Wesleyan Advocates for Gender Equality (WAGE), a new student group, held its inaugural meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24. Approximately 30 students, primarily first-years, gathered in 41 Wyllys to discuss issues related to gender equality, both at the University and beyond.
In order to ensure productive and respectful discourse, co-Presidents Tess Counts ’18 and Kavya Padmanabhan ’18 addressed their goals for the meeting and a few ground rules to maintain an open discourse, devised by the eight members of the WAGE board—Hanna Elszaz ’18, Eileen Connor ’18, Emma Lalley ’18, Kamla Kumar ’18, Julie McDonald ’18, Amelia Spittal ’18, Molly Schiff ’18, and Christina Sickinger ’18. They addressed the validity of each individual’s views and experiences, encouraging respectful dissent and reservation of judgment.
“This club aims to foster a safe environment for open discussion on topics of feminism, both in and out of the Wesleyan community,” Counts wrote in an email to The Argus. “It is also a space for advocacy and awareness of gender inequality, with the goal to accomplish various projects that will raise awareness for the movement. We want to emphasize that all genders and opinions are welcome and encouraged.”
Padmanabhan concurred, adding that the group has a few big plans on the horizon.
“We want to create a safe, inclusive environment where everyone feels free to speak about the various aspects of the movement that appeal to them,” she said in an email to The Argus. “In addition we have several big projects that we are hoping to get done to create effective change on campus.”
To acquaint themselves with the group and with each other, members went around stating their names, class years, and preferred gender pronouns. Everyone was encouraged to share their earliest memories in which they encountered issues of gender inequality.
Acknowledging that members of the group have diverse views and definitions of feminism, Counts and Padmanabhan conducted a short word-association activity. On a chalkboard spanning the length of the room, an extensive list of phrases and individuals associated with the term “feminism” were assembled. Participants shouted out words linked to many connotations of the term, ranging from “empowered” and “opportunity” to “shrill” and “man-haters.”
Intersectionality also played a major role in the discussion. In accordance with the group’s mission of inclusivity, issues pertaining to exclusivity and “white feminism” were discussed at length. As possible definitions for gender equality were discussed, students acknowledged that their concern did not solely focus on the equality between men and women. Specifically, the work necessary to achieve equality for women of color, trans* women, and those who do not conform to the gender binary were discussed as well.
“I think the most powerful thing that we talked about in the meeting was the intersectionality of feminism and womanism, and making sure that we empower and include women of color, [and] trans* women, in our movement at Wesleyan and in the world,” said Angel Martin ’19.
Though the meeting’s attendees were overwhelmingly female-identifying, a few male-identifying students also partook in the discussion. The club’s co-presidents and board expressed their hope to attract a more diverse membership as it develops. One male-identifying student, Unique Xue ’19, described the meeting from his perspective.
“I didn’t say anything, but it was cool to listen to different kinds of opinions,” he said. “I consider myself as a feminist. It’s kind of sad that there were not many males here. I really want more male students to be advocates for gender equality, because I think it’s for all genders and not only for women.”
Additionally, the meeting included a brainstorming exercise to begin coming up with projects and actions that can be taken on campus to promote gender equality. The group discussed launching an initiative similar to popular “I need feminism” photo projects and providing free feminine hygiene products to those who need it. They also discussed collaborating with other student groups who share the same ideals.
“We’re hoping to collaborate with like-minded groups, get involved, in the various feminist movements happening [on campus]… and overall create a concrete and welcoming feminist presence here,” Spittal said.
For those new to the University, attending this first meeting was an exciting experience.
“I’m just happy to be in a space where people of all genders can express themselves and feel safe in their beliefs being heard,” said Caroline Adams ’19.
Miranda Hoyt-Disick ’19 enjoyed the freedom to state her thoughts at any point in their formation.
“What I really like about the meeting is that sometimes my mouth works way faster than my brain and not everything is valid or even makes sense, but this is a space where that was okay, and I got to develop my ideas, and it was okay if they came out half-baked,” she said.
Jamie Weisner ’19 was impressed with the meeting’s attendance. She referenced her previous experiences in similar groups, and the positive change she experienced Thursday night.
“This was just really cool, I didn’t say anything because I just wanted to listen to a range of different things people had to say, and it was also really great to see how many people turned up,” she said. “There were [about] five kids in my feminist club in my high school, so this is really cool by contrast.”
WAGE meets Thursday nights at 8 p.m. in 41 Wyllys room 114 and is open to all community members interested in learning about and discussing issues related to gender equality.