Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Politics and Policy of Race and Gender

As soon as I saw the Politics & Policy of Race & Gender course taught by Director Tiffany Speaks, I immediately enrolled. As a graduate student, I was excited to enroll in a course that pertained specifically to my undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies. In the end, it would be one of the best course decisions I’ve made!

After the introductions and the sometimes painstakingly task of finding something unique about yourself, the class started immediately. First, we were given the opportunity to discuss how race and politics affected the current presidential debate. To better understand the issue, Director Speaks showed a great piece on African-American Women students at Spellman College and their frustration with being told to choose between gender and race. By the end, the class gained a wonderful foundation on how gender and race issues are not separate, but may in fact be deeply intertwined.

Then we switched focus and began to learn about Transgender issues. Our introduction came through the viewing of Transgeneration. This documentary tracks the lives of four Transgender college students across America. With this sneak peak into the next subject, we were eager to learn more about the Transgender Community. Nick Sakurai, the program coordinator for the AU GLBTA Resource Center, prepared a jam packed discussion. In addition to understanding the complexity of the national and international Transgender community, the class was asked to examine some of their own ideas of gender. The discussion certainly left our interests in learning more about this subject peaked.

Following Nick Sakurai’s presentation, we geared up for Priscilla Huang, the Policy Director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). Through Priscilla’s’ presentation, we began to get a more complete picture of the issues affecting API women. What I found particularly interesting about Priscilla’s presentation was the detail she put into explaining not just want her organization believed, but also how they went about making change.

The first day of class flew by and left me excited for Sunday. As soon as we were settled in Sunday Morning, we broke into small groups and began a very interesting examination of our definitions of race and how it affects politics and policy. More intriguing was understanding who had a voice and who were the voiceless in the American political and policy scene. Understanding who has a voice became a very important question to keep asking.

After hearing the very diverse responses of each group, we watched a movie on the formation of NAPAWF. Various API women talked about the founding of the organization as well as their reasons for staying committed when organizing can sometimes be frustrating work. As an Applied Politics Masters student, I was delighted to see how these broad policy issues are translated into applied, grassroots work. This was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend.

As usual, time was running low, but we were able to fit in a great discussion on Title IX and how it affects American University sports. Keith Gill, the director of Athletics at AU, helped us begin to understand how Title IX has affected various schools and how sports are changing to accept it.
By the end of the course, two weekend days seemed like two hours. We were all left with more questions and more interest in what knowledge Director Speaks had to impart on us. This course provides a wonderful complexity to understanding the American Political and Policy landscape. All in all, the course left me inspired to gain a deeper understanding of the issues discussed. I would recommend it to everyone!

Written by Vera Brown
Graduate Student, American University