Congruency

16 Oct

Congruency has also forced me to reconcile my past. I hold a lot of shame about my past, in terms of my lack of and poorly constructed ideas of feminism. In high school two students raped a student from another high school. There were different versions of what happened circulating, however that shouldn’t have mattered. I should have believed her. But I didn’t, I thought that “if two people are drinking then no one is at fault”, “they didn’t know how drunk she was”, etc. Those ideas do not represent who I am or what I believe today. They didn’t represent who I was or what I believed nine months after I thought them. I’ve struggled with this for a long time because I’ve always felt that because I once felt this way my feminism is less than, it’s not good enough, it’s an easier target for anyone who wants to belittle feminism as a phase or “something for sluts”. However, while I still feel a lot of shame for those ideas, my current congruency has little to do with my past. It’s about recognizing what I believe now, and carrying out my life and daily actions in such a way that mirrors those beliefs.

The activity that we did a few weeks ago not only sparked a new fire in me to be more congruent in my future but it allowed me to visual that those thoughts I once I had are not going to stop me from achieving what or changing the world. I did have to recognize the hurt and pain that I caused. The shame and guilt that I casted on her, even if she didn’t know my name or who I was specifically by not standing with her I was standing against her. However those thoughts did not make me ideas on feminism any less important or valuable. It forced me to realize that in order to be more congruent I don’t have be more accepting of ideas that promote an unsafe environment for oppressed people but I have to more conscious to hate the idea not the person; because I was once that person.

WILL has allowed me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the fact that people are not created perfect; that as humans, we have to go through the pain of self-discovery in order to realize where we need to change or continuing developing.  I’m so grateful to be surrounded by a group of individuals who come together to create an open and loving environment for one another as we navigate who we are and who we want to become.

Cierra Carter is a first year WILL member.

Struggling with Consciousness of Self

9 Oct

During the first couple WILL meetings this year we have focused on the Social Change Model. While I feel that I have heard about the social change model before this time it seemed to really strike a chord. So far, we have focused on the individual components of the social change model, consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment. I have learned that these key individual components are essential to the progressing with the group values as well as the societal values. Here lately, I have realized that I have been struggling with my consciousness of self.

Consciousness of self basically means being aware of your values, emotions, dreams, and ideas. I view this component of the individual part of the social change model as the most important, and the component that leads someone to the other two, congruence and commitment. Without a consciousness of self, someone cannot know if they are congruent to their beliefs and that makes it really hard to commit yourself to something bigger.

Lately, I realized I have been allowing what I do to become who I am. I found that I have been pushing back the need to discover myself and instead replace that with the things that I need to get done; whether it being work, school work, volunteer work, really anything to make me not have to think about myself. Many times I use being too busy as an excuse for things. I am tired of doing that. WILL has helped me realize that who I am and what I believe in really does matter and is actually incredibly important to the impact I will eventually (hopefully) make on the world.

The activity that was facilitated by two of our wonderful WILL members is what made me realize that I really need to wake up. In the activity we needed to draw a picture that represents our dreams, values, beliefs, and goals. While I didn’t have a hard time coming up with my dreams and goals, I seemed to always have known sort of what I want to do with my life, I struggled coming up with my values and beliefs. While I have some core beliefs, I do not really know what is really important to me outside of those. What do I value in myself and in others? What do I want to be like as a person and what traits do I want to have? This activity got me thinking and realizing that I have been putting this discovery off for way to long. Without WILL, I would have never realized all the growing I still have to do.

I haven’t quite figured out my next step from here, but it definitely entails taking a step back from life. It entails allowing me some time for personal growth and discovery. I also believe that WILL, and the members of WILL, will be a huge part in this growth.  This community is someplace where personal stories and personal growth is valued and I am so honored and pleased to be a part of such a loving and supportive community.

Stephanie Sollanek is a second year member of WILL.

Personal Growth

2 Oct

The social change model. I have heard it discussed many times throughout my now three years in WILL. But I ask myself, am I changing? Is this model something I even want for myself?

As I began my WILL journey I could see myself growing and changing as an individual, becoming more confident in my leadership abilities, questioning of what is to be masculine and feminine (umm, do we even need labels?), and even learning to claim the word feminist for myself. I gladly helped facilitate an activity at our second WILL retreat when our new members joined us. But as I reflect on my current WILL journey and experience as I begin my senior year I am not sure how I feel about my growth in WILL particularly the with the social change model and activism components.

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I enjoy going to WILL every Monday and seeing all the wonderful people who are a part of the group. I always love taking time at the beginning of our meetings to listen to the highs and lows in everyone’s lives. But our second “official” meeting of the semester struck a different chord with me. It was time for us to learn about the social change model… again. The social change model is a big part of WILL that I do think it is important for the new members to understand it and learn what it is. But for myself, a returning WILLer, I viewed it as a chore to listen to the model being described. Personally, I am confident in WILLer’s abilities to read the given information outside of our meetings about the social change model. For myself, learning about the social change model each year is repetitive and I wonder; is it the social change model allowing me to grow?

