FGSS Symposium Contextualizes Sexual Violence
Students and faculty gathered at the annual Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies Program (FGSS) symposium titled “Confronting Gender Violence” last Friday to discuss sexual assault and gender violence against women at both individual and institutional levels. Organized by Associate Professor of FGSS Anu Sharma and Associate Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein, the symposium featured Clark University Professor Cynthia Enloe, Andrea Ritchie, and Karen Singleton as its panelists.
According to Sharma’s introduction at the event, the panel was organized with the intent of continuing the dialogue about violence on college campuses and seeing personal violence in the context of structural violence. Rubenstein said that addressing current student interests and continuing campus discourse were priorities in the planning of the FGSS symposium.
“It seemed pretty obvious at the end of last year that the issue of sexual violence was of immense concern on this campus, and that it needed to be addressed socially, communally, but also academically and intellectually,” she said.
The University has been working towards creating a more organized response to sexual assault on campus with initiatives such as the creation of the Sexual Violence Task Force. The symposium aimed to discuss instances of personal abuse within larger structures.
“We were hoping to contextualize the improved conversation and services that we’re seeing emerge on campus, and contextualize all of that within broader conversations about gender and sexual violence,” Rubenstein said. “We tried to embed the concerns of any particular campus community within the concerns of broader urban and social life in America, on the one hand, and also the military complex in a transnational perspective.”
Enloe discussed the role of American-based security contractors and private military companies in perpetrating sexual violence abroad. Following the release of the new film, “The Whistleblower,” Enloe shed light upon the structuralized abuse of women by NATO and UN officials present in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1996.
“The men felt they could do whatever they wanted with whichever women they wanted,” Enloe said. “If you can naturalize the abuse of women, you can feel comfortable never taking action, and supporting the policy of ‘never embarrassing the bureau.’”
Continuing the symposium, former member of the National Collective of INCITE! Andrea Ritchie, addressed the systemic and state violence that is experienced by LGBT women and people of color. Ritchie explained how some police officers engage in subconscious gender policing and gender-specific profiling with women of color.
“The policing of gender and sexuality is an essential point of policing race and class,” Ritchie said. “We have to act and understand that state violence and personal violence are linked.”
Ritchie elaborated by discussing cases of violence against women, and discussing her role in combating gender violence. Isabel Gauthier ’14 enjoyed learning about Ritchie’s work with INCITE!
“She talked about how state controlled violence is perpetuating stereotypes about gender and class and race, and INCITE! has an approach where they try to work with domestic violence cases as an alternative to police action,” Gauthier said. “She was giving examples where police were perpetuating the same kind of violence they were supposed to be responding to in the first place.”
Ritchie stressed that violence committed on a personal scale is often tied into a greater structure of violence. She argued that the prevalence of racial and gender profiling demands regulation of both individuals and the state as an institution.
The final panelist, Director of Sexual Violence Response at Columbia University Karen Singleton, discussed mobilizing sexual assault awareness on college campuses. According to Singleton, providing better support for victims of sexual assault requires a keen awareness of the institution itself and an understanding of the way rape culture manifests itself.
“Sexual violence is a continuum, not isolated deviant acts,” she said. “To do this work, you need to engage in a dialectical approach and ask what it takes to transform a campus community.”
Singleton outlined a series of steps designed to instigate change and create dialogue about sexual assault on campuses. She asserted that the community must understand its history and unique needs and formulate a clear approach to addressing the problem of violence. Singleton argued that success lies in dismantling the existing structures to change a system that perpetuates sexual violence against women.
“She provided fresh ideas for campus organizing, and how to change the culture of sexual violence on campus,” said Alexandra Ketchum ’12.
The panelists described approaches to reducing sexual violence at three different levels, and ways to discuss and deal with individual and structural abuse.
Following the event, Rubenstein reflected on the symposium’s shifting focus from a transnational perspective down to local instances of violence.
“I think that by the time we got down to the local level, we were already thinking in these more complicated ways about the nested problems that are contributing to this culture on campus,” she said.