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(Dis)course

(Dis)course is a semester-long ongoing dialogue to discuss relevant issues of gender in society, while bringing to the forefront the work and teachings of VT faculty members. By engaging with both traditional texts, as well as contemporary text, such as film, new media, etc., curated by our faculty partners, we are creating a modern day virtual book club and discussion series that fosters community, is intentionally intersectional, and contributes to and engages with gendered issues.

This program has been developed in partnership with faculty including Dr. Andrea Baldwin, Dr. Bonnie Zare, Dr. Katalin Parti, and Cheryl Montgomery as well as other campus and community partners.

group of students sitting around a table talking


Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, including the Haitian Revolution, the US civil rights movement, and LGBTQ rights and feminist movements, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist. This book provides a vision for how social justice movements can become sharper and more effective through principled struggle, healing justice, and leadership development. It also offers a flexible model of what deeply effective organizing can be, anchored in the Chicago model of activism, which features long-term commitment, cultural sensitivity, creative strategizing, and multiple cross-group alliances. And Unapologetic provides a clear framework for activists committed to building transformative power, encouraging young people to see themselves as visionaries and leaders.

In a misguided attempt to avoid another Columbine, in ‘zero tolerance’ states like Texas, Florida and California, police forces armed with guns and pepper spray have been patrolling hallways, monitoring playground activity and enforcing classroom discipline. As a result, each year hundreds of thousands of school-age children have been arrested, fined or incarcerated for ‘offences’ such as chewing gum, being late for class or talking back to a teacher. Many are absorbed into the criminal justice system, their records forever tarnished, their future prospects forever diminished. Critics claim that the school cops go too far, that instead of dealing only with genuine criminal behaviour, they have criminalised normal childlike behaviour in a cynical money-making move. Have American schools become a pipeline to prison?

Watch here for free on YouTube.

Discussions around this documentary cover a range of topics, such as violence, police brutality, school shootings, and others. While we hope to have meaningful and relatable conversation, our bi-weekly discussions are not a space where we can provide therapy, legal counsel, or specific advice for meeting your unique needs around bias, violence or, trauma.  To report a bias incident, please contact the Dean of Students office at 540-231-3787 or use the reporting form found at dos.vt.edu. If you are in need of identity based support, connect with the Cultural and Community Centers at ccc.vt.edu or 540-231-8584. If you have questions, concerns, or needs related to your mental health and well being, please contact Cook Counseling at 540-231-6557 for more information. You can also make an appointment for Advocacy at the Women’s Center via email to wcsupport@vt.edu or contacting our office M-F 8-5 at 540-231-7806.

Brittney Harris is an Assistant Professor of Theatre in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts. Her areas of expertise are in Race and Performance, Theatre for Social Change, and performative community-engaged programming. She explores how performing arts can point out attitudes and societal mindsets and can be used to engage audiences and help them reflect on current conditions and potential for change.

Throughout the Southeast regions of VA, NC, DC, and GA, Brittney has created several community engagement-based projects and conducted workshops on solo performance development, theatre of the oppressed, and devised theatre for the past 10 years. Currently, she is workshopping and touring her two solo performance projects, The Intersection: The Sandra Bland Project and Being B.A.D.; each project explores the adverse effects of violence in social media on the personal psyche and how narrative-based storytelling is used as a vessel for social resilience and redemption.

Her work has featured at several national interdisciplinary conferences and fringe festivals, including the Mid-America Theatre Conference (MATC), Asheville Fringe Festival, Women’s Theatre Fringe Festival of NC, and Black Theatre Network.

As created by Brazilian theatre visionary and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Augusto Boal (1931-2009), Theatre of the Oppressed (T.O.) is a form of popular community-based education that uses theater as a tool for social change. Originally developed out of Boal’s revolutionary work with peasant and worker populations in Latin America, it is now used all over the world for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building, therapy, and government legislation. It is also practiced on a grassroots level by community organizers, activists, teachers, social workers, cultural animators, and more.

With a fearless look at a highly charged subject, STRAIGHTLACED unearths how pressures around gender and sexuality are confining American teens. These stories reflect a diversity of experiences, demonstrating how gender role expectations and homophobia are interwoven, and illustrating the different ways these expectations connect with culture, race and class.

From girls confronting media messages about body image to boys who are sexually active just to prove they aren't gay, a fascinating array of students opens up with brave, intimate honesty about the toll that deeply held stereotypes and rigid gender policing have on all our lives.

Watch here for free on Kanopy. 

Disclosure is an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. Leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, share their reactions and resistance to some of Hollywood’s most beloved moments. Grappling with films like A Florida Enchantment (1914), Dog Day Afternoon, The Crying Game, and Boys Don’t Cry, and with shows like The Jeffersons, The L-Word, and Pose, they trace a history that is at once dehumanizing, yet also evolving, complex, and sometimes humorous. What emerges is a dynamic interplay between trans representation on screen, society’s beliefs, and the reality of trans lives. Reframing familiar scenes and iconic characters in a new light, director Sam Feder invites viewers to confront unexamined assumptions and shows how what once captured the American imagination now elicits new feelings. Disclosure provokes a startling revolution in how we see and understand trans people.

Watch on Netflix. 

Invisible No More is a timely examination of how Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color experience racial profiling, police brutality, and immigration enforcement. Placing stories of individual women—such as Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Dajerria Becton, Monica Jones, and Mya Hall—in the broader context of the twin epidemics of police violence and mass incarceration, it documents the evolution of movements centering women’s experiences of policing and demands a radical rethinking of our visions of safety—and the means we devote to achieving it.

