Women’s conference confronts American ideals

Michelle Hennessy – News Writer

    Southern’s annual Women Studies conference was back this year, this time with a focus on ecology, spirituality and sustainability.

     Now in its 21st year, President Mary Papazzian, Ph.D. who opened the welcome and conference opening plenary, said the event has become a staple part of the spring semester at Southern.

     “The women’s studies conference this year is about the environment and spirituality,” said Julian Wilson, who volunteered at the event, “and about the connection between women, the Earth, spirituality and all of that coming together and how all of that ends up intercepting with indigenous people and oppressed people. In particular because their spirituality is very much blocked.”

     Wilson, a graduate intern at the Women’s Center who runs the Men’s Initiative, said a number of different speakers attended the conference that ran over Friday and Saturday in Engleman.

     “We have professors from many different backgrounds which is great, so we’re hoping people will get to see diversity and a good look at what’s happening to the Earth, what’s happening to indigenous people and what’s happening to everybody,” said Wilson.

     Speakers at the opening plenary included Keala Kelly, an independent filmmaker from Hawaii and Imna Arroyo, an Afro-Puerto Rican artist and professor at Eastern Connecticut State University.

     Kelly spoke of the oppression of the Hawaiian natives after the American occupancy and gave the example of Americans going over and building on sacred land and burial sites.

     “This is something that is happening now, not something that happened 100 years ago – it started then but it continues today,” said Kelly during her presentation. “What is happening is rape, and it’s made to look like consensual sex and not the assault that it actually is.”

     Kelly said the stronger American presence in Hawaii has also had an effect on women’s role in society.

     “I’m a freak,” said Kelly. “People see me and see I’m a single, heterosexual woman with no kids and the first thing they want to know is what’s wrong with me because of the American ideals that were brought over.”

     She spoke of the “outspokenness” of her film about Hawaii, and said had she been a man, the film would have been celebrated but instead, people were just shocked by her candid opinion on what’s really happening in Hawaii.

     The event ran between 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and 8.30 a.m. to 5.15 p.m. Saturday, and drew in people from as far as Texas to the annual conference.

     “These conferences do draw from a wide variety of places,” said Wilson. “We have people coming from far away to present, we have people coming to check these kind of things out because they’re rare – women’s studies conferences aren’t popping up everywhere so sometimes you have to travel a bit.”

     Smaller discussions were held around Engleman after the larger presentations, including a talk on feminism, media culture and social and environment justice. The talk included a discussion about Miley Cyrus, led by Hanna Stengl from the University of Massachusetts, and how her actions influence young girls.

     Other workshops and lectures across the two days included a panel discussion of the Sisters2Sisters Mentoring Program at CUNY as well as film screenings of related topics. Dinner on Friday night included a talk from keynote, Majora Carter.

     “Majora Carter is coming (Friday) which is a big deal,” said Wilson. “She’s done a lot of things with trying to rehabilitate the South Bronx and a big part of that is trying to rehabilitate people in the prison system and turning them into vital members of the community so we really want to hear her speak and see what she is going to be talking about.”


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