September 14, 2017

LIEBERMAN | Finding Support through Policy Changes in Grassroots Feminism

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Sometimes I’m still shocked. I know that I should be used to it. I tried to wipe away my fretful tears on the morning of November ninth and devote myself fully to becoming a better ally to groups that would be inevitably threatened by the impending Donald Trump presidency. This probably should have meant preparing for the worst, but sometimes I’m still shocked.

Last Thursday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos divulged her plan to reverse an Obama-era Title IX guidance that strove to protect survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Her cited grievances included lack of protection for students that have been accused of sexual assault.

After supporting two dear friends through sexual assault cases, I’m appalled that DeVos could ever justify such an action.  In my mind, it is so clear that the survivors are the ones who deserve our increased support — not the accused. I challenge Betsy DeVos to look sexual assault survivors in the eye, to tell us that she is more concerned with the future of our attackers — the futures of those who, in many cases, nearly ruined our lives.

I don’t always feel like the archetype of an angry feminist, but lately I do. The anger feels so justified that when it is queried, I falter. The question always comes hard and fast. It has a sideways smile, and it looks like my friend until it feels so differently.

“What are you? Some type of feminist?”

Feminism isn’t as mainstream as I often foolishly believe. I acknowledge how lucky I am to be able to share my views without fears of violence or disadvantage. I’m privileged in that I’m able to forget, if even for a moment, that even the simplest tenets of equality aren’t regarded as universal values. I work to be more cognizant of this privilege every day.

If the worst I have to face after declaring my intersectional feminism is a few angry emails, I understand that it is my responsibility to keep declaring — to declare DeVos’s treatment of Title IX as an utter disgrace; to declare reproductive freedom a human right; to declare that I will stand with my trans brothers and sisters and my nonbinary siblings; to declare that Black Lives Matter; to declare that we must defend DACA; to declare that feminist issues are human rights issues.

So, yes. I am some-type-of-feminist — an imperfect one but doing my best to get better every day. Whether through taking Introduction to Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies or participating in an activist group, this campus provides many opportunities for growth.

A bedrock of support and knowledge at Cornell is the Women’s Resource Center, located in Willard Strait Hall. I believe the Center is underutilized, and while I spent the first part of this column talking-the-good-talk, I want to walk-the-good-walk, too: I want to share the ways in which the Women’s Resource Center, through its inextinguishable dedication to intersectional feminism, can help students and their organizations. It is important to point out that the Women’s Resource Center does not just serve women but, instead, people of all genders. They make it felt and known that everyone is welcome.

In uncertain political times like these, it is crucial to take care of ourselves. I hope by providing some information about a safe haven, I can help students do just that.

  •   The director of the WRC, Laura Weiss, is a confidential victim advocate. I wish more students knew that they could come to her. Especially in the wake of the Title IX news, Laura Weiss is an invaluable addition to our campus community.
  •      The WRC provides free condoms and free tampons. This might seem like a small thing, but if you are ever caught on campus in need of one of these items, well, it can feel like a big deal. You can drop by the office, located near the EARS counseling center. The Executive Board holds office hours here during the week.
  •      The WRC does not stand alone. It offers co-sponsorships to other organizations around campus that share a similar mission, providing monetary support through a simple and fair application process. The WRC is closely tied with Planned Parenthood: Generation Action and Consent Ed.
  •      The WRC hosts “Feminism Food for Thought” every Thursday at 6:00-7:00 p.m. at Flora Rose House. This opportunity offers a facilitated, friendly discussion of feminism over a completely free meal.
  •      Recently, the WRC executed the “Worth a Shot” campaign, which helped vaccinate over 1,000 students last year against HPV, improving the climate of sexual health on campus.

Although these are impressive accomplishments and important programs, I still sometimes feel discouraged when I juxtapose it with the breadth of power and oppression we are facing from our current administration. I bring up the WRC not as an end-all-be-all solution to the problems we are facing — but as a source of hope. Small organizations, like this one, add up to make a population of people that will stand against racism, sexism, ableism and transphobia in this country. Here’s to silver linings and all they have left to bring.

 

Sarah Lieberman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at slieberman@cornellsun.com. Blueberries for Sal appears alternate Thursdays this semester. 

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  • crydiego

    I once considered myself a feminist and I still believe in it’s earliest tenets but today I am a Men’s Rights Activist. Men and women are not meant to be enemies and I would like to talk with you about the changes taking place today, if you care too.

  • Jay Wind

    I have read this column four times and I can still not find the “changes in grassroots feminisim” that the author is advocating. The column jumps around too much. The Obama Administration merely sent a “Dear Colleague Letter” instead of conducting a notice-and-comment rulemaking regarding student-on-student sex issues under Title IX. Now that DeVos is proposing to consider the issue in the proper way and giving all of the public a chance to comment before a policy is adopted, we are to assume that the result will be “an utter disgrace.” However, the author offers no reasons to back up her opinion. Handling student-on-student sexual disputes under Title IX has resulted in several lawsuits against Cornell for mishandled cases. If the author believes in human rights, she would insist that Cornell be allowed to establish procedures for handling such complaints that treat both the man and the woman with equal dignity, respect and fairness.