Out in the Night is a documentary that tells the story of a group of young friends, African American lesbians who are out in the gay friendly neighborhood of New York City. They are all in their late teens and early twenties and come from a low-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. As they and their friends walk under the hot neon lights of tattoo parlors in the West Village, an older man sexually and violently confronts them. He says to Patreese “let me get some of that” as he points below her waist. When she says that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “fuck them straight”. He spits and throws a lit cigarette. Renata and Venice defend the group and a fight begins, captured by security cameras nearby. The man yanks out hair from Venice’s head and chokes Renata. Then, Patreese pulls a knife from her purse and swings at him. Strangers jump in to defend the women and the fight escalates. As the fight comes to an end, all get up and walk away. But 911 has been called and the man involved has a puncture wound from the knife. Police swarm to the scene as their radios blast out warning of a gang attack.

The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Three of the women plead guilty. But Renata, Patreese, Venice and Terrain claim their innocence. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media. In activist circles they become known as The New Jersey 4 (NJ4). Through the lives of these four young women, Out in the Night reveals how their race, gender identity and sexuality became criminalized in the mainstream news media and criminal legal system.

 

Watch here for free on Kanopy. 

This course provides students with a foundational understanding of key questions, issues and debates regarding the African American experience and the field of African American Studies. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach (e.g., sociology, Africana Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, anthropology, and philosophy), students will explore how race as a social construct intersects with other identities including gender, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc., and how these have been institutionalized to produce very specific outcomes for African Americans over time.

Students taking this course will examine how African Americans have historically responded to institutionalized discrimination and marginalization (e.g. enslavement and Jim Crow). They will engage with the distinctive experiences of African Americans through an analysis of cultural phenomena such as music, dance, and literature (including afro-futurist & surrealist works); institutions such as religion, and the family; community, educational and economic organization; and political movements for racial and social justice.

The course begins with a broad overview of the meaning and definition of race in the United States, linking this to an understanding of institutionalized global capitalism. Students will also explore transnational and diasporic linkages to others of African descent, with particular reference to the Caribbean and Latin America. Also paramount to this course is understanding the concept and practice of self-care as important to Black survival and Black liberation. 

In this course taught by Dr. Katalin Parti, we examine the complex relationship between educational institutions and the juvenile justice system. Readers learn about factors that contribute to juvenile delinquency, how schools can prevent and manage juvenile delinquency, and how individuals can leverage resources other than police or justice systems in response to behavioral concerns. Each week we examine a specific topic and demonstrate how the topic intersects with school systems and juvenile justice systems. We will explore poverty and its impact on school readiness; the school-to-prison pipeline; racial and gender disproportionality in school discipline practices; and police presence in schools. Students will learn about the juvenile justice system, the concept of peer mediation in reducing conflicts, strategies for reducing school violence, and anti-bullying programs.

Learn more. 

The world death toll from the pandemic is topping 2 million. The uneven reactions of law enforcement to various forms of protest is being scrutinized. Some of those with race privilege are seeking to understand the persistence of systemic racism, how black and brown bodies are consistently prone to systematically worse treatment. Gender issues seem to prevent many female leaders from running for office or successfully gaining seats in a proportion similar to their demographic presence. Dr. Bonnie Zare's course will teach you about addressing these imbalances and to be active and cover the following objectives:

  • Recognize there are many different kinds of activism and feminisms
  • Study the intersectionality of activist movements (for instance, relating to racial justice, reproductive rights, and other examples)
  • Help with an already existing local event (The Clothesline Project sponsored by the United Feminist Movement and the Women’s Center)
  • Join a new tutoring initiative to help 3rd-5th graders at Christiansburg Elementary during this challenging time for schools and parents
  • Consider the place of the university in enabling (or not enabling) activists
  • Challenge the binary opposition between scholarship and activism

Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies examines our understanding of gender and the intersections of sexuality, class, and race in the production of social meanings, identities, relations of power, and representations in society - in our communities and around the world. We examine how gender impacts many spheres of life - income and pay inequality, the persistent problem of gendered violence, reproductive health care, laws and justice systems, representations of gender in the media and culture, persistent problems of discrimination based on gender and other identities. As is customary for the field of WGS, the approach is inter-disciplinary and transnational, paying attention to the history and evolution of ideas and movements relevant to WGS.  

This course covers a range of topics including, but not limited to the history of Women's and Gender Studies as an academic discipline, feminist theories, systems of privilege and inequality, the social construction of gender, and the ways societal institutions construct and reproduce social inequality. 

This course utilizes an interdisciplinary, decolonial approach to engage with changing understandings of time, space, and justice. Engaging past and present examples like Harriet Tubman, Nanny of the Maroons, feminists involved in contemporary movements for social justice, and many others, the course demonstrates how feminists have been able to reshape our understandings of liberation and what it means to fight for freedom and a more just future for all.

VirTual Safe Zone is an online 5-week intensive course with weekly readings, writings, and a live discussion lab. The curriculum is meant to assist with the development of content knowledge.

  • The course curriculum delivers basic information to begin your development of content knowledge.
  • The readings are meant to help deepen your scope of the topic.
  • The discussion board reflective writings provide the opportunity to explore your thoughts, feelings, and questions.
  • The live discussions engage you in conversation with one another and allow for questions to be proffered to the group.

Learn more about VirTual Safe Zone and register for the  Spring sessions here

Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect the quality of their lives. Virginia Organizing especially encourages the participation of those who have traditionally had little or no voice in our society. By building relationships with individuals and groups throughout the state, Virginia Organizing strives to get them to work together, democratically and non-violently, for change.

Learn more and get connected to the New River Valley chapter.