women's issues

The Bookshelf: New Library Selections Address Modern Challenges, Historical Context

As local youth return to school, it may be the right time for a little adult homework, as well. The Normal Public Library's latest acquisitions offer a global perspective on the swirling issues that are shaping our society and the historical forces that have shaped our attitudes.

Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics reveals how the battle between feminists and their conservative challengers divided the nation as Democrats continued to support women's rights and Republicans cast themselves as the party of family values. Meanwhile, The Glass Universe offers a prequel of sorts to Hidden Figures' story of Space Age racial and feminist empowerment. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges — Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

Immigration has become a focal point for U.S. debate, community division, and growing alarm. In Latino Heartland, Sujey Vega addresses the politics of immigration, showing us how increasingly diverse towns can work toward embracing their complexity by focusing on one Hoosier community's experience. The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America tells the story of 18-year-old high school senior Isaias Ramos, who plays in a punk rock group called Los Psychosis and is so bright that when his school’s quiz bowl goes on local TV, he acts as captain. School counselors want him to apply to Harvard. But Isaias isn’t so sure. He's thinking about going to work painting houses with his parents, who crossed the Arizona desert illegally from Mexico.

The horrors and triumphs of America's racial history come alive in a trio of new non-fiction selections. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America revisits Forsyth County, Georgia, which at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African-American community that included ministers and teachers, farmers and field hands, tradesmen, servants, and children. Many black residents were poor sharecroppers, but others owned their own farms and the land on which they’d founded the county’s thriving black churches. Then, in September 1912, three young black laborers were accused of raping and murdering a white girl. One man was dragged from a jail cell and lynched on the town square, two teenagers were hung after a one-day trial, and soon bands of white “night riders” launched a coordinated campaign of arson and terror, driving all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty offers another harrowing narrative: In 1957, Washington, a seventeen-year-old simply returning home after a double date, was swiftly arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The young man endured the horrors of a hellish prison system for thirteen years, a term that included various stints on death row fearing the "lightning" of the electric chair. Finally, The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution, focuses on the faces of protest and activism 50 years before Black Lives Matter became a cause. The book offers a reappraisal of the Panthers' history and legacy through portraits and interviews with surviving Panthers as well as illuminating essays by leading scholars.

The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt examines another aspect of American racism and social justice, through the eyes of the co-founder of the American Indian Movement. 

The LGBTQ community continues as well to wage its battle for equality, respect, and recognition. 2Brides 2Be: A Same-Sex Guide for the Modern Bride is designed to help couples navigate the world of lesbian wedding planning with humor and advice from wedding professional on everything from the logistics of walking down the aisle to wording the invites. Born Both: An Intersex Life covers more somber ground -- the turbulent but ultimately triumphant life of Hida Viloria, who was raised as a girl but discovered at a young age that her body "looked different." She felt "scared and alone, especially given my attraction to girls," until at 26, she began to connect with the intersex community.

Women's and Gender Studies Symposium Friday at ISU

The Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium will highlight the student research by WGS minors, Queer Studies students, and other students in the Illinois State University campus community. This year the keynote speaker will be Mariana Ortega.

The annual symposium, now in its 22nd year, will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The symposium showcases the scholarship being done by students at Illinois State University and neighboring institutions. The event is free and open to the public. The symposium, much like

Women’s and Gender Studies discipline, is committed to a transformative analysis of gender as it intersects with class/caste, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, age, coloniality, and transnationality.

Ortega will give the  symposium keynote address “Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow, and Resistant Melancholia” at 1 p.m. Ortega is a professor of philosophy at John Carroll University, who works on Latina feminisms. Her most recent book is In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (2016). Ortega studies questions of self and sociality, identity, and visual representations of race. She will be on campus interacting with Visual Culture students and members of the WGS community during her visit.

The WGS scholarships will be presented at the symposium. This is the inaugural year for the Rhonda Nicol Memorial Book Award. Nicol taught WGS courses in the English department for over ten years. She passed away suddenly last year. The book awards will be presented for the outstanding graduate and undergraduate papers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, History Department, Philosophy Department, MECCPAC: A Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of the President, Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, College of Arts and Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program.

Women's Justice, Empowerment Focus of IWU Symposium

 Illinois Wesleyan University’s Ames Library’s main floor buzzed with energy on Dec. 7, as nearly 100 students from nine cluster courses presented their work during a closing symposium and open house.  

