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January 12, 2017

Are you interested in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies? Read more, below, about how you can find the specific program to meet your needs:

IRWGS Holiday Hours 2016

December 19, 2016

Issues Tank | Episode 13: Locker Room Talk with Laura Ciolkowski

December 7, 2016

IRWGS Associate Director Laura Ciolkowski discusses #RapeCulture on WFUV podcast "Issues Tank" (segment begins at 14:41)




We all know about the Access Hollywood tape of our president-elect. It also struck a nerve with some athletes who felt like Donald Trump disrespected the locker rooms they know. So this month, we decided to dive into what the locker room means to athletes, and the sorts of things they generally talk about.

But the tape also sparked a national conversation about language and sexism. Later in the episode, we explore the relationship between power, gender, and the words we use. Listen in!

iTunes download available here.

Music Credit

“Driveby” Podington Bear

“I’m Going for a Coffee” Lee Rosevere

“Funky Element” Bensound

Photo Credit

flattop341, Flickr


Feminist to the Core Goes to the Opera: Sexual Violence Onstage in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni

November 15, 2016

by Leah Werier, Art History, PhD ’18 and 2016-2017 Graduate Fellow

On October 24th, a large lecture hall in Butler Library was overflowing with eager spectators attending the first “Feminist to the Core” program of the 2016-2017 academic year.  Faculty and students as far away as Ireland and El Salvador joined the program via live stream. “Feminist to the Core Goes to the Opera” featured distinguished faculty Micaela Baranello (McPherson/Eveillard Postdoctoral Fellow, Smith College), Bonnie Gordon (Associate Professor of Music, University of Virginia) and Elaine Sisman (Anne Parsons Bender Professor of Music, Columbia University).  Organized by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS), Feminist to the Core is intended, according to IRWGS Associate Director Laura Ciolkowski, “to spark feminist conversation and rigorous debate about Core texts and to transform the critical conversations within the classroom.” In last week’s program, produced in collaboration with the Department of Music, speakers addressed the question of sexual violence onstage in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, the opera that this semester’s Music Humanities students will attend as part of their Core requirement.

            Professor Micaela Baranello focused her attention on operatic staging practices, where “idea and practice collide,” as a means of linking the past and the present. She reminded us that no production has “neutral staging” and argued that staging has the power to “create, destroy, or renovate the promesse du bonheur.”  Baranello argued that, in so far as the bodies of women figure prominently on stage, Don Giovanni puts women’s suffering on display, in spite of the fact that women are rarely granted a voice or agency.

            Professor Bonnie Gordon linked Mozart’s 18th century opera to the contemporary moment, specifically what she described as the “wretched presidential election.” Gordon discussed the contemporary resonances for teaching Don Giovanni and for thinking about sexual violence onstage.  How might one think about Don Giovanni’s violations against women? Gordon argued that opera gives one the tools to understand rape culture. For example, in her view, the aria Batti Batti (beat me, beat me) is “more about rape culture than rape in some ways.” Gordon explained, rape culture blames its victims and propagate the belief that if women are careful enough they can “avoid rape.”  A spectator of the opera can be swept away by the gorgeousness of the melodies. However, a closer analysis necessarily leads to critique. The parallel between the “Two Dons” -- Don Giovanni, and Donald Trump – can be found in the entitlements that “allow groping, touching and choosing not to vote at all.”

            Finally, Professor Elaine Sisman argued that the character of Don Giovanni is evil.  She pointed out that he wears a mask, a sign of carnival, when he tricks Donna Anna into sleeping with him so that Donna Anna believes that he is her betrothed. Later, an impassioned Donna Anna sings the aria Or Sai chi l’onore (you know for sure) Sisman called attention to how this opera draws on specific temporal modes: in this instance it is narrative time, the time of storytelling. Sisman explains that in Don Giovanni time can also be understood as the mythic time of the opera: here, a single day in the life of Don Giovanni. Using this version of mythic time, Sisman drew a connection between the opera and Dante’s InfernoThere is no question that Don Giovanni is evil, Sisman explains -- it is clear “that the opera condemns him from beginning to end -- but we could question which circle of Dante’s hell he would have been sentenced to.

