Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 12: Transgendering Bryn Mawr

samuel.terry's picture

I. 2:25-2:35: coursekeeping
sign in sheet
homework over break-->
I'll read/respond to your papers;

by 5 p.m. on the Sunday when you return (10/20):
you'll post a mid-semester course eval on what's working/
what needs working on, in this class:
what have you seen?
what have you done?
what's your interaction been (with texts, with your classmates and prof)?
what are you (still) hoping for?
...we'll spend some classtime, in the week when we return,
on discussing needed adjustments.

if you haven't posted comments on essays by two of your classmates, you still owe us that
(@ midnight last night there were 16, and there should be 48...)
this would also be the point in the semester, if you are short on other postings
(once/week except when you have a larger "web event" due--5 to date, plus the 5-pager) to catch up...

on the day we return, we will have two more visitors:
Clare Mullaney BMC '11, and Kevin Gotkin, both grad students @ Penn,
leading a workshop on the "crip classroom","crip time," and "excessability" --
this is working the connections between gender studies
and disability studies that I was talking about Tues.

in preparation, read another essay by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
[who did the piece on "staring"]:
her 2007 Reshaping, Rethinking, Redefining: Feminist Disabilities Studies.

and also a brand new essay, forthcoming in next year in Disability Studies Quarterly,
by me and Clare Mullaney, On Being Transminded: Disabling Achievement, Enabling Exchange,
about how disabling high achieving women's colleges can be (an earlier title
was "Alternative Feminisms....")

two more looking-forward announcements:

on Thursday of that week, we'll be reading an essay by another feminist disability studies scholar,
Ellen Samuels, who will also be giving a talk @ HC @ 4:30 that afternoon [this one's for Shaina!]
Conjoined Reality, Conjoined Representation: Watching Ourselves Watching Abby and Brittany Hensel

...conjoined twins born in Minnesota in 1990, have starred in television documentaries and reality shows on the TLC network since the age of eleven. These television appearances arguably come the closest to reliable self-authored life narratives by conjoined twins yet produced in American culture. Yet they also involve a combination of voices, perspectives, and editing decisions that nuance any simplistic understanding of the shows as purely autobiographical or self-created. By analyzing how these television appearances have been staged and narrated, their production and distribution conditions, and the compelling moments when the Hensel sisters directly address issues of self-representation, this talk explores the complicated questions of ethics and agency that arise in contemporary representations of extraordinary bodies.

also! GPWSC is bringing Heidi Hartmann to the Greater Philadelphia area. Heidi is the President of the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research, an organization she founded in 1987 to meet the need for women-centered, policy-oriented research.  She is an economist with a B.A. from Swarthmore College and graduate degrees from Yale; she's also a Research Professor at The George Washington University. 

she will giving a lecture @ BMC @ 4:15 on Tuesday, November 12,
"Tracing Gender Impacts from the Recession and Recovery." After
the talk, the Econ, Poli Sci Depts. and the Gender Studies Program
are sponsoring a dinner @ Wyndham, w/ me, David Ross, Marissa Golden--
and we can accomodate 10 students. Is anyone here interested?
Might you be? Let me know--seating will be competitive!

II. 2:35-2:55
for today, I asked you to read and respond to one another's papers;
get into working groups for 20 minutes to discuss and compare them...
return to large groups: what's it like, to talk w/ your classmates about
their written work, and its intersections w/ your own?

III. 2:55-3:15
So: on Tuesday, we began discussing the question of the pressure that
transmen (may?) put on the category that is women's colleges.
When Sam
and I discussed the class afterwards, we shared our sense that there were some
amazing silences in the room--questions you must have had, things that must
have been "thinking" here, but were not finding their way into voice. So we
came up w/ two exercises that are intended to highlight, in turn, what is lost
when we are silent, and what happens when we speak.

[I'm thinking here of Laura Swanson's wonderful memo--where she said that "it is less 'pushing one out of their comfort zone' and more 'embracing risk taking and vulnerability' that I witnessed. And risk taking, especially
when it involves examining the idea of self, needs the proper context where one can transform vulnerability
into strength."]

Write down everything that is important to you.
Be as specific and detailed as possible.
Make the list as long as you can. What are your defining characteristics? What is essential to who you are?

