Major requires activism

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April 10, 2007

12:50 PM

“Activists everywhere take to the classroom.” That’s the philosophy supported by the College’s women’s studies department, which is making activism a part of its curriculum and redefining the practice in the process.

p. Sophomore Katie Dixon is one student taking advantage of this opportunity. Dixon and a group of classmates chose to tackle the issue of body image on campus, to “dispel the notion that all women are or want to be model thin,” according to Dixon’s professor, Jennifer Putzi.

p. “We decided to try to find the female stereotype believed by most undergraduate women to define [College] women, and then take photographs of women of all sizes for a display with statistics and quotes,” she said.

p. To implement this project, Dixon and her group surveyed a number of campus groups, ranging from sororities to service organizations. Questions asked girls their current weight, their ideal weight and their concepts of the typical College female.
The project is a major assignment in intro to women’s studies, a class required for all women’s studies majors.

p. It requires students to implement an activism project that addresses a major issue facing women on the college or community level. But it was students, not faculty, who demanded that activism become more central to the women’s studies major. Students are now addressing the history of activism and its role in the women’s movement as part of the intro level class.

p. “I think it is incredibly important to learn activism in a classroom,” Dixon said. “Before I took intro to women’s studies, it was very difficult for me to find things I was passionate about defending and I certainly wasn’t sure how to go about defending them.”

p. Activism was a central component of the women’s movement of the 1970’s in the United States. Women’s studies is a discipline rooted in this history, making it a field of study “inseparable from feminist activism,” according to Putzi.

p. “We’ve lost touch with this as a movement, I think,” Putzi said. “And our students are forcing us to rethink this relationship again. They are finding that doing quality activism requires good research and planning. Many academics find that doing good research often requires activism as well. It just makes sense to me to teach both.”

p. Dixon believes that a new brand of activism has arisen in recent years. It’s a more quiet and open-minded form of activism with grassroots origins. As Dixon sees it, these new activists defy stereotypes that portray the activist as one who relies on “in your face tactics” to make her point.

p. Dixon’s activist, on the other hand, is neither boisterous nor narrow-minded.

p. “[Activists] listen and accept both sides of any argument, and I think that is what makes them great activists,” Dixon said.

p. “Activism is simply finding a cause you care about and doing something to change the way it is perceived or the way the cause is,” she added. “It is in marches and megaphones, but it is also, more and more, in seemingly quiet men and women and quiet classrooms and organizations, in petitions [as seen in the Wren Cross controversy] and classroom projects like the one being implemented for women’s studies.”

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