Mark your calendars for upcoming Feminist to the Core programs, featuring Professor Jack Halberstam on Sigmund Freud (April 27) and Professor Bernard Harcourt on Nietzsche (April 14).


New York City Party Culture 1980-83 Conjuncture, Queers, Women with Professor Tim Lawrence

October 26, 2016

by Alessia Palanti, Italian, PhD candidate and 2016-2017 Graduate Fellow

Professor of Cultural Studies and co-director of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East London, Tim Lawrence spoke at IRWGS about his most recently published book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983.

Prof. Lawrence related a fascinating historical outline of New York City’s party culture from the late 1970s into the 80s, and attributed the forging of queer subcultural communities to New York’s (and the US’s more broadly) socio-economic and political atmosphere. In the 1970s, according to Lawrence, New York City already distinguished itself from other cities musically; but 1980 marked a sharp escalation in creativity resulting from the interaction of dance and musical cultures.

In the late 1970s, New York City was considered a “cesspit,” an “imperfect paradise,” and hub for “dysfunctional dread.” Lawrence described how New York had the highest concentration of queer people, and diverse cultures, and became a more accessible nexus for artists, largely due to its affordability. Deindustrialization in the 1980s, New York’s dire economic condition, and the flight of the white middle class into surrounding suburbs left the post-industrial generation in New York to live, socialize, collaborate and forge a mix of music, visual arts, and performance that came to define the city in this period.  New York, as Lawrence put it, “was like Halloween every night”; there was an explosion of activity and the blossoming of a “post-disco, post-punk, and yet to be named hip-hop scene.” Taking place in large garage spaces, parties lasted as long as 18 hours and were sensorially immersive environments whose goals were to foster transformation and exploration. Dance parties were staged 6-7 nights per week and involved a combination of live bands, DJs, screenings, and immersive happenings. In this way, the party was akin to a gallery, a multi-sensorial museum space. Unique to these scenes was also the constant movement between musicians and visual artists who would contribute to one another’s arts—paradigmatic of the party scene’s collaborative bedrock.

Lawrence claimed that queers of color were crucial to the creation of New York’s party culture, in fact, alienating white gay men who had dominated those spaces during the disco era. While personal antagonisms occasionally poison the atmosphere—for example between East and West Villages, or Uptown and Downtown scenes—it generally was all about openness and collaboration, where the geographically and socially polarized backgrounds of white suburban “refugees” and people of color from the Bronx were no grounds for the curtailment of DIY art collaborations. DJs facilitated such collaborations by crossing musical genres throughout an event, sticking by their commitment to creating cross-cultural communication via music.

In 1983, the end-bracket year of Lawrence’s study, the conditions that enabled the party culture scene shifted dramatically. The AIDS virus reached epidemic proportions, encouraging already inward-looking groups of dancers to become more closed, shifting their music choices—for example, ceasing to play African American music in 1984—facilitating the Reagan Era’s agenda to shut down queer party cultures. A number of phenomena, including the corporate reentry into New York City’s music market, and intensifying regulation of party spaces, trumped the spontaneity and unity upon which the party culture was based, and creativity became evermore tied to consumerism.

The music scene is often overlooked by historians, and Lawrence’s project offers an exhaustive and captivating cultural perspective. For Lawrence,1980s New York gives us a sense of a city’s potential, of the ways in which communities and cultures can flourish under different social organizations.  As Lawrence put it in closing, “the future will always be ours to make.”


October 26, 2016

Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality &

The Department of Music



·      Baranello, Micaela. “When Cries of Rape Are Heard in Opera Halls.”  New York Times, 26 July 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/arts/music/when-cries-of-rape-are-hear...

·      Curtis Liane. “Let’s Call a Rapist a Rapist.” San Francisco Gate, 9 June 2000. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Don-Giovanni-Let-s-call-a-rapist-a-rapist-3057915.php   [+ her related NWSA Journal article.]

·      Gordon, Bonnie. “What Don Giovanni, an Opera About a Charismatic Rapist, Can Teach Us About Don Trump.” Slate, 21 October 2016.

·      Sisman, Elaine, “The Marriages of Don Giovanni: persuasion, impersonation and personal responsibility.” In Mozart Studies, ed. Simon P. Keefe 163-192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.



