Student Activism at Purdue: Dana Smith and Caleb Pirtle for Student Government

Since all of you are working on your final Community Action projects, I thought you could use a little inspiration from other student activists at Purdue who are working to create change by running for Purdue Student Government on a progressive platform that highlights many of the issues that student activists, particularly members of the Purdue Social Justice Coalition, have been working on for the past couple of years.

Dana Smith is a WGSS minor at Purdue. Do you notice anything feminist about her campaign?



Purdue Students Plan Teach-Ins on Sexual Assault

Over the last month or so, a group of Purdue graduate and undergraduate students have been collaborating to plan a series of teach-ins addressing sexual assault. The idea for the teach-ins was sparked when students learned of two sexual assaults that occurred on or near the campus at the very beginning of the semester. Many of the students were dismayed that one of the reported assaults took place in a rather public spot on the campus near a residence hall.

Purdue students’ efforts are taking place amidst active protests on many campuses around the nation, and amidst a national discourse about the ways in which many universities have failed to protect their students, particularly young women (though sexual assault and sexual violence can affect a person of any sex or gender).

The teach-ins will address three critical areas of sexual assault that relate to college students and particularly to Purdue’s campus:

  1. Myths about sexual assault and legal definitions and protections, including Title IX.
  2. Rape culture and victim-blaming; and
  3. Resources lacking on Purdue’s campus and the student demand for a rape crisis center and better support for survivors of assault.

The teach-ins are free and open to any member of the Purdue or Greater Lafayette community. The first teach-in will be held tomorrow, March 12th, at 6:00pm, in EE Rm 270.



The teach-ins, held once a week throughout March, will culminate in a Take Back the Night rally at Slayter Hill on Thursday, April 9th around 8:00pm.

Currently, the events are being sponsored and organized by student members of the Purdue Social Justice Coalition, the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Purdue, the Feminist Action Coalition for Today (FACT), and a new student organization to support survivors of sexual assault called Sara(V), or Students Against Rape and Violence. Students have reached out heavily to the Greek community, including both sororities and fraternities, which is a significant community at Purdue.

Please consider sharing this post and the image of the flyer above with any person or organization you think might be interested.

More on Women in Academia: Sexy…or Cerebral?

Can women be both date-able (that is, attractive) and cerebral? Stereotypes tell us no, as Dr. Eileen Pollack commented during her campus lecture when she spoke about the still-abysmal numbers of women in STEM fields.

Popular sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory don’t necessarily help, using the female characters, for example, to place an unequivocal divide between desirable attractive women like Penny and the smart women like Amy.

Penny (left) and Amy (right) from sitcome "The Big Bang Theory" reinforce stereotypes of women in science.

Penny (left) and Amy (right) from sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” reinforce stereotypes of women in science.

About a week ago, during Halloween, received quite a lot of attention via social media when several women in academia responded to the sale of Delicious brand “Lady PhD” costume.

"Women's PhD Sexy Darling" costume, sold on this Halloween causes quite the stir among women academics.

“Women’s PhD Sexy Darling” costume, sold on this Halloween causes quite the stir among women academics.


But the women who commented on the costume didn’t shy away from having great fun while conveying what they thought about the PhD Sexy Darling” look. An article on featured a selection of the satiric responses and reviews posted by women academics:

“First things first, I am a lady Ph.D. Like all lady Ph.D’s, I frequently ask myself: ‘How could I be sexier?’ Delicious costumes has come to my rescue! I can now lecture in my 5 inch gold spiked heels and ‘barely there’ regalia while giving nary a thought to the male gaze and it’s implications on the prevalence of rape culture in our society. I fully expect my chili pepper rating on RMP to go through the roof once I begin to greet my students in this costume. Hopefully I can keep my post structural hegemony’s from engaging in some wardrobe malfunctions. Then again, who cares? I’m sexy! Forget about the 7 years I spent sweating out a dissertation and engaging in innovative research! SEXY!!!!”

“I spent 6 years working hard to get my PhD, which was extra hard because I am a lady, and it hurt my ovaries to think so much. After obtaining this advanced degree, the only position I could secure, like the majority in my field, was an adjunct position teaching for less than $2000 a course. Then I got this LadyPhD regalia and my life immediately changed! My department, full of esteemed and very prestigious senior male tenured faculty, saw me walking in the hall, invited me into the department meeting, and right there on the spot, immediately voted to make me a TENURED FULL PROFESSOR. Sadly, the next morning, I found out it was NOT a faculty meeting that I had wandered into, just professors having an office cocktail party and I was not tenured after all. I WANT MY MONEY BACK. I have student loans to pay off!!!”