Some had created colorful posters, drawing faculty and peers to their projects covering topics as diverse as child soldiers in a Ugandan militant group, to a local Autism McLean board member.  Others huddled around Chromebooks perched atop the wooden magazine stands, showing visitors their Prezis on African-American women in education. And a group of students in Associate Professor of Political Science Kathleen Montgomery’s “Women and Politics” course held court around a TV screen, presenting a visual “State of the Discipline” talk.

Carole Myscofski, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, said she believes events such as the closing symposium provide an important learning experience for students because the format necessitates a short speech and visual summary of their work.

"Visual Ethnographic Methods" student Tristan Fox '18 (right) worked with Presbyterian minister and writer, Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard, to create a visual metaphor of her life. 

“For some students — the Gateway students, for example — this is the first opportunity to create poster presentations, which is a learning process in itself,” said Myscofski, who is also the McFee Professor of Religion. An open house format provides relatively low-pressure opportunities for students to reflect on their class or a particular research project, to sum it succinctly with both images and words, and to offer their interpretations orally, according to faculty.

Myscofski said she was very impressed by the students’ visual presentations, both on posters and through computerized displays. “The students were well instructed, so credit also goes to the faculty who guided them,” she said. “Many of the presentations featured good graphic design, balancing photos or charts with captions or longer text which explained each element, and helped the viewer understand the core ideas in several ways.”

“I was also impressed with the sheer variety of approaches to the presentations,” she added. “Some students emphasized dramatic photos or charts while providing brief, focused captions, while others offered more textual explanations with images only in supporting roles.”

This semester more than 25 courses were associated with the 2016-2017 intellectual theme Women’s Power, Women’s Justice. Faculty electing to encourage their students to participate in the closing symposium included: Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Nicole Brown, Assistant Professor of History Amy Coles, Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Maggie Evans, Professor of Anthropology Rebecca Gearhart Mafazy, Professor of History April Schultz, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Marie Nebel-Schwalm and Montgomery. Chosen by a working group of faculty, staff and students, each year’s theme is designed to encourage deep thinking and discussion of its many aspects. Next semester more than 25 events associated with the intellectual theme are planned. Follow the theme on Facebook and Instagram

Summer Enrichment Program Eyes Women's Issues

For the 12 students in Illinois Wesleyan University’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), Wednesday became their favorite day of the week.

On Wednesdays the students selected for SEP came together to hear guest speakers, discuss current events and debate questions such as “do women have to possess masculine characteristics to be considered effective leaders?” Students learned about professional development from experts and talked about their SEP internships.

SEP is a longtime Illinois Wesleyan program for students of color and was extended to international students two years ago. The 10-week summer program focuses on academic, professional and personal growth. Participants complete a paid internship, learn from formal training workshops and work together on a service project in order to enhance students’ team building and leadership skills. This year’s theme was “Women at the Intersections” which complemented Illinois Wesleyan’s annual theme of “Women’s Power, Women’s Justice” for 2016-17.

The program’s highly regarded reputation inspired Ayrren Calhoun (Class of '18) to apply. “I just felt like it would be a really good fit for me,” said Calhoun, noting SEP has exceeded her expectations.

A cherished SEP tradition is lunch each week at a different ethnic restaurant in the Bloomington-Normal area.

“It’s a really inspiring and really encouraging program,” said Calhoun, an International Studies major from Homewood, Ill. She said the group interactions during “SEP Wednesdays” opened her eyes to varying points of view held by those from different backgrounds or ethnicities.

Internships are an important component of the program. An aspiring attorney, Calhoun interned at local law firm Allison & Mosby-Scott. She secured the position with the help of her Titan Leadership Program mentor, attorney Matt Majernik (’07). Calhoun said she’s grateful for the opportunity to get an inside view of a legal practice, but has also discovered family law is not the area for her. “I just don’t have the heart for it,” she said of the specialization, “but that’s what the learning experience is about, determining what you like and what you don’t like and following your passion.”

Students also noted they learned from each other. Emani Johnson (’18) said she recognizes that her views as a black woman will differ from those of her peers of a different race, gender or culture. “Everyone has some type of privilege, so it’s been very eye-opening to hear from other people in acknowledging that privilege, whatever it may be. I like the fact that we talk openly about those things,” said Johnson, a sociology major from Berkeley, Ill.

SEP Wednesdays also served as an opportunity for students to lift up each other. On a recent Wednesday, students were encouraged to give a tap on the shoulder to a peer who has had an impact on their lives in some way.

For Hunain Anees (’19), a simple tap on the shoulder turned out to be something that had a tremendous impact on his entire summer. “I was very surprised by the number of taps I received and I felt very happy about it,” said Anees, an accounting and economics double major from Karachi, Pakistan. “I later realized we all can make a change in people’s lives in more ways than we can imagine.”

