“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The patriarchy has got to go,” echoed through St. Thomas' St. Paul campus during the Feminist Community’s annual Take Back the Night event April 23. Entwined with sounds of clanking spoons, pots and pans, participants in the march repeated chants to the beat of their feet.
Other chants included, "no more silence. No more violence," and a definition of consent: “sober, verbal, continuous and enthusiastic yes.”
The goal of the international march and rally, which was part of Sexual Assault Awareness Week, was to raise awareness of sexual violence and advocate that people, especially women, should be able to walk alone at night without fearing victimization.
In addition to Take Back the Night, the week included the Clothesline Project and a showing and discussion of “The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men,” a film that highlights gendered violence. The Clothesline Project is an international advocacy movement in which decorated T-shirts are hung on a line to bring attention to sexual assault. The shirts create a public art piece that honors and remembers victims of sexual violence.
The Feminist Community, known colloquially as FemCom, is a student-run activist group that strives to create an inclusive and supportive community at St. Thomas. The group promotes gender equality and, as co-leader Madelyn Larsin ’15 said, “focuses on the '-isms' that intersect feminism: sexism, racism, ableism, heterosexism and more.
“(We are) a group of people really trying to change the college culture to be more inclusive and inviting to everyone in the community,” Larsin said.
Combating the stigma around the term “feminism” is a main goal, along with promoting an inclusive, loving and equal St. Thomas community. They work with other justice-oriented groups as well as campus services such as the Dean of Students Office to accomplish their mission.
Larsin is joined by Emma Kopp ’17, Morgan Schreurs ’15 and Shannon Twiss ’17. The quartet of co-leaders teaches and encourages FemCom members and other St. Thomas students about acceptance and using appropriate language.
“People are going to use the wrong language or get ideas misconstrued, but what we try to do as a group is kindly correct those slip-ups and hold each other accountable while still remaining supportive of each other,” Kopp said.
Thanks to a collaboration between FemCom and other St. Thomas contributors, FemCom members stick to a declaration titled “Goodbye to All That – St. Thomas.” The goal of the campaign is to say “goodbye” to inappropriate and harmful behavior people may not be aware they are doing.
This includes saying goodbye to believing freedom of speech negates accountability, because FemCom states racist, homophobic, ableist, sexist or body-shaming jokes and comments must end. The co-leaders believe everyone is responsible for the way their words affect others, even if their intent was not malicious.
The declaration includes saying goodbye to the notion one person’s voice isn’t loud enough, or that one person can’t make a difference. It means bidding farewell to thinking survivors of sexual assault were “asking for it,” proclaiming adieu to the belief appearance defines character, declaring so-long to neglecting mental health and saying goodbye to taking educational opportunities for granted.
Making disability visible
This school year, FemCom decided to broaden its focus to also raise awareness about invisible disabilities such as anxiety and depression. Schreurs organized an ad hoc committee, which Kopp will take over after Schreurs graduates.
The committee focused on what faculty and staff around campus can do to help students with invisible disabilities maneuver through the university and how to help them succeed. Part of the committee’s teaching will include workshops.
“I don’t think invisible disabilities are talked about enough, especially at the university level,” Kopp said.
Their first disability roundtable, held in mid-April, was a success with engagement and participation from those who attended. “The students, faculty and staff that attended had a supportive and constructive dialogue about what it is like to have a disability that is invisible to everyone around you,” Larsin said.
What’s in a name?
FemCom begins its weekly group meetings by having each person introduce themselves by their names and gender pronouns. This creates familiarity among members and makes sure no one is misgendered. “It helps make the space a little safer,” Kopp said.
FemCom members are encouraged to share stories from the week of good or bad experiences with inclusion. Affectionately known as “rants,” the co-leaders invite discussions with the question: "Does anyone have any rants?" Rants can be positive or negative, and help foster conversation about FemCom’s ideals.
“This provides a safe and constructive place to voice frustrations and concerns about the campus culture as students have experienced it,” Larsin said.
Kopp encourages anyone to attend FemCom meetings. The co-leaders believe their message is for all, and that each student can help spread it. “I think there’s a lot of stereotypes about feminism and feminist ideals, but it’s important to remember that feminism is for everyone and is fluid,” Kopp said.
"There’s all sorts of feminisms, but I think that everyone can agree that sexual assault, rape and other gender-based violence is a huge problem on college campuses and that the only way we can make a change is through solidarity and intervention.”
Larsin said her ultimate goal is to eliminate sexual assault on college campuses. “This is going to take a cultural change to accomplish, but I am confident that the students at St. Thomas can rise above rape culture,” she said. “That's what our events are all about.”
Larsin believes change must come from students, whether they are an official part of FemCom or not. If each person participates in creating this new culture, we may truly be able to “say goodbye to all that.”