I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Mente, Lauren Soldano, and Iveta Jusova about their experiences on the Summer 08 Antioch Education Abroad Women’s Studies Program. Emily is a third year student at Antioch / Nonstop from Pittsburgh. Lauren is a second year Antioch / Nonstop student from Hamilton, Ohio. Iveta Jusova has led the Women’s Studies Abroad Program for the past five years, and currently teaches at Nonstop.
Iveta: This program was created by Antioch College Women’s s Studies faculty in 1984. Marianne Welchel and Jean Gregorek are some of the College faculty who have been involved in developing and improving the WGSE program over the years. The structure of the program is wonderfully conducive to combining classroom academics and experiential learning. I love the constant back and forth between theory and practice on the program.
Emily: It is a thirteen week program. You take four classes:
Situated Feminism, Feminist Methodologies, Feminist Theory, and an independent research project. This year, we started in Utrecht in the Netherlands. The program starts out wherever the NOISE Summer School conference is which is a two-week program on European Women’s Studies. From there we went to Krakow, Poland, and from there to Prague, then to Berlin, and back to Utrech for two weeks. Then we flew to Istanbul where we spent ten days, and then back to Utrech. It was quite a trip.
Iveta: In the Comparative Feminist Theory course I focus specifically on Continental Feminist Theory, which is different from what is studied here in the US. The North American School of Feminism is rooted in the sex /gender division, and goes back to the idea that one is born with a specific sex, and based on what one’s sex is, one is then socialized into specific gender roles. Of course, the distinction between presumably biological sex and socialized gender has been deconstructed by now, but the sex/gender is the main operational division in this school. Continental Feminism, on the other hand, is rooted in psychoanalysis, and the distinction examined here is one between sex and sexuality. It works on more of a psychoanalytic plane, while Anglo-American feminism focuses on the sociological plane. On the WGSE program, we look at the ways in which Continental feminism incorporates the argument of intersectionality that gender, race, sexuality, class are inter-knotted and mutually co-produced. Race is theorized and experienced very differently in Europe than it is here in the US. Here, you have a long history of slavery, while in Europe you have an entirely different history of nationalism and Anti- Semitism. Race in Europe can never be discussed without talking about nationalism. It is often more a matter of ethnicity. So what I often try to do with this course is make students understand that theory is not just something abstract; that it goes back to your location, and it draws on that historical location and that current situation in a specific country. We talk about colonialism, what it means to have a colonial mind. Issues of post-colonialism and of immigration are very hot topics in Europe.
Emily: We had three lectures a week, that varied on the topics. In Krakow, we focused on birth control and abortion rights. It is such a Catholic country, so women don’t have access to many things. We heard from gynecologists, and women who were involved in visibility for women’s issues. We would have three or four seminars per week led by Iveta, and we would do two readings and discuss those readings. It was very structured.
Iveta: The students have lectures with specific local activists, artists, and scholars, but what I want to emphasis is the activists. We talk about queer issues, and then we talk to Trans-organizations [organizations dealing with trans-people’s issues]. It is interesting to hear from transgendered NGO people what their take is on queer theory. When we talk to Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Waves, a ship that goes where abortion is illegal, that reminds the students who are not interested in reproductive rights that this is a very important issue for a lot of women. How does this theory contribute to solving this problem? And this connection of theory and practice is of course absolutely Antiochian.
Lauren: Over the summer I was receiving emails about what we would be doing. I hardly read them, and it wouldn’t have gotten me prepared. But the NOISE Summer School! It is a Feminist Summer School! We were there for two weeks. When I got the email from NOISE -which was like Antioch recruitment materials -“Do you want to change the world”?, they asked “are you such and such kind of woman, do you want to write your own feminist manifesto?” I said Yeah! The Noise Summer School is for graduate students, and students getting their PhD’s, but we were allowed to participate, and it was one of those network things that would be lost if it was decided that the program was not profitable anymore. I really liked the structure at the University of Utrech, our home base. We were really involved with the Gender Studies Program there. I got a good idea of what it would look like if I was a Genders Studies student.. We were encouraged to apply to a two-year graduate program in Gender Studies.
Iveta: Students take a Feminist Methodology course, that focuses on ethical issues and issues of power, what it is to be an American person interviewing in a language that is not their own. These are issues that students encounter when they do their own research. Then they design an independent project.