One thing we are doing better in WILL this year, is finding more ways to bridge theory and practice. For me, that means helping to plan a feminist campus event this spring. I think this can be a good opportunity for me to grow, as a person and as a leader, in my feminist leadership. But I also wonder is this project going to allow me to grow? Does this  feminist campus event have a common purpose that I can align myself with and firmly stand behind? Am I willing and able to find the time and effort to put into the project?  Am I biting off more than I can chew with the weekly time commitment?

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I enjoy having my WILL time and being a citizen of WILL. I do find myself learning as we have talked about cultural appreciation and the use of abilist language. But I also find myself wondering, is WILL still a place where I am growing and changing? Do I need to take a step back and check myself to see the benefits? Am I embracing the social change model and looking for ways to grow, or am I going through the motions to keep my head above the water.

Katie Britt is a senior. This is her third year in WILL.

Grappling with Cultural Appropriation

25 Sep

Rewind to two Sundays ago. I was walking down Clifton Ave to the Edge House, as I do every week. All of the sorority houses along that row were flying banners and the sorority members were wearing costumes that went with the banner’s theme. I saw a circus-themed sorority and one about striking gold. The whole thing seemed sort of cheesy, which I’m sure is part of the charm. I really don’t know a lot about sororities and fraternities, but as far as I could tell it was Rush week for the sororities (at least the white sororities). Then I saw that one of the sororities had a dream catcher on their banner. Huh! I said to myself. There is a real-life instance of The Textbook Example of Cultural Appropriation. Which was funny to me, because I was just explaining what “cultural appropriation” is to my friend Charles, and I used the example of the dream catcher.

It’s very difficult for me to define cultural appropriation succinctly, but I’ll try: cultural appropriation is when something that is important to a subordinated culture is taken by the dominant culture. The dominant culture does not fully understand the nature of the thing they are taking. The dominant culture does not ask permission. Because the dominant culture has more power, they do this very hurtful thing, often without even realizing what they’re doing. They don’t mean to be hurtful, but their actions cause harm. It’s important to consider power, history and colonialism when we’re thinking about cultural appropriation.

So I saw the dream catcher on the banner, noted to myself that cultural appropriation was alive and well in my life, and went about my day.

Fast forward to this Monday. I went to the WILL meeting and we started talking about how we can have group discussions during the week, about hurtful and oppressive things we find in our lives and communities. We decided that we would have group discussions on Blackboard. I’m blown away that the WILL community is willing to go out of their way to have discussion on Blackboard, rather than Facebook, in order to include me. I was also blown away to discover that Sara had posted about the dream catcher banner on the WILL Facebook page and my WILL groupmates had been having a passionate conversation about cultural appropriation! Recall that I simply noticed and dismissed that example of cultural appropriation. I thought my only other option was to complain to my friend Taylor. “Ugggghhhh,” I’d say. “Cultural Appropriation!” She’d agree with “Uggggghhhhhhhhh!” And that would be that. But I’m a part of a community that wants to have conversation about oppression in our lives! I’m so excited for WILL. J

Now it’s Tuesday, and I’m doing research. Jack very kindly sent me a transcript of the Facebook conversation and the links that they posted to the WILL Facebook group. I’ve been reading blog posts and articles about cultural oppression. I’ve been trying to educate myself. This was the post powerful and informative one I read, I highly recommend it: http://apihtawikosisan.com/2012/01/the-dos-donts-maybes-i-dont-knows-of-cultural-appropriation/

I felt challenged by the author to examine my own perpetration of cultural appropriation.

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(Photo credits to my lovely brother, Andrew Kutcher.)

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(Photo credits to me.)

These are some pictures of me wearing a necklace I bought when I was in high school. The pendant is a tree with the branches and roots woven together, so they completely encircle the trunk of the tree. It looks like a Celtic knot made out of a tree. It appealed to me because I love trees and tree symbolism is very important to me. I’ve had this necklace for more than four years and last year it occurred to me that I could be participating in cultural appropriation by wearing this necklace. I felt conflicted, and I made a half-hearted attempt to do some research into the matter. I stopped wearing it as frequently, but I didn’t get rid of it. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to confront the situation further.

