On Friday, September 25, I joined Prof. Farrell, Prof. Schweighofer, Stephanie Crespo and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department to take 51 students on a bus trip to New York City. The students were primarily WGSS majors or minors and students in WGSS classes, including mine. Students were divided into two groups. Group 1 started their time in the city with a women’s history walking tour, Opening the Way, presented by Women’s eNews, a non-profit news organization focused on stories by and about women and girls. They then visited the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art to view an exhibit about AIDS.
My group, Group 2, started our time at the Brooklyn Museum to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, a permanent installation in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The piece was created in the 1970s and works to recuperate women’s history. Although I knew the story of The Dinner Party, and had seen pictures of it, it was so moving and impactful to see it in person. There are 39 women commemorated with place settings, and hundreds more listed on the floor of the installation. As the docent said, the settings are visual portraits of each individual woman, with sculpture and other media and designs specific to their contributions. After our tour of The Dinner Party and a quick look at the amazing A Little Taste Outside of Love by contemporary African-American artist Mickalane Thomas, we had time to wander the museum on our own.
Our group then proceeded to Women’s eNews for our turn at the women’s history walking tour which focuses on 21 women who made history and the NYC sites related to them. It was exciting to learn new information and stories about people I know of, like Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Nelly Bly, and Frances Perkins. I was also particularly grateful to hear the stories of Victoria Claflin Woodhull, her sister Tennessee Claflin, and Margaret Sanger – all of whom are present in Marge Piercy’s novel Sex Wars, about which I’m writing.
Our groups reconnected for an evening event which was for many, I think, the highlight of our trip. We had the opportunity to see the 2016 Tony award-winning musical The Color Purple. I have read and taught Alice Walker’s novel multiple times. To see it as a musical on Broadway was a special and unforgettable treat. When Celie asserts “I’m here,” despite all the individual and societal efforts to diminish and break her – well, let’s just say it’s a powerful moment.
Although it was a long day (we left campus at 7:00 a.m. Friday morning and returned at 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning), the trip was a great opportunity to strengthen and build relationships with students and colleagues, to learn and grow, and to enjoy. Building community, acknowledging women’s accomplishments, enjoying women’s creative production, learning more about social change and activism — this is part of what feminism is about.
Written by Donna M. Bickford, Ph.D., Director, Women’s and Gender Resource Center