Also a brief, interesting discussion of a performance of “La ci darem la mano” at the Cornelia Street Café appears in:

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching.” Diacritics, Vol. 32, No. 3/4, Ethics (Autumn - Winter, 2002): 90. 

“Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference” with Grace Kyungwon Hong

October 12, 2016

by Leah Werier, Art History, PhD ’18 and 2016-2017 Graduate Fellow

            IRWGS began the 2016-2017 academic year with a thought-provoking presentation by Grace Kyungwon Hong, Professor of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA. Professor Hong discussed her recently published book: Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference.

            Hong began by discussing the context of the project, which she describes as the “ubiquity of death”: the death of her colleague Nellie Yvonne McKay in 2006, and the death and disaster in so many places in the world, including the thousands killed in August 2014 in the Israel-Gaza conflict and, that same summer, the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Hong stressed that brutality continues and asked: What resources do we have that can help us understand and challenge racial, gendered and sexualized violence and death? Hong finds some answers in the work of women of color feminists, and the theory of “difference.”

            A key thinker for Hong is Audre Lorde, the black lesbian feminist writer. Hong referenced Lorde’s 1982 address “Learning from the 60s,” delivered at Harvard University as part of Malcom X weekend. Hong argued that Lorde’s feminism demands, “that we all take in our own complicity of power.”  Hong emphasized Lorde’s attempts to craft an alternative vision of politics that is not self-interested. Black feminism becomes a comparative method for Hong; it is a tool for critique. 

            Hong also pointed to the important ways in which “difference” is utilized throughout the work of women of color feminists as a means of challenging the violent erasures caused by neoliberal ideologies. While neoliberalism implies a break with the past, there is no “clean break” with history, in Hong’s view. Rather, she explained, gesturing to the work of Avery Gordon, we are haunted by the phantoms, traces and residues of the past.  For Hong, the work of women of color feminists allows us to find those residues and the memories of death and precocity that neoliberal ideologies attempt to erase.


September 22, 2016

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia and the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Barnard announce their search for Teaching Assistants for the spring 2017 course V1001 – Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies.

Graduate students currently enrolled in a PhD program in any Arts and Sciences Department are eligible to apply, with approval from their home department.  Please note that Columbia TAs may not hold more than one TA position in any one semester and may not accept additional fellowship or departmental support during the term of the TA appointment.

Candidates should send a letter of intent (including background, experience, and fields of interest), an updated CV, and the name and contact information for one academic reference to Professor Laura Ciolkowski c/o irwgs@columbia.edu, by or before Tuesday, November 15th.  Application materials may also be dropped off at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, 763 Schermerhorn Extension.


July 20, 2016

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality is saddened to report the death of IRWGS faculty affiliate and Professor of Anthropology M. ELAINE COMBS-SCHILLING (1949-2016)

Margaret Elaine Combs-Schilling died quietly in her bed from the effects of a brain tumor on the morning of July 7, 2016 in the loving company of her husband, Rev. David Schilling, and son, Prof. Jonathan Combs-Schilling. She was 67. 

A subversive but proud daughter of the south, Elaine was born on February 13, 1949 in Knoxville. She grew up in Appalachia and in 1967-8 spent a year in Belgium before returning to the United States and attending Stanford University, where she obtained her BA with honors in 1972. Having met and married her husband in 1969, she continued on to graduate study at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving her doctorate in anthropology in 1981. The focus of her Ph.D. research was the impact of a new road on merchant culture, and her dissertation was entitled “Traders on the Move: A Moroccan Case Study in Change.” Over the years, and in tandem with new directions in anthropology, Elaine became progressively more interested in how ritual informs daily life, and in 1989, published the highly acclaimed book, Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice, which examines the relationship between ritual, state and the gendered politics of a Moroccan national imaginary. 

Elaine continued to undertake field research in Morocco into the 1990s, focusing especially on the life of Lalla Aziza, a little-known fourteenth-century female “saint” from the High Atlas Mountains who resisted gender, political, and cultural norms in her own time and whose memory lives on in the region, having served as a figure of empowerment and struggle during the French colonial period. Elaine’s far-ranging interest in the praxes and power of performance also led her, in 1998, to shadow a production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera to examine how operas can give sound, sight and material form to “unofficial versions of reality,” which became the main focus of her scholarship in later years. 

