Jon Branfman Wins Graduate Associate Teaching Award

jon&class Jonathan Branfman, WGSS PhD student won the Graduate Associate Teaching Award, the university’s highest recognition of the exceptional teaching provided by graduate students at Ohio State. Award winners receive $1,500 and are recognized at the annual Graduate School awards reception.

This award is in its 43rd year and is Ohio State’s highest recognition of the exceptional teaching provided by graduate students.

Each year, approximately 3,000 students teach as graduate teaching associates at Ohio State.

This year, 162 graduate students were nominated, and 66 of the eligible nominees submitted an application portfolio.

The award recipients were selected by the Graduate School Awards Committee consisting of graduate faculty representing the range of disciplines, former GATA winners, and graduate students.

“I aspire for students to see the world through critical eyes long after they forget specific details of my class. I seek to spark this inquiry through a dynamic personal style, rich class discussions, captivating readings, and experiential projects, while constantly sharpening my approach with student feedback.” – Jon Branfman

Congratualtions, Jon!!



WGSS Grad Students Travel to Duke Feminist Theory Conference

On March 21 and 22, 2014, the 8th Annual Feminist Theory Workshop took place at Duke University. Erin Tobin, Phoebe Chen and I headed toward North Carolina to attend to this amazing event that required the immediate presence of WGSS students!

The keynote speakers at this year’s conference were: arch-famous Theoretical Physicist and Feminist Karen Barad from UC Santa Cruz; Professor Penelope Deutscher from Northwestern University; Professor Karen Engle from University of Texas; and Professor Alondra Nelson from Columbia University. They were amazing in four different ways and opened our senses to new realities that we weren’t aware of!

During the Friday session Professor Deutscher read a piece called: “This Death Which is Not One” where she explores a “conversation” between Derrida and Foucault and links both of them to issues such as the death penalty. It was an engaging and challenging talk, it made us think of the philosophers in our department and how they would have enjoyed it (Shannon Winnubst and Ellie Flohn). Later on, Professor Barad used quantum physics to complicate our conception of linearity of time called: “Re-membering the Future, Re(con)figuring the Past: Temporality, Materiality, and Justice-to-come”. We followed Dr. Barad through a presentation that engaged us in subatomic physics and made us think about justice. Professor Barad is also the co-Director of a program called Science and Justice in UCSC. The program is interdisciplinary and it’s aim is to think about justice while doing science, and not after (like it is normally done).

Saturday, Professor Nelson talked about “DNA Diasporas” in a truly interesting talk where she explained how DNA is being used to trace ancestry, by private companies, and how this research has a particularly deep meaning for the African American community. This is partly due to the US denial of ethnic politics to the African American people. Dr. Nelson used as a starting point in her conference the Combahee River Collective statement, to talk about identity politics and to remind us all where things come from. She then moved on to the New York African Burial Ground Project that was found in 1991 and explained how this finding was highly politicized. In the afternoon session Professor Engle’s talk was called: “The Grip of Sexual Violence: Reading UN Security Council Resolutions on Human Security”. In it, she explained three trends in human rights: sexual violence as the quintessential harm of war; criminal enforcement; and the use of celebrities for the cause (celebrity diplomacy she called it).

The conference was fascinating. We met feminists from all over the country and we had the chance to spend the weekend in a great University! We highly recommend the workshop and we are so grateful to the Department for giving us the opportunity to make this trip. We met people from Indiana University who told us that they would love to do the same thing OSU does and sponsor some of their students the next year. So we even inspired another university! – Sara Rodriguez Arguelles-Riva (PhD)

Pictured left to right: Sara Rodriguez Arguelles-Riva, Pheobe Chen, and Erin Tobin


WGSS Graduate Student/Activist Haley Swenson Fights Rape Culture

JANEDOEAbout this time last year, two major stories had put the concept of rape culture front and center in news media around the world. A rape culture is not simply a culture in which rape occurs, but where it has become normalized, and the sexist relations surrounding it have been made to seem unproblematic. The recognition that rape is not a natural or unavoidable occurrence, but one which societies encourage by not taking it on directly, or by even apologizing for it (victim blaming), is one of the most important insights of feminist and particularly women of color organizing over the past few decades.

The two stories that brought rape culture into the public conversation in unprecedented ways last winter were first, a horrific, public rape that occurred in New Delhi, India, leading to the death of a young woman. This incident caused mass demonstrations in India and nearby countries that lasted for weeks.

The other event was closer to Ohio State. The Steubenville rape trial, a trial which never would have occurred had it not been for the diligence of some online activists who brought light to the huge amount of evidence to support Jane Doe’s allegations on twitter and other websites and the evidence of the flip ways in which teens and public officials had discussed the actions of the two men involved.

On the one hand, it was easy to look at Steubenville and see all the evidence one needs that rape culture is real and powerful. In addition to the online culture surrounding the night of the attack, Jane Doe was receiving hundreds of pieces of hate mail, including death threats, during the trial.

But it was also true that there was a parallel story that we as activists could not overlook. Though there were rape apologists, there were also many who refused to look the other way, who were willing to declare enough was enough, and in the case of some of the hackers who brought attention to the story, to risk jail time to expose the injustices surrounding the case.  As feminist activists, we needed to find ways to magnify that culture – to show the presence of people in our society who recognize rape culture for what it is and want to end it.

I was involved in two campaigns last winter to do exactly that.  First, with others in the International Socialist Organization, I helped to coordinate a “Solidarity with Jane Doe” campaign. We set up tables on campus (and others did this in other states), and we printed up postcards that we invited people to come and sign, to share messages of support with her. In the end we delivered about 300 of these postcards to the Attorney General’s office, so he could give them to Jane Doe (so that we did not violate her privacy in any way). These postcards countered the hate mail she received, and they also became a flashpoint to mobilize all those who were feeling disheartened by the case. The messages people wrote on those postcards were incredible, from “I stand with you. You are not alone,” to  “You inspire me.”

Then, inspired by the widespread support this postcard campaign had received, and the countless people who came to us and thanked us for what we were doing, we wanted to broaden the campaign and to remember that Steubenville was not an anomaly. With allies in Women and Allies Rising in Resistance, a fantastic student organization on campus that organizes Take Back the Night each year, we started a tumblr campaign. We took our lead from the very successful tumblr campaign started by feminists at Oxford called “I need feminism because…”

We invited people to tell us why they fight rape culture, and to submit a photograph of them holding up their reason. The campaign gave a human face to the many people fighting for a different kind of world. Some of these submissions have included absolutely damning critiques of rape culture, while others take a more personal tack, including stories about how rape culture has affected them and their friends and families.

We didn’t just get our entries through online submissions, but we set up a table on the Oval for weeks, and encouraged people just walking by to stop and check out the campaign. In addition to finding so many people who were thrilled to see a campaign like this, and to have the chance to voice their experiences, we also had serious conversations with people who hadn’t yet come to understand what rape culture was. “What is rape culture?” many would ask as they stopped at our table and saw others proudly posing for their tumblr pictures.  Soon many would tell us, they too knew someone who had been blamed for their own assault, and they just hadn’t known the word for it.  Many of them would eventually decide to take part in the tumblr as well.

The fight against rape culture has a rich history, and last winter’s surge of interest in this topic in the mainstream media was but one chapter in that long history. Ending rape culture requires nothing less than the fundamental transformation of our society, but big tasks start with small ones. And sometimes, the tasks don’t seem so big when we realize how many people out there are with us in this struggle. – Haley Swenson