The 2016 group of SEP participants are:

  • Hunain Anees ’19, accounting and finance double major, Karachi, Pakistan
  • Anuvrat Baruah ’18, economics and financial services double major, New Delhi, India
  • Cindy Basilio ’17, mathematics major, Streamwood, Ill.
  • Shravya Bommaveddi ’18, biology major, Bloomington, Ill.
  • Meri Brown ’18, accounting major, Chicago
  • Ayrren Calhoun ’18, International Studies major, Homewood, Ill.
  • Ruby Garcia ’17, Hispanic Studies and educational studies majors, Evanston, Ill.
  • Guadalupe Hernandez ’18, business administration and computer science double major, Chicago
  • Emani Johnson ’18, sociology major, Berkeley, Ill.
  • Tung Nguyen ’17, International Studies and political science double major, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Nancy Qu ’17, art major, Changshu, China
  • Alani Sweezy ’19, philosophy and political science double major, Chicago

April 28 YWCA Reading Program Aimed at Girl Enpowerment

Take a stand with the YWCA on Thursday, April 28, and help empower young girls of color, ages 4-10.

Stand Against Racism 2016: On a Mission For Girls of Power, a program to empower young women, is scheduled 4-5:30 p.m. at the YWCA of McLean County, 1201 North Hershey Road, Bloomington.

"Together, we’ll learn about Grace and her adventures in Amazing Grace, through a special reading with a volunteer from Reading to End Racism," the YWCA stated. Following the story and discussion, girls will enjoy cookies, a special craft, and taking photos.

Further, parents, teachers, and caregivers are invited to a 4:30 p.m. Amazing Empowerment Session where they can learn tips and tricks to empower "the young girls of color in your life."
Please visit www.ywcamclean.org or contact Christy at cgermanis@ywcamclean.org or 309-662-0461, ext. 253, for more information.

Reading to End Racism’s goal is to raise awareness of the harm racism causes and to help develop skills and strategies to actively counter racism in order to create a supportive and welcoming environment for all children. Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch, tells the story of an optimistic girl named Grace who tries out for the role of Peter Pan even though her classmates think that she cannot be Peter Pan.

Capitol Forum to Offer Global Perspective on Human Rights

ISU's Bone Student Center will host the April 14 Illinois Capitol Forum on America's Future, a year-long civic education program for Illinois high school students promoting "informed discussion about and active participation in human-rights policy issues."

Capitol Forum supports teachers in their classrooms and focuses on human rights concerns worldwide. Collaboration with Illinois State University's History Department allows teachers and students opportunity to benefit from the resources and campus of the University. Illinois Humanities invites high schools – public and private, in upstate and downstate Illinois – to apply for the program.

This year's local participants include Bloomington High School Megan Bozarth and Normal Community High School's Kelly Keogh, as well as ISU Coordinator Richard Hughes.

Keynoting the event will be ISU history Prof. Issam Nassar, who will address the current situation in Syria. Follow-up sessions will address civil rights, military intervention for human rights, sexual exploitation, children's and health rights, and international justice. A series of human rights simulations will complete the day's activities.

Karen: Local Women Affirm 'Common Pursuit of Peace and Prosperity'

Karen Fleming

The 20th Annual International Women’s Breakfast is March 5 at Eastland Suites in Bloomington. 

On this day in the Twin Cities, we affirm our support for women around the world in our common pursuit of peace and prosperity, and come together to learn from each other.”  Soroptimist International of Bloomington-Normal, League of Women Voters, and McLean County India Association co-sponsor this annual event that was started 20 years ago by the American Association of University Women.  Over the years, various women’s groups have participated in the planning and we welcome every women’s group in town to participate.  We are pleased to once again have corporate sponsorship from COUNTRY Insurance. 

What started as an opportunity for a small group of local women to learn about mission trips and programs that support women in other countries, has grown to over 200 women of all cultures coming together to learn about each other and discuss how issues that affect us individually usually affect women everywhere.  This year’s panelists include three local women – Senna Abjabeng of Mid Central Community Action’s Neville House; Hansa Jaggi, Realtor/Broker Coldwell Banker; and Stephanie Wong, Attorney at Law, Skelton and Wong. P.C., with Loretta Thirtyacre as moderator.

No matter where we are from, we are a community and try to make this event about finding common ground and common areas of interest through conversation.  For more information about IWDB, please call 309-454-2513 or email kfleming1973@gmail.com.  Tickets are $25 payable in advance – payable to SIBN and mailed to 1416 Godfrey Drive; Normal, IL61761.