I knew that now was a perfect time to confront the matter. So I did a bit of googling. I wanted to find the history of the Celtic tree-knot symbol, and a couple of opinions about the cultural appropriation of it. It was much harder than I expected. (I should probably say, at this point, that I don’t feel I am very good at research. None of my conclusions are Truth, they’re an attempt to find some truth.) I couldn’t find anything about the history of this symbol. I found a Wikipedia article about the significance of different kinds of trees in Celtic spirituality, I found another Wikipedia article about the Tree of Life in different cultures around the world, but nothing about the Celtic version of the Tree of Life. I did find this very interesting blog post about the cultural appropriation of ancient Irish spirituality by neo paganism. http://theirishatheist.wordpress.com/tag/culture-appropriation/

Neo Paganism and cultural appropriation is a subject I know almost nothing about, but I’m certain this one facet of the issue is not enough to understand what’s going on. However, this blog post suggested to me that at least some of the neo pagan things claiming to be part of ancient traditions are actually made up. “Most of the pagans left little, if any record of their religious practises. One can find the odd fragment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but other religious traditions left no trace of themselves in our histories. The druids of Britain and Ireland never wrote down their practises. So how do the pagans and Wiccans carry on the traditions that they claim?” After reading that, I thought about the fact that I couldn’t find any pictures of historical examples of this tree-knot symbol. There are pictures of historical Celtic crosses, and other Celtic knots. Is it possible that Americans (or someone) had taken the idea that trees were sacred in Celtic culture and the Celtic knot design and just pasted them together? Is it possible that this symbol has no historic basis at all?

It seems likely to me.

And now I feel like a stupid white person. I didn’t just take something without asking, I participated in the fetishization of a culture without understanding that culture. But it’s not about me. The blogs and articles I’ve been reading, courtesy of Jack, have helped to make that clear to me: cultural appropriation is not about me seeming cool or stupid. Cultural appropriation is about how my actions can hurt the people around me, even without my knowledge of it. By wearing this necklace and promoting this symbol, I’ve helped build an inaccurate picture of Celtic culture. I’ve said that it’s okay for Americans and others to create a fictional version of Celtic culture, and make money off that fictional version, and own that fictional version.

And that’s shitty of me. And I’m sorry.

What can I do to help build a world where we seek to understand other cultures first, and then ask permission before we borrow from them?

Hannah Kutcher is a junior in Liberal Arts, minoring in Fine Arts and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, with a certificate in Creative Writing: Poetry. This is hir first year in WILL.

 

THE CLIMB

4 Apr

To be honest, writing this just seemed like another thing to check off of my to do list. I have been dreading the idea of writing a blog post…coming up with a good topic and conveying a message worth listening to. Then, in an instant, I new exactly what I wanted to write about.

This past summer I spent my time working as a camp counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. That experience is something I will never forget. This camp atmosphere is hard to put into words…magical, inspiring, amazing…life changing. This past weekend I went back to my home away from home and instantly felt reconnected to the place I had fallen in love with.

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Recently I have been feeling disconnected with those around me and with myself. The ins and outs of life have me feeling like a robot on repeat. And I felt as if I was running out of power. But upon my arrival at camp I began to feel recharged. The new and old faces around me, the laughter and the smiles, and the seclusion from the outside world, gave me the energy to feel inspired again. These kids do not have all the advantages that I have. They all have health issues ranging from mild to severe, some come from underprivileged homes, and others are unable to attend school because of their health. Yet, when they arrive at camp none of that matters anymore. Everyone is a family, the people you have known for years and the people you just met. Race, religion, sexuality, politics…none of that matters, and for 48 hours we all focus on just letting kids be kids.

Now, of course, this didn’t happen instantly when I arrived at camp. We arrive, get settled in, and meet the family we will be paired with for the weekend. At first, its awkward small talk, but by the end of the weekend you are best friends. The young girl in my family is ten years old, finally old enough to climb the rock wall at camp. However there is a slight problem…she is afraid of heights! Yet she grabbed a helmet, learned the rules, and got set to climb. As soon as she heard the words “climb on” up she began to climb without hesitation, taking the first steps into unknown territory. I am sure there were plenty of terrifying thoughts running through her head…she could fall, she could miss a rock, she could get scared…ultimately she could fail. Yet she kept pushing on and what happened next sent chills up my spine.

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When she would stop and think about coming down, her belayer would urge her on and tell her the next move to make. And when that didn’t seem to be enough encouragement, the ENTIRE gym began giving her words of encouragement, shouting out to her. This went on for awhile and people kept up the support, they didn’t get bored, tired, or move on to other activities. Twice, the young girl came down, took a break, and then tried again. And in the end she didn’t make it to the top, but she sure was very close!

She was supported, encouraged, and loved by those who knew her and by those who didn’t. I think everyone in the gym that night got a glimpse of a better world that could be…a world in which everyone is lifted up to higher places. No one rushed to the other ropes in attempt to race her to the top, no one told her to just give up, and no one talked down to her. Everyone gave her the strength of words to push herself to new heights.

If a world like this can exist between strangers in a new place, why can’t our lives and the world around us look more like this? Everyone who watched her climb that night made a special connection with each other and with her. Life isn’t a race or a competition; there is no first place winner. Instead of getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, we all need to remember what matters to us. And while we are at it we need to consider others and what they need from us. Without the support and love she received, she probably wouldn’t have made it as high up as she did. Just think about those around us who need an extra lift – imagine what they could do if they were supported in the way this young girl was.

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Stacey Masur is a third-year Nursing and Spanish double major and a second-year WILLer.

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