Feminism Resurrected at New School

To reform assualt policy, build community
Monday, October 25th, 2010

“So, what is femi­nism?” a discussion leader asked. The five women and one man in the group quickly looked down at the white paper-covered table. Stumped by this opening question, they contemplated their plates of catered Mexi­can food and the huge task of defining some­thing as broad as femi­nism, let alone how to incorporate such an enigma into the daily goings-on of The New School.

 

fem rally 2 (lilly o)

Students gather to discuss feminist community at The New School (Lilly O'Donnell)

Lang students Jamie Merwin and Rhiannon Auriemma organized the event, “The Coming Resurrection,” on October 12 to encourage the development of a feminist community at The New School and to discuss the university’s inadequate sexual assault policy. “We wanted to get a bunch of badass feminists together in one room,” Auriemma said.

The assault policy was definitely the most clear-cut issue on the table. Beyond that, conversations in the nine small discussion groups ranged from whether or not Sarah Palin is a feminist to assertions like, “In the U.S. porn seems to replace sex ed for a lot of people,” by discussion leader and Lang senior Suzy Exposito, and many similar attempts to situate the idea of feminism within the scope of students’ lives.

Conversation repeat­edly circled back to the question of whether the gender studies de­partment should be built up to stand on its own or whether its cen­tral concerns — gender and sexuality issues — should become a larger part of every class across disciplines. Most agreed that both are needed. “Don’t be afraid to be that one person in class that ev­eryone rolls their eyes at ‘cause you’re bring­ing up feminism again,” Merwin said.

Ann Snitow, a lit­erature and gender studies professor who played a large role in the creation of the gen­der studies program, reiterated this push in a later interview with the Free Press. “People should be bringing this material in all over the place,” she said. “It’s what’s called in the European Union ‘main­streaming.’”

Some fear that efforts to bring these issues in to every discussion could ultimately undermine the larger goal of chang­ing people’s negative attitudes toward femi­nism. “If that’s some­thing that really inter­ests you, go for it,” said Nico Cassanetti, a Lang senior who cares about gender and sexuality is­sues but is reluctant to call herself a feminist. “But I don’t think it’s something that needs to be shoved in people’s faces.”

 

fem rally (lilly o)

Feminist causes at The New School, and elsewhere, are often undermined by stereotypes (Lilly O'Donnell)

Some are skeptical of feminist activism at The New School because they don’t see the need for it at such a liberal institution. “I feel like a feminist movement coming out of this school is more of a tribute to old feminist movements and they’re just trying to em­ulate and make current what has already been done and established,” Cassanetti said. “I don’t really know what they’re fighting against.”

Jennifer Baumgardner, Lang writing professor and number seven on Spike.com’s “The Top Seven Cutest Feminists” list, agreed that bal­ance and some restraint are needed in order to avoid completely turn­ing people off to the is­sues. “I think women do really well at The New School,” Baumgardner said. “It’s not the same issues that there were 30 years ago when women were having to kick down doors.” But, she argued, just because things aren’t as bad as they used to be doesn’t mean that there’s no need for activism. “I think anyone, whether or not they call them­selves a feminist, no­tices things that they think are unjust,” she said. “So there are op­portunities to create change.”

This lack of clar­ity about what purpose feminist activism could serve at an institution that is clearly progres­sive, and where the majority of students are female, may have contributed to the lukewarm reception of March’s two-day event, “No Longer in Exile,” the introduction of the gender studies program. Merwin and Auriemma hoped that “The Resurrection”’s less formal approach would generate more student interest and it was, in fact, better attended. “Jennifer Baumgardner sug­gested something like a giant Voodoo funeral baptism for feminism at The New School,” Merwin said. “That was too expensive, so here we are.”

Beyond community building, “The Com­ing Resurrection” was organized largely around the visit from representatives of the organization Students Active for Ending Rape, there to talk about how to reform the school’s sexual as­sault policy.

“We learned what a minimal policy we have and how many holes there are in it,” Snitow said. She explained that the policy’s definitions of terms like “informed consent” are vague and that the procedure for victims to follow in re­porting assault is un­clear. She also said that without an amnesty policy the university doesn’t properly pro­tect victims. “You’re not going to tell someone that you’ve been raped if it turns out that you’ll be thrown out of school for having been drunk at the time,” she ex­plained.

Attendees of “The Resurrection,” with the help of SAFER repre­sentative Erin Burrows, brainstormed a list of things that they would like to see added to or changed about the pol­icy. Auriemma told the Free Press, “We’re get­ting a new president in January, so we’re hop­ing to be able to take the list directly to him.”

Comments

bap, bap, bap!!!! With

bap, bap, bap!!!! With articles like this circulating, from such a "clearly progressive institution" it isn't a surprise that women and feminists have to continue to bash down doors. Once again, FreePress, a fantastic job at demonizing and punishing anyone organizing at this institution. I am sure that as freshman and transfers are welcomed every semester Free Press will continue to perpetuate this nonsense and disrespect for your fellow peers. Spike.com is not a source to cite. Since when is feminism an enigma?

I would like to test the

I would like to test the waters to see if there are any men at this institution in whom the feminist thought police has not been completely internalized. I seek to form an organization for the promotion of the male reassertion of his natural right to chauvinism and disrespect towards any person or group found by him to be unsuited for a civil society. Any takers?

finally someone who speaks

finally someone who speaks the truth! why is there all this focus on women and rape at the new school? what's the big deal? sure, the school and feminist institutions within it allow individual men to SEXUALLY ASSAULT female students OVER AND OVER again, with the worst consequences to having been found guilty of such an assault being temporary removal from the dorm. and sure, the free press may REFUSE to publish articles exposing this trend, further weakening the ability of feminists survivors of sexual assault to organize for safer spaces and our natural right to chauvinism... but still! us men have a RAW DEAL! fight the power brother!

