On October 24, 2013, the ALANA Center hosted an event titled “A Discussion of Race and Digital Feminism.” The ALANA Center is a place on campus for events, resources, and support for Vassar’s many students of color. It is located near the Old Laundry Building and provides space for events hosted by its many students groups and employees. The program also drew on the expertise of members of the Women’s Center here at Vassar. It was led by ALANA Center Program Intern Brittani Skyers-White ’16, a women’s studies major. Skyers-White wrote in an emailed statement, “ [I] wanted to promote discussion about using digital media as [a] means to discuss feminism and issues of inclusivity in mainstream feminism.”
Skyers-White continued, “The majority of people on campus are involved in some sort of social media and use social media to prompt discussion about social justice issues; it seems fitting to talk openly about inclusivity. The reason I wanted to talk specifically about digital feminism was because of the Hugo Schwyzer controversy (a person who touts himself as a ‘male feminist’ and openly admitted via Twitter purposefully putting down feminists of color).”
She continued, “Though that controversy is a more blatant example of female-identified persons of color not being included in feminist conversation, it’s extremely important to realize who and what issues are being represented repeatedly on feminist blogs/websites.” She opened the discussion with the trending Twitter tag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, meant to highlight issues of diversity in current feminist efforts.
After showing a brief video by Shelby Knox of Change.org, in which Knox discussed her theory of the “Fourth Wave of Feminism,” Skyers-White and the 15 attendees discussed the role of media in feminism and diversity in past and current feminist efforts.
The attendees included a representative from the Women’s Center, Tanvi Jaluka ’17, who was invited by Skyers-White to add depth to the discussion. According to Jaluka, “Feminist discourse and dialogue has branched out to the internet…I think it’s important that this discussion also focused on how women of color play into this new dynamic.”
Topics of the discussion ranged from the possible classism of blogs that required internet access to read, to the distinction of being a “Latina Feminist,” to the struggle of feminist efforts in India and the lack of inclusion of transgender people in mainstream feminism. One attendee, Naa Kuorkor A. Nikoi ’17, said, “Over all I really enjoyed the discussion and the company of the people who attended the meeting. I thought it was very thought-provoking.”
She added, “I was very interested [in the event] as soon as I heard about it because digital interface is so ubiquitous in this day and age, and feminism is something I have always been very interested in but have never had enough opportunity to talk to other people about. I was drawn to the knowledge that there would be a lot of people who knew a lot about feminism and could educate me in the areas that I was (and still am) unfamiliar with.” Nikoi is considering majoring in women’s studies.
According to Skyers-White, the discussion’s scope limited its possibilities: “I think the most challenging aspect [of the event] was trying to have a conversation about such a broad topic in an hour. Of course, I wasn’t expecting come to some ‘a-ha’ moment where every issue of inclusivity was solved in the span of one hour, but it seemed that with every comment that was made, there were a million other issues we could have started talking about.”
Jaluka agreed that she wished for more time, saying, “I think even though there was only short time we had to discuss this issue, Brittani facilitated a thorough discussion. There was a brief discussion of digital feminism in the global context. It would have been interesting to talk more about how the internet has empowered and also marginalized women in other countries.”
Nikoi also pointed out the rather homogeneity of voices and experiences in attendance, saying, “I’d say the main thing that was missing from the discussion was opposition. In any kind of educated discussion it is necessary to be presented with a diversity of opinions. While there were some areas that were debated, I don’t think I saw anyone who just disagreed, which, I think, is a necessary aspect of learning through discussion.”
However, the overall event was deemed a success. Skyers-White said, “It was a great experience! The people that showed up or just showed support in general were wonderful and really helped in facilitating meaningful discussion. Because we had people bringing different experiences into the conversation it was fulfilling, even though the conversation lasted for only an hour.” She continued, “I really felt there was a positive reaction. Much more so than I was expecting. I had people telling me that they were very interested in the topic, which was encouraging.”
Nikoi agreed, “The whole discussion was everything I had hoped for and more. I really liked how people were drawing on both aspects of their own lives and articles…that they had seen on the internet or on TV. I think it was also a really good way of identifying the individuals in this community that I hadn’t met but share the same…opinions as me…I’m really glad the ALANA center and Brittani Skyers-White created this event and I hope they can do this many more times over the course of the year.”
Jaluka recommends that students interested in women’s and diversity issues like Nikoi try attending any events hosted by the Women’s Center and the ALANA center if they’re interested in feminism and specifically its intersection with women of color.” As she said, “Both centers are great spaces for anyone to come visit anytime and learn more about these topics.”