Gender organizations frustrated by lack of unity

by Allyson Bennett | 11/17/06 6:00am

Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series that examines gender dynamics at Dartmouth. This part focuses on campus organizations that discuss gender relations at Dartmouth and in society.

During her freshman fall, Kathleen Breeding '08 read a history of gender relations at Dartmouth in Women and Gender Studies 10, and has tried to address what she views as an unbalanced gender dynamic on campus ever since.

Breeding joined Mentors Against Violence, which is one of several organizations on campus that seek to foster a healthy gender environment. These groups, which also include Sexual Assault Peer Advisors, the Women of Color Collective, the Center for Women and Gender, Women and Leadership and the Women in Science Project, have largely female memberships.

While these organizations said they believe they fill an essential role at Dartmouth, many have expressed dissatisfaction with what they describe as a lack of cohesion across the different groups.

"I feel like there's no one unified network of women here," said Danielle Strollo '07, who currently interns at the Center for Women and Gender. "In general there are no activist women's groups that talk about how women are unequally represented in society as a whole, nonetheless in Dartmouth."

Strollo and some leaders of other groups said that discussion about gender was incomplete because conversations overwhelmingly occur among women. Many women said men lacked spaces of their own specifically designed to discuss gender issues and that they felt men were hesitant to participate in groups that seemed geared toward women.

Although the Men's Project sought to provide a forum for men to explore issues of masculinity, it is no longer active. Xenia Markowitt, director of the Center for Women and Gender, said that the College decided not to hire a replacement after the last director left Dartmouth because of uncertainty about student interest in the program.

Markowitt also stated that many of the Men's Project's goals are currently fulfilled by MAV, which said that it incorporated the Men's Project mission statement into its own goals in order to secure funding. Approximately two-thirds of MAVs, however, are women.

"Just as women feel more comfortable talking about women's issues with women, men probably feel more comfortable talking about guys issues with guys," Strollo said. "I think men need to be able to claim masculinity and to talk about what is acceptable for a guy to do in college and in the world, and how it's okay not to have this stereotype, and not to have to feel macho and not to have to denigrate women to feel like a man."

Many of these predominately female groups say that their events are very well attended, with the Women in Leadership's weekly dinner discussions attracting approximately 50 students per week, according to organization member Amie Sugarman '07, but they also articulated their belief that the Dartmouth community as a whole does not pay enough attention to gender issues.

"I think with Women of Color Collective and groups like it, [our] goal is never realized to the full extent because the people who tend to come are a very limited audience," Women of Color Collective Co-Chair Azuka Anunkor '09 said. "I wish that more people attended all of the wonderful groups that exist. I would like to see a more interactive student body, and by interactive, I mean interaction among groups and organizations and across racial line and class lines and gender lines and sexual orientation lines. It's hard when the core Dartmouth body isn't really present."

Anunkor emphasized, however, that while she believes that current gender relations are not ideal, she hopes that a more equal gender dynamic will eventually prevail.

"I think we're a long, long way away from a point in which groups such as the Women of Color Collective are no longer needed, but I'm really optimistic," Anunkor said. "I hope that we as a society, and we as Dartmouth students, however many generations from now, can come to a point where groups that discuss societal problems are no longer needed because society has reached the point where all people are just understood, appreciated, valued and accepted."

Many groups stated that to reach the ideal Anunkor described, groups on campus that focus on issues of gender must be able to effectively coordinate their actions and increase the entire student body's level of awareness.

The Center for Women and Gender, which was founded in 1988, supports many of these groups and hopes to provide a way for them to coordinate with each other and to inform the greater Dartmouth community of their actions and events.

It also runs its own programming, including peer-on-peer healthy sexual decision-making events like the Sex Fest, in addition to the Visionary in Residence program, which seeks to bring people to campus who can increase understanding about issues of gender and identity.

Some of the programs run through the Center for Women and Gender such as the Women of Color Collective, aim to provide a forum for the discussion of how the intersection of gender and race affect identity.

"Our goal is to give voice to an alternative Dartmouth experience, one that often isn't talked about and often isn't visible, to make it known to the wider Dartmouth community that there is no one specific Dartmouth experience." Anunkor said. "Our goal is to talk about race. Our goal is to talk about class. Our goal is to talk about all the things that shape what it means to be a woman."

The Sexual Assault Peer Advisors and the Mentors Against Violence, also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender, seek to address the issue of sexual assault on campus.

SAPA primarily acts as a resource for victims of sexual assault and encourages conversation about issues of sexual violence.

MAV, on the other hand, tries to prevent sexual violence by facilitating discussion about all forms of violence on campus and how gender is constructed, according to Skye Zeller '07, a member of MAV's steering committee. MAV works with various social groups on campus, such as fraternities, sororities and sports teams to try to make students feel comfortable discussing these issues.

"We have presentations on ways in which violence is played out on campus and ways in which you can address it before it becomes something bigger. You learn how to deal with situations and about masculinity and femininity and how that plays into violence on campus," Breeding said.

Additional groups operate outside of the framework of the Center for Women and Gender.

The Women in Science Project, which is one such organization, seeks to encourage women to enter the fields of science, math and engineering, which many consider to be male-dominated.

Mary Pavone, the current director of the Women in Science Project, argues that fewer women enter the fields of science, math and engineering because they lack female role models and are socialized to avoid these disciplines.

"[Men and Women] are brought up differently," Pavone said. "A little boy gets encouraged to take something apart, to go explore. We treasure and nurture little girls to the point where some of them don't risk trying something new. And the thing about science and math is that it takes a little bit of risk to try something you know nothing about."

Through mentoring, helping students gain laboratory experience and introducing students to professional women working in science, engineering and math, WISP aims to encourage women to seek careers in the hard sciences and to create a community of Dartmouth women who pursue these fields.

"We're really hoping that what we offer is going to help women thrive and not just survive," Pavone said. "By having this community, by having the ability to make connections with faculty and with their peers, those are the things that strengthen each individual's experience at Dartmouth."

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