Elaine’s awards and honors included 3 different Fulbright fellowships and grants from the Social Science Research Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among many others. In 1993, she was named the 49th annual Tannenbaum Lecturer. 

At Columbia, Elaine Combs-Schilling’s 33 year-long career commenced with her hiring as assistant professor in 1983. She was tenured in 1991, one of only two women to have achieved that status in the department since 1937, when Ruth Benedict was made Associate Professor. In the same year she became Vice-Chair, going on to become the first female chair since the department was founded in 1896. During her tenure, the department was significantly transformed, with new hires that focused on both the aesthetic dimension of cultural life in modernity and the historical production of social power. 

During the 90s Elaine was also a teacher and active participant in The Institute for Research on Women and Gender where she team-taught a number of interdisciplinary graduate courses and provided wise counsel in the formative years of the Institute’s history. 

A devoted teacher of both undergraduates and doctoral students, Elaine taught courses on a wide range of topics, from the traditions of North Africa and the Middle East, to ritual and religion (especially Islam), feminist theory, theories of language and subjectivity, and operatic performance. For many years, she also led the anthropology department’s undergraduate thesis seminar, and over the years, helped dozens of young scholars to arrive at projects inflected by their personal passions and reflective of their best intellectual selves. 

Further information about Elaine and about future memorial services may be obtained at the following website: hatsoffelaine.com. In addition, a memorial fund is being set up through the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality that will support graduate work in feminist scholarship. Contributions to the Elaine Combs-Schilling Memorial Fund can now be sent directly to the Institute, as checks written to COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, but with the tagline "Elaine Combs-Schilling Memorial Fund.” They should be addressed to: 

Terence Roethlein
Manager, Communications and Finance
Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1200 Amsterdam Avenue
763 Schermerhorn Extension MC5510
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027 

University Memorial infromation is available below:

IRWGS is Hiring! 16-17 Work Study Opportunity

July 14, 2016

IRWGS is hiring! See below for details. If interested, please email our program coordinator, Khadija Belly (k.belly@columbia.edu)


Work-Study Position Description – AY2016-17

Work-Study Responsibilities:


  • Write 2 blog posts per semester
  • Contribute to IRWGS social media accounts

o   Facebook, twitter – help maintain active presence and frequent interactions

  • Cultivate and maintain networks with student groups and solicit student organization events and news.


  • General front-office reception.  Greet guests, answer phones, check irwgs@columbia.edu, check and send mail.
  • Provide support to the Institute (Director, Associate Director, Finance Manager, Program Coordinator and faculty) including photocopying, scanning, research, drafting correspondence, etc.
  • Maintain various Google calendars (update calendars by entering on campus events to Affiliated Events calendar)
  • Maintain files, scans, Dropbox files, libraries (pdf, syllabus, 754), archives
  • Maintain office, seminar room, storage spaces, copier room and announcement areas in hallway


  • Publicity: Hang posters, distribute fliers and other advertising

o   Add calendar/event listings to IRWGS website, Facebook, Twitter, Columbia events calendar. Send to other departments/schools/groups/listservs as applicable.

o   Make buttons and other promotional materials.

  • Assist during events: Set-up and break-down of seminar room (or other space).  Help serve wine (if applicable), clean throughout event, help where necessary
  • Take photos/video, live tweet
  • Create event listings to advertise programming.  Post edited photos.

Academic Coordination

  • Check different class listings  (Bulletin, UNIFY, irwgs.columbia.edu, Summer Studies site, etc) for errors.
  • Research lists of cross-listed and related courses.  Solicit cross-listed and related courses from professors.

IRWGS Welcomes the 2016-17 Graduate Fellows

May 31, 2016

Congratulations are in order for our 2016 – 2017 IRWGS Graduate Fellows Alessia Palanti (Italian and ICLS) and Leah Eve Werier (Art History). Fellows are selected annually, based on the excellence of their scholarship and their commitment to women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

            Alessia Palanti is a fourth year, PhD candidate in the Italian department and ICLS. She is writing her dissertation on 21st century Italian women’s cinema that focuses on women’s lives from a female perspective. Her project traces the development of Italian feminisms and their place in the international landscape of feminist inquiry into gender and sexuality through an analysis of contemporary films.