Isn't sexual assault a crime?

Isn't sexual assault a crime? Is this not a matter for the Police Department? What you are advocating seems to be grossly unjust. Is not the pillar of our judicial system and our free society that we are all innocent until proven guilty? It seems that removal from the dorms is an adequate measure against a person accused of such a crime. It would relieve the obvious tensions in the period prior to proper legal action. Any further action - like removal from the institution - would violate the rights of the accused. To advocate for stricter punishment within the New School, one would have to believe that all accusers are, by nature of their accusations, innocent victims, and that anyone they accuse - be it man or woman - is by that same nature, guilty of a crime. You have to remember that not everyone who claims to be a victim is necessarily a victim - this is why we have a codified legal system for dealing with such matters. If i am mistaken and sexual assault is not a prosecutable crime in the city of New York, then your beef is with the justice system and your fight with the New School is a petty sort of junior activist's club, not at all the force required for changing the written law.

Wellllll

There's also a lot to be said about the fact that people who commit plagiarism, people [who use their right to] protest, people who use drugs recreationally can be removed from the institution... but those PROVEN guilty of rape get to stick around. The issue of sexual assault is grossly mishandled within both the university and law enforcement. The Village Voice featured an article this summer revealing the neglect of the NYPD to properly report cases and address offenders, as well as it highlighted their tendency to blame survivors. Also, there was a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month about the inadequacy of the law in handling cases of rape. This is not just a pet project of students at the New School; this is an ongoing national struggle. Links to articles: http://tinyurl.com/2ujo6kx
http://tinyurl.com/22r6d9a

Thank you for your cogent,

Thank you for your cogent, sensible reply. Having misread the previous reply prior to responding, i was greatly disappointed that the other responses to my error were so sarcastic and self serving. You have shown me I was wrong while demonstrating gentlemanly(is that sexist?:p) rhetoric. The rest of you - those who are more interested in displaying to the world how angry you are, and how offensive this is to you than explaining and promoting social change - you would do well to model yourself on this reply. The responder does not take it personally, despite being personally affected. He/She puts the issue in perspective and actually links to sources! Unfortunately others among you demonstrate why 'feminist' has become a pejorative term. You have been petty, sarcastic, self affirming, and small. You have focused your indignation on the author without demonstrating why you feel she is incorrect to anyone who does not already agree with you. You have made criticisms of the newspaper and affirmed how other newspapers would have reported on the matter differently. How is an argument over whether or not it is appropriate to comment on the relative cuteness of an activist relevant to the treatment of sexual assault at the New School? I would say you have missed the forest for the trees, but the trees you're aiming for are in an entirely different forest altogether. You have done everything but address the specific policy issues you ostensibly promote and care about. Of course, the writers of such comments, and like-minded people will understand their own dog-whistle jargon, but they will not convince anyone. Such behavior will keep feminism marginal, it will remain in the public mind as an extremist movement. The only stereotype this kind of rhetoric challenges is that men are more prone to inflated egos than women. Demagoguery makes you look fat. If you want to promote change, check your egos at the door, I'm not big on change, so I keep mine handy. :p

Did you miss the part where

Did you miss the part where the commenter said "found GUILTY" of the crime and simply removed from the dorm? I can't believe this article is considered "journalism." I work at my college's newspaper and we would never publish this garbage.

Oh, I did miss that actually,

Oh, I did miss that actually, sorry. But whats with the reckless anger and name-calling? Do you realize that you are why people don't respect the feminist movement.

Where is there reckless anger

Where is there reckless anger and name-calling? Where?!?

what kind of readership do

what kind of readership do you have?

A circulation of 30,000

A circulation of 30,000

‎"Jennifer Baumgardner, Lang

‎"Jennifer Baumgardner, Lang writing professor and number seven on Spike.com’s “The Top Seven Cutest Feminists” list" I like how that 2nd fact is more relevant than, I don't know, the fact that she's published several books and produced a documentary.

hah, seconded. she also wrote

hah, seconded. she also wrote for ms. magazine. clearly the feminism that is so indoctrinated at the new school and that we "don't need" to discuss is working really well... because apparently all that matters about jennifer is that she's pretty!

agreed!

agreed. and wtf. "top seven cute feminists"???!?! really? it's insulting to feminists and everyone working for social change to put "cute" next to feminist. jennifer baumgardner is a published author and yes is hot and attractive. but the word "cute" is demeaning and it's sad that this article cited that as relevant to her identity.

I'd like to apologize to

I'd like to apologize to anyone who felt like feminism was being shoved down their throats. You clearly came to a re-invention of feminist activism for our mexican food. The only thing we should have should have spoon fed you was flan. My bad.

I must say I found this

I must say I found this article to be quite fair, to both sides, when I first read it and it even made me sympathetic towards the feminist cause at the New School, for once. That was until I saw the way your group retaliates. The way you are so quick to berate anything that doesn't absolutely praise your cause (which, by the way, is called publicity not journalism) doesn't help me, as a woman, to take your side. So help me out.

agreed

I totally agree. If a reporter comes to your event, you can't assume that what they will say is 100% positive. Meanwhile, I thought this was a very fair article and it gave me no bad feelings towards the group until I've seen their retaliation. Also, if you want a beautiful review of your group or event, write your own damn article! Reporters can say what they want.