Now, let's talk about the three essays written over the past couple of years by BMC Gender Studies students.
The only rule is that you cannot mention anything that is on your list. You can only speak "off-list."
This is an exercise about what might happens when
the things that are most important to you CANNOT BE SPOKEN
[let's hear about some of these things--what are they?]

Let me give you a couple of sentences to respond to/to see our discussion:

[from aybala:]
* The definition of women has changed drastically since the beginning of Bryn Mawr College....Women at [the founding of] Bryn Mawr worthy of education were rich and white. The school has always been very selective....

[from Title IX Implications of Trans Inclusion:]
* [women's colleges] are allowed to discriminate on the basis of achieving a legitimate civil rights objective.

[from Amophrast:]
* Bryn Mawr College, statistically speaking, is a women's college that excludes women....BMC is not a
sanctuary for women seeking higher education, but ...a business...BMC only admits certain kinds of women.

* trans* students are generally more accepted at Bryn Mawr than at other colleges and universities

* Would Bryn Mawr be a more inclusive place for women if it wasn't labelled as a "women's college"? becoming more specialized/exclusive a way of producing inclusivity?

* I am not sure if it's possible to have a college that would create a "safe space"
for women ...and yet still have the same credibility as other colleges.

What's happening here?
Demonstrating how censoring our identity can impact our ability to
say what we think/push our thinking/connect on a personal or academic level.

IV. 3:15-3:45
Our counter-exercise highlights the privilege of silence/the luxury of not speaking.

This one seems much riskier to me, so I want to frame it.
I think we are ready to try this w/ one another:
we've been working on identity issues together for a month now, and
many of us really went to a place of vulnerability with our self-portraits.

Write in response to the questions I am going to read. At the end of 10 minutes,
we will go around and read our responses. No one will have the option of not speaking.
[This is the risky part--I've never done this sort of writing exercise
w/out allowing folks the option to pass!...
but our goal here is to say that it's not okay for a more vulnerable or threatened population--
in this case, transmen--to struggle in public w/ questions that matter to all of us, while the
rest of us get to sit and watch and think in silence. Fear and politeness often paralyzes class
discussion @ this "ladies" college that is BMC; women's colleges were created--and are still relevant--
because they  offer access points for real engagement in our education. I know it will feel hard/
fearful for many of us to do this: writing our views about transmen when we have a transman
among us. But: if we don't say what we think--how will we learn something else/more?

So: let's try this:
* Does the existence of transmen problematize the identity of a woman's college?
Why? How? Why not? How not?
* Do transmen revoke their citizenship in the category "women"?
* Do transmen revoke their citizenship in the community of a woman's college?
Why do you think so/think not?
* Can transguys enjoy the benefits of that "safe space" without compromising it for female-identified people?
* How do you conceptualize the experience of transmen, generally--and/or @ a woman's college?

Go around and read what you wrote.
Let's process this: what are learning?...hoping to demonstrate both the difficulties surrounding the (often perceived) obligation to speak and have that voice exposed or be representative of a (minority) identity;
but also some of the clarifying things that might be said, if we don't censor ourselves...

IV. What might Bryn Mawr's future be?

If you were a member of the college's "Transgender Task Force" --
imagine yourself as an admissions officer, a student Traditions Mistress,
a science prof who has devoted her life to the education of women scientists--
what might your agenda be?
How could you think about admissions policies, traditions,
the traditional educational mission of the college?
Would you focus first on accomodations? On educating the current population?
How would you begin doing any of these things?
Might you be willing to draft a statement for the College's website?

currently: First-Year FAQS answers the question
How does Bryn Mawr treat transgender students?"

Bryn Mawr's admissions policy as a women's college is to admit female students only. If it is not clear that an applicant to the College is female, we would approach the situation on an individual basis to gain a better understanding of the student's circumstances. However, our policy to admit female students only would not change.

How an individual self-identifies in terms of gender, or any changes in self-identification while a student is enrolled here are personal matters and not something the College tracks. Our students tend to be exceptionally accepting of each other’s differences, and the faculty, staff, and administrators try to create as healthy and supportive an environment as possible for all of our students.

What emerged?
* a series of statements (a mantrafesto??)
* a series of questions? or
* some provocative musings....

Would you be willing to post these on Serendip?