            Alessia’s commitment to feminisms, and to issues related to gender, and sexuality reach beyond academia. She performs acrobatic movement and dance at Lava Studios in Brooklyn, NY, which is a feminist, gender-fluid arts space for individuals of all ages and abilities, committed to community building. She is also a consultant for UN Women’s HeForShe Initiative, for a project that investigates gender bias in cinema. As a graduate fellow, Alessia is interested fostering further dialogue on the impact of media and representation on the forging of a gendered and sexed subjectivity, by including more media and arts-related events and conversations in the IRWGS program. She is eager to create more alliances with activists, artists, philosophers, and communities outside of academia to cultivate reciprocal intellectual and activist enrichment.

            Leah Werier is a fourth year PhD candidate in Art History, who focuses on 20th and 21st century art informed by feminist theory. She has recently completed an IRWGS graduate certificate. Leah has attended IRWGS events since she began studying at Columbia. She has also organized events in Art History with a focus on gender, including the program Works in Progress: Gender Stages // Staging Gender.

            For Leah, being involved with IRWGS has been one of the “most enriching experiences for me” as a graduate student.  As a graduate fellow, Leah is interested in promoting IRWGS across different departments and growing the IRWGS community. She believes that “it provides a stimulating interdisciplinary meeting space for students and faculty. I look forward to organizing events that focus on the relationship between visual culture and feminist, queer and intersectional theory.” Leah hopes to invite artists to present their work to students and faculty and engage with the academic community at Columbia.

Recap: IRWGS/WGSS Joint Senior Thesis Presentations

May 26, 2016

by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

On May 3, IRWGS closed out its programming for the year with a celebration of the senior theses completed by majors in IRWGS (Columbia) and WGSS (Barnard). Evocative of the spirit of community fostered by the collaboration between Barnard and Columbia’s programs, the students cheered each other on as they presented their projects to a room packed with enthusiastic and supportive friends, faculty, and mentors.

The first panel, titled “Gender, Sexuality, and Cultural Production,” considered how various media—whether it’s an artistic medium or type of social media—represent a particular cross-section of female and/or queer experience. Tara Coury (BC) and Clara Butler (BC) examined how female artists appropriate revise art forms typically the domain of white, heterosexual men.  Coury argues that the visual yet fragmented medium of the comic panel offer graphic memoirists like Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel a tool for making their experience as marginalized persons visible without the demands of linear, coherent storytelling, whether that story be growing up in revolutionary Iran or a young lesbian’s working through her relationship with her closeted gay father. Turning to live performance, Butler argues that female stand-up comics use humor, especially abjection, to articulate what it’s like to inhabit an identity not widely understood or even legible within dominant culture.

The panel was rounded out with Dorian Barnwell (CU) and Amy Halperin Zimmerman (CU). In her thesis on Toni Morrison’s Sula, Barnwell routes her broader examination of how black queer experience is felt as being “out of sync” with the world through the novel’s representation of female orgasm. Turning to social media outlets like Tumblr, Halperin Zimmerman queries the growing interest in witchcraft in “queer, feminist spaces” populated by teenage girls.  Crafting their identities after the “feminized but not entirely feminine” figure of the witch allows teens to negotiate the damaging expectations of adult womanhood, and the rituals they practice operate as acts of “self-care” crucial to maintaining physical and mental health.

The projects presented in the second panel, “Biopolitics,” explored how the social and hard sciences as well as political decisions mobilized by scientific research reproduce dominant understandings of gender, sexuality, and citizenship. Researching the effects of US nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, G. Pe Benito (BC) argues that “proximity to harm” differentiates those excluded from the full rights and recognition granted by the state from US citizens. Peter Bruno (CU) next critiqued scientific searches for a “gay gene” for relying on a “false dichotomy” between biological determination and social construction. The premise guiding this research and its appropriations by gay rights activists is a “consumer model of social theory” which assumes that any part of human experience not determined by genetics or anatomy is freely chosen. Bruno challenges this dichotomy. Sarah Elizabeth Stern (CU) concluded the panel with her transhistorical examination of how various sites of colonial power erase Native American understandings of gender. 