Study: Income Security Key for Formerly Incarcerated Women

Through a sociology class project, Illinois State University Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development graduate students are assisting previously incarcerated women in Bloomington-Normal in regaining their independence and attaining a consistent income.

Through a partnership with Labyrinth Outreach Services, organized by Illinois State Professor Joan Brehm and supported by a Pohlmann Family Development grant, students have been researching issues relating to previously incarcerated women in the community. Caroline Moe, a Peace Corps Master’s International student, maintains that the project is a step in the right direction for this underserved portion of the community.

“Unfortunately, there is significant income inequality and lack of opportunity for those living below the poverty line,” Moe said. “In McLean County, 14.2 percent of the population live below this line, including many of the women Labyrinth serves. This partnership provides an opportunity for us to gain real-world experience in community development as well as feeling like we are actually accomplishing something.”

The 18 students formed two groups: a microbusiness research team and an employment hiring practices team. Despite their grueling school schedules, both teams worked hard to bring hope for these struggling women.

“This project has been a great insight into the collaboration involved in executing community development projects,” said Peace Corps Master’s International student Jessie Linder. “We’ve gotten to network and collaborate with members in many different sectors of the community and gotten to see firsthand how exciting a project can be when you get community members involved. I’ve found that it isn’t nearly as important to have the answer, as it is to figure out what the community’s answer is.”

Some students, like Peace Corps Fellow Nick Canfield, have never experienced formal community development research. Thanks to this all-encompassing project, students like Canfield have been able to broaden their knowledge base in order to serve others.

“Although I had done community development programs during my Peace Corps experience in Pohnpei, Micronesia, I had not worked integrally with a large group toward presenting important and meaningful research to organizations,” Canfield said. “This project is directly geared towards creating methods to answer big questions which have real-world implications, and it has greatly improved my knowledge of research methods, project implementation, and community development.”

The students have been seeking donations to raise $5,000 so that Labyrinth can launch a social enterprise, the Clean Slate Project. The goal of the Clean Slate Project is to empower the women to make positive changes in their lives while gaining valuable professional skills in preparation for transitioning into the workforce. Individuals interested in making a donation should contact Linder.

Linder, Moe, and Applied Community and Economic Development Fellow Mel Johnston-Gross are project coordinators for this outreach effort. “To begin this portion of the project, we had to look at the starting group and the feasibility of this actually working,” Moe said. “This has proven to be very difficult, but we know it will be worth it in the end. Sometimes, it really is the little things like finishing a request for donation letter that really makes us feel good about our work, even when we are feeling overwhelmed.”

The students presented their research findings to Labyrinth December 8 at a public forum.

“I hope the findings will help them to better assist formerly incarcerated women to successfully re-enter society,” Canfield said.

According to the study, incarcerated women tend to be involved in non-violent crimes, have a
history of abuse and/or drug use, and tend to be of a lower socio-economic status. The crimes
women get arrested for most often correspond to their lower social and economic status.

"The racial divisions are also stark," the analysis stated. "One study reported that black women are over seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. On average, women earn lower wages and are less likely to be employed.

The study focused on three key case studies that show how a social enterprise model might work and be successful. The three case studies students chose were the Women’s Denver Bean Project, Thistle Farms, and the Delancey Street Foundation.  All three organizations are applicable to Bloomington's Labyrinth because they focus on similar populations and use a social enterprise model.

The study focused on three key case studies that show how a social enterprise model might work and be successful. The three case studies students chose were the Women’s Denver Bean Project, Thistle Farms, and the Delancey Street Foundation.  All three organizations are applicable to Bloomington's Labyrinth because they focus on similar populations and use a social enterprise model.

"Chronic unemployment may be explained in part by a lack of educational attainment which
keeps them from being competitive for living-wage jobs. One study found that less than half of
the incarcerated women in the study had completed high school. The implication for women reentering the community is a return to the same social circumstances
which influenced their original criminogenic behavior."

Empowerment Institute Sept. 19 at Heartland

Early bird registration is now open for With My Girls Empowerment Institute, a network/education program designed to help women "move your goals and dreams forward" Sept. 19 at Heartland Community College.

The theme is Getting Started: Taking the First Step Today for a Better Tomorrow. The program will include sessions on four issues: Career and Entrepreneurship. Health and Quality of Life. Financial Empowerment. and Overall Self-Awareness and Self-Management

Individual tickets are $20 for students and $45 for non-students. Sponsors include McLean County YWCA, Illinois State University, and Soroptimist International Bloomington-Normal.

For information or to register, visit www.withmygirls.com/empowerment.