Women’s studies takes on social justice issues this spring

The range of topics for events being hosted by the Women Studies program this spring is diverse. With events that cover issues such as masculinity in American films to issues of environmental preservation, Linda Markowitz, director of women’s studies and professor of sociology and criminal justice studies, and other women’s studies faculty plan to educate and enlighten men and women at SIUE.

Linda Markowitz, director of women's studies and professor of sociology and criminal justice studies.

“Our goal is to make women’s studies issues visible on campus and we have defined [women’s studies issues] very broadly because we think that issues of gender can’t be separated from issues of race, issues of the environment, issues of class and other kinds of social justice issues,” explained Markowitz. “The calendar really reflects that – my interest in trying to broaden the meaning of women’s studies.”

The first event on the Women’s Studies Spring 2011 calendar is a presentation by Laurel Smith Doerr, associate professor of sociology at Boston University. The presentation, “The Intersecting Production of Scientific Knowledge, Gender and Ethical Issues,” will take place on Feb. 8, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., in Peck Hall, room 0306.

“Some professors [at SIUE] received a grant to essentially promote more women in the sciences,” said Markowitz. “One of the tasks they have to do is to invite academics who are specialists in attracting women into the sciences. So, Dr. Smith Doerr is going to be here talking about gender and the construction of knowledge.”

The unifying theme for all of the events on the women’s studies calendar, according to Markowitz, is issues of social justice.

“For example, this semester I looked for someone who is an environmentalist,” said Markowitz. “We found a builder named Benjamin Lowder who built his own home out of all recyclable material. He is going to come and talk about how he built his home.”

Markowitz explained that environmentalism is both a women’s studies and a social justice issue for several reasons.

“It has to do with the treatment of the earth and the treatment of our resources and laborers,” said Markowitz. “This is related to women because all across the world women are often doing work that is devalued and that could be very harmful to their health. By thinking about how to be more green and sustainable, we’re thinking about how to treat people humanely and how to treat the earth with respect.”

Lowder will speak at SIUE on March 1 in Peck Hall. Later in March, Sonya Satinsky, assistant professor at the University of Kansas, will offer an intriguing look at obesity and health issues particularly as they relate to representations in media.

“[Satinsky’s] research is about how the media focuses on obesity problematically instead of really focusing on people’s health,” said Markowitz.

Obesity is both a racist and feminist issue, according to Markowitz, and the media’s role in framing obesity is a critical one.

Another critical issue that the Women’s Studies program plans to address this semester is sexual assault on college campuses. During Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Week, April 11-15, women’s studies will host a series of events centered on bringing awareness to sexual assault on college campuses. Markowitz hopes that such awareness can translate into preventing sexual crimes.

“Women’s studies, along with (SIUE) Counseling Services has been working really hard at trying to think of ways to make sexual assault awareness more salient for students,” said Markowitz.  “ … we want to create a safe place for not only women and men to be able to report sexual assault but to also be able to say no.”

The event calendar will close with “Beyond Borders: Identifying and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States” on April 21 in Peck Hall. Erin Heil, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice studies is slated to speak.

“Dr. Heil is actually doing research right now on human trafficking. She’s been to Florida trying to get access to people who are being trafficked and who are enslaved right now (in Florida),” said Markowitz. “She is going to be talking about human trafficking in the United States because we often think that that happens somewhere else and it’s actually happening here.”

Markowitz believes that the efforts made by the Women’s Studies program will benefit students, faculty and SIUE as whole.

“In my opinion, the purpose of a university is to encourage critical thinking and to encourage lifelong learning…” said Markowitz. “The only way we can do that is by promoting and exposing students to different ideas.”

A full list of events is found on the Women’s Studies program’s homepage; all events are free and open to the public.

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