The third and final panel, “Responding to Violence,” showcased theses which queried whether the state can offer justice and recognition to persons who have been harmed because of their sexuality, gender, and/or race. In her thesis on queer black women artists working in South Africa, Thando Mlambo (BC) started with the claim that the freedom following the dissolution of apartheid was actually “exclusive,” granted only to heterosexuals. Mlambo situates artists who provocatively ask such questions like “what do you see when you look at me, a black lesbian?” within the state-sanctioned “invisibil[ity]” of the “black queer body,” ultimately arguing that these artists work to “carve out a discursive space” where queer intimacy and desire can assert their presence in South African history.

 In the next two presentations, Sienna Walker (BC) and Ella Every-Wortman (BU) critiqued the appeal to criminal law in LGBT and feminist activism. Walker argues that the mainstream gay rights movement identifies gay people according to their “vulnerability to harm,” which enables them to successfully fight for “political[ly] palatabl[e]…pro-criminalization methods” without reflecting on how criminal law perpetuates the denial of rights and reduction of opportunities for people of color. Combining interviews with survivors of sexual assault at Columbia with quantitative research methods, Every-Wortman shows how survivors frequently define justice as a “healing process” oriented toward resolution and closure, and for this reason largely prefer “transformative justice”-based solutions like the “acknowledgement of harm” and reparations instead of punishment.

The evening concluded with Natasha Camille’s (BC) reflection on her goals and experiences designing a curriculum for black female high school students. In crafting a curriculum which, in her words, presented a “direct threat to the state,” Camille aimed to challenge the “silencing of black girlhood” by having students use womanist and black feminist texts as a vehicle for cultivating “autonomous, sexual selfhood.”

Interviews with Thando Mlambo and Sarah Faith Thompson, winners of the 2016 Award Prize Essays

May 20, 2016

Congratulations to Sarah Faith Thompson (CC '16 and Political Science major), winner of the 2016 IRWGS Women’s and Gender Studies Award for "Sexual Violence in Civil Wars: Strength, Organizational Control, and Rebel Groups,” and Thando Mlambo (BC '16 and Africana Studies & Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies double major), winner of the 2016 IRWGS Queer Studies Award for "Destabilizing Nation and Culture: How Zanele Muholi and Queer South African Women are Creating Discursive Space through Visual Culture.”

We interviewed both students to learn more about their work and their plans for the future.




What inspired you to write your senior thesis on sexual violence in civil wars?

Initially I just wanted to learn more about how various organization-level factors (hierarchy, leadership, resource access, etc.) might affect rebel groups' general levels of violent output. However, after reading Dara Kay Cohen's 2013 article on rape in civil wars, seeing the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict (SVAC) dataset she created, and getting to hear Elisabeth Wood speak at Columbia, I was struck by the gendered differences in wartime experiences of violence and how this has impacted political science research. For example, male civilians are more likely than female civilians to be killed during conflicts, but women are more likely to experience certain forms of non-lethal violence, including rape and sexual enslavement. What this leads to is a bias in quantitative analyses toward analyzing and theorizing the more easily measured forms of violence against men.

I wanted to contribute to this emerging general quantitative direction of sexual violence research, and found that a combination of case studies and regression analysis using the SVAC was a good way to start.

You are graduating this month with a degree in Political Science. How have you been able to integrate your interest in women's, gender, and sexuality studies in the work you have done here at Columbia?

Columbia's Core Curriculum provides a common textual base from which to approach many topics. I’ve had the opportunity to write about everything from the women in Monet’s Parc Monceau (in Art Hum), to Mandeville’s contradictory categorizations of femininity in the Fable of the Bees (in CC), to how paintings in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse reflected the lack of agency of female characters (in Lit Hum).

The same is true about the political science department. I am appreciative to have had the freedom and academic support over the past year to orient my thesis around a phenomenon in armed conflict that disproportionately affects women, and which holds long-lasting consequences for these survivors’ physical and mental health.

What are your plans for the future?

Writing this thesis has made me even more sure that I would like to eventually pursue a career in research and teaching, so after working for a few years at a law firm specializing in international disputes I’ll be applying to Ph.D. programs in political science. Once there I hope to continue my study of armed conflicts, contentious politics, and the experiences and roles of women in both of these.




What inspired you to write your senior thesis on Zanele Muholi’s work and Queer South African Women?

I am from Zimbabwe and have lived there, in South Africa, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, so I knew