hateful speech on YikYak cannot and should not be tolerated.
CY: After we left Minnesota, we drove to Iowa City where I introduced Mari to Erykah Badu’s “Hotline Bling But U Cain’t Use My Phone” during our 4 hour drive. When we got to Iowa City we drove to the University of Iowa to eat at a tasty Indian buffet with the president of the Feminist Club at U of Iowa, Nailah! It was really great to meet her and talk to her about what’s going on in Iowa.
MV: Our last meeting of the trip was with two students from Iowa State, Ames. We met with the co presidents of SAGE to discuss astrology, GOHV activism and ways to support local clinics. It was a really fun meeting – and only partly because of some amazing cheesecake. Like all the student leaders we had the privilege of meeting on this trip, this duo was energized, fun and inspiring. On top of schoolwork and jobs they work hard to support a feminist presence on campus by hosting events like an “Ask a Feminist Booth,” and holding their Title IX office responsible when they didn’t provide confidential sexual assault advocates. I also want to give a small shout out to our host in Des Moines, my good friend from high school’s grandpa who made us danish pancakes and told us to “live beautiful lives.”
Conclusions and Takeaways:
CY: The Midwest was really amazing for me in a lot of ways. It was really fun to go to a region of the country I’d never seen and that felt a bit like a foreign country to me. I love getting to meet so many students from across the country-its energizing to see how strong student power is and how creative and dedicated student leaders are. The cheese curds were also pretty poppin.
MV: “Midwest, best west” is what I always nonsensically maintain, and this trip didn’t disappoint. We met with so many amazing students and faculty who are dedicated to improving their communities – whether that is through creating safe spaces for dialogue, hosting educational workshops or organizing around important issues. I came back to DC inspired and ready to get to work. I’m excited to continue working with students across the Midwest to facilitate information sharing, start Get Out Her Vote campaigns and support students in whatever form their feminist activism may take.