Emily: I did my project on Cosmopolitan Magazine in all of the different countries, and how the advertising within the magazine portrayed the ideal feminine. I bought a magazine in each country and went through and did advertising analysis.
Lauren: I was living in a collective in Chicago this summer. Suddenly I am interpolated as a practicing lesbian, and I would see the gay community in Chicago or what had been endorsed as the gay community, and I saw shortcomings, compared to my own personal experience, not shortcomings…. gaps, discrepancies. My project is how the fable of the lesbian has been created. I am using Derrida, some Judith Butler. I made a Table of Contents. One of the chapters is Trends in Lesbianism and Trendy Lesbians. I was looking at different phenomena that has been set up as specifically lesbian phenomena. I was interviewing women who are lesbians or queer. (My subjects) were people on the program who had given us a lecture or a tour. It was a good environment to do this work. I had some pretty cool interviews.
Can you talk about traveling to Istanbul?
Iveta: We had to stop going to London, unfortunately. We were working with Nira Yuval Davis, one of the most famous feminist theorists, but it is just too expensive. We were looking for another place, and Istanbul was suggested because when we deal with immigration issues, both in the Netherlands and in Berlin, many of the immigrant population come from Turkey.
Lauren: . The first thing we did in Turkey was meet some Lambda activists. It was very cool at the Lambda headquarter. We all went to the Turkish bath house together (except Ethan, who is male bodied) and that brought us together in a strange new way.
Emily: I loved Istanbul. We had been in the Netherlands, it was one of my favorite places, but it rained every day, and it was cloudy and 45 degrees, and we went from there to Istanbul. The light is just different. It is just golden. It looks like sunset all of the time, so going from a grey place to this beautiful, golden, hot place where there was music and pomegranate juice everywhere. That was my favorite part, and we were also not having classes, so it was like a vacation.
Iveta: While we did not have theory/methodology seminars in Istanbul we did have plenty of lectures.
How was the dynamic of the group?
Emily: There were fourteen students and Olivia Leire, the Teaching Assistant. Eleven of us were from Antioch, and three were from other schools.
Since most of the students were from Antioch, a lot of the language was very similar. There was a lot of Antioch present. I had worked at a summer camp last summer which a hard experience for me, going from Antioch with Antiochian values, to this camp, where I do not really share their values, so it was very comforting coming back to a space where I felt good about what was going on and the conversations that we had. The dynamics were difficult because we were with these people all of the time. You are going to school with them and you are hanging out with them, and it is hard to make new good relationships with everyone. There was no schism in the group, which Iveta mentioned was very unusual. Usually something happens half way through, and you have two distinct groups.
Iveta: It was wonderful, partly because most of them were from Antioch. Our students are perfect for Women’s Studies. We click like that. I understand perfectly where their concerns are coming from. The group was cohesive, helpful, and appreciative about what the program had to offer. They wanted to help with any kinds of problems we had. They were not whiny at all. We didn’t have any big dramas. The group dynamic affects so much of what you can do in the classroom and in the program. A sense of humor makes such a difference.
How has the trip changed you?
Lauren: When I entered college, I entertained ideas that I would be a Creative Writing major. I like to imagine myself as a cartoonist. Now I feel like the trip has crystallized my Gender Studies major ambitions, so I guess things have shifted a little bit. I wonder what job I am going to get as a Gender Studies major? Something the program showed me is that maybe I will get a job as a professor or as an accountant for a gay rights organization. I am in this state of ever-constant change. Things were different when I got back home. One of the things is, I imagined myself to be more politicized, as usual, just like when I got back from Antioch. Things that I had never thought about have become pressing issues. Nationalism, and gender identity, and the way crimes against the gay community are used to perpetuate racism and anti- immigration, and to create panic, which are things I never thought before, but now I could talk about all day.
Emily: I have a very clear idea about what I want to be studying. and a different appreciation for how big the world is. One of the things Olivia told me is this experience will make you worry about America, and I didn’t understand that until I came home. I am realizing that the world is very big and we are very focused on ourselves, and that is going to be a problem. How culturally and economically we are so focused on ourselves, and Europe is focused on us, and to be so far away, and to still be hearing about American news. It is a scary thing. At one point we were in Poland, and we were putting missiles in Poland, and everyone in Poland was talking about it, but we would go on line, and could find NOTHING about it in the US press, and that was so pertinent to my life!