So what do such representations of smart women in STEM fields, and in academia in general, tell us about femininity and intelligence? Despite the increasing numbers of women entering college, why do we continue to see performining femininity and acting on our intelligence as incompatible?

What do the images of women at Purdue, as a STEM-heavy, male-dominated campus, tell us about women…or about smart women? The images below appear in the Marriott Hall Lavazza cafe and were voted on by students in the HTM major:

Marriott 2


Marriott 1


If we want to address this issue, one thing we must examine is the ways in which women are socialized that make them vulnerable to accepting such behavior and representations and, in some cases, hesitant or afraid to confront them, lest they call attention to themselves as one of the few women (or African Americans or Latinas) in the room (or major). Women are generally raised to be more quiet and more polite. One study revealed that men were over 80% more likely to interrupt their female colleagues than their male colleagues.

Whether intentional or not, the impact and cumulative effect of such behaviors can be profoundly discouraging.

The Huffington Post featured an article exploring this phenomenon, titled “10 Words Every Girl Should Learn” , and offering a simple way to challenge the behaviors of men or women who might discourage, interrupt, or otherwise talk down to women and minorities, particularly in the workplace.

Purdue’s “This is Engineering”: Looking at the Disciplines Through a Feminist Lens

Last spring (2013), Purdue’s Office of the President footed the bill for the “This is Engineering” video, which is now posted on Purdue’s website. The video, which features a group of Purdue engineering students rapping to the music of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s hit song “Thrift Shop,” came under some fire recently.

Put on your feminist lens, watch the video, and see if you can understand why, after listening to Dr. Eileen Pollack’s lecture on Tuesday.




Now read the editorial from the Journal & Courier written by a Purdue graduate student, Aria S. Halliday and Professor of American Studies Bill Mullen, both from the Purdue Anti-Racism Coalition (PARC). You might also check the comment feed on the video that directly attacks the editorial, as well as Aria, though remember a white man also co-authored the letter (he’s never mentioned in the attacks). What’s also interesting are the attacks on the academic discipline of the writers, who both hail from the College of Liberal Arts.

Feminist Dialogues: bell hooks’ Interviews at The New School

bell hooksIn preparation for bell hooks’ visit to Purdue next week, I’ve posted links here to two of her recent interviews, part of her current (and second) residency at The New School. During next week’s Tuesday lecture, Dr. hooks will respond to student questions, which means that you all have the opportunity to shape the conversation with this prominent feminist, writer, and scholar. The following interviews, in addition to the assigned reading, should help you come up with some provocative questions.

In the first interview here, bell hooks speaks with trans actress Laverne Cox, who stars as Sophia on the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. The second interview is perhaps the most controversial. hooks sparked much debate and controversy on this panel when she equated Beyonce with an anti-feminist “terrorist,” despite Beyonce’s recent claims that she is, in fact, a feminist (see Beyonce’s much talked about performance at the VMA awards this year). hooks’ comment arose out of a larger discussion with activist and author Janet Mock about Black women’s bodies and the impact of Beyonce’s music and image, in particular, on young women and girls.





In a post on The Root, the author summarizes the controversial conversation between hooks and Mock:

“I see a part of Beyoncé that is, in fact, anti-feminist—that is, a terrorist—especially in terms of the impact on young girls,” hooks said.

The writer and scholar raised a question about whether Beyoncé had control over her image on the Time cover.

“Let’s take the image of this super-rich, very powerful black female and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover—that image,” said hooks.

Mock spoke in Beyoncé’s defense, arguing that Beyoncé was likely in full control of her image. “I would argue she chose this image, so I don’t want to strip Beyoncé of choosing this image—of being her own manager.”

In hooks’ eyes, Beyoncé not only may not have been in control of her image but was a slave to it.

Now might be a good time to review bell hooks’ definition of feminism, as well (handed out the second week of class), which sheds some light on her analysis of Beyonce above:

“Feminism is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels -sex, race, and class, to name a few – and a commitment to reorganizing U.S. society, so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”  (1981)



The Problem with Breast Cancer Campaigns

This morning, I opened my email and saw this, sent courtesy of Hungry Boiler at Purdue:

Cup Size Matters

Who's best interests are being served by such campaigns?

Who’s best interests are being served by such campaigns?

From a feminist perspective, what’s the problem with such campaigns, despite what seem like good intentions (i.e., breast cancer research).

There’s a theme here, as with other “cutesy” campaigns that attempt to make breast cancer a crude joke (e.g., the pun on “cups” here).

For starters, a huge part of the problem with such campaigns is that breast cancer isn’t fundamentally about “saving boobs,” but about saving women’s lives. And what kind of message does this send to women about why they should get regular breast exams? The message here makes getting a breast exam into a frat boy joke, some sort of titillating exercise where a woman protects her “boobs” because she wouldn’t want to lose them (never mind her health or her life). But of course, for those who are diagnosed, breast cancer isn’t funny at all.

The other problem, of course, is that breast cancer can also be found outside of a woman’s breasts, for example, on the chest well or pressed against the ribcage. Perhaps most harmful of all is the fact that such campaigns – pushes for “creating awareness” that start with preventative tests that can be prohibitively expensive for many women without insurance – prevent us from looking for underlying causes, like environmental pollution, industrial agriculture, and a diet of increasingly process and genetically-modified foods – all of which contribute to rising rates of all cancers.

Healing our Purdue Community

A candlelight vigil was held for the TA, a senior in the College of Engineering named Andrew, who was shot and killed on campus on Tuesday.

A candlelight vigil was held for Andrew, a senior working as a TA in the College of Engineering, who was shot and killed by a gunman on campus Tuesday. Students filled the College of Engineering Mall despite the cold.


It will no doubt take all of us some time to come to terms with what happened on our campus on Tuesday. In the wake of this frightening event, I strongly encourage anyone who would like to talk about what happened and/or how they are feeling to utilize the resources below. Counseling is available on campus at the following locations:

Office of the Dean of Students

Schleman Hall Room 207  |  (765) 494-1747


Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

PUSH Room 246 and PSYCH Room 1120  |  (765) 494-6995


A More Feminist Halloween: Rethinking Costumes

Halloween is nearly upon us! Unfortunately, along with the usual witches, monsters, and superheroes, it’s also common to see some of the following costumes, especially on a college campus. This campaign – “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” – targets costumes based on racial stereotypes that make perennial appearances at Halloween parties and asks all of us to rethink what we’re unwittingly reinforcing when we wear them (even if our intentions were just to have fun).

Think back to Chimamanda Adichie’s talk “The Danger of a Single Story” from the beginning of the semester. How do each of these costumes capture her point?



photos for poster


Read about actor Julianne Hough’s poorly-thought-out Halloween costume, which included blackface. She dressed as one of the characters from the TV show “Orange is the New Black.”

Julianne Hough sports blackface as one of the characters from "Orange is the New Black" for her inappropriate Halloween costume this year.

Julianne Hough sports blackface as one of the characters from “Orange is the New Black” for her inappropriate Halloween costume this year.


Like Jason Alexander, whose lengthy and well though-out apology we read earlier this semester in our unit on derailing, Hough issued her own apology on Twitter. Now that you’ve learned about derailing, what do you think of Hough’s apology? Is it as successsful as Alexander’s? Why or why not?

Stopping Human Trafficking: Campus Conversations & Upcoming Events

traffickingBeginning on November 2nd, Purdue will be host to a week’s worth of events aimed at stopping human trafficking. Although we haven’t explicitly discussed this topic in class, Adrienne Rich does mention human trafficking (specifically sex trafficking) as one of the methods used by those in power to maintain the powers of men (see “Compulsory Heterosexuality…”). The events will include  informational talks, a documentary screening (hosted by Marie Kellemen from the YWCA, who spoke with our class earlier this semester), and even guided prayer.

For a complete list of the events and their times and places, check out the Stopping Traffic: Breaking the Chains of Human Exploitation Facebook page.


Want to know more about human trafficking, including who it affects and what forms it takes? Listen to this eye-opening episide of the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. The show features Sophie Hayes, the author of the memoir Trafficked, who went on to create the Sophie Hayes Foundation to stop human trafficking. Hayes was a victim of human trafficking herself.

Students Fight Back Against Campus Rape Culture just published this article, “Why Naked Pictures Aren’t Harmless,” that discusses not only the growing comfort with which young men on college campuses, particularly members of fraternity culture, openly express their misogyny as a means of male bonding and as a joke. As we’ve discussed in class, these behaviors that fuel a wider rape culture hurt not only young women, in very obvious ways, but they harm, young men and destroy relationships between men and women before they’ve even got started.

But here’s the GOOD NEWS: the article also addresses the ways that students on these campuses have been fighting back – and successfully too. Click the link above to read more about how students taking action to protect their rights has made strides in educating others and sending a loud, clear message that campus rape culture will not be tolerated.

An image from the "Pink Loves Consent" campaign by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which spoofed Victoria's Secret ads (the real VS campaign featured panties with messages like "Unwrap Me"), in 2012.

An image from the “Pink Loves Consent” campaign by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which spoofed (and challenged) Victoria’s Secret Pink ads (the real VS campaign featured panties with messages like “Unwrap Me”), in 2012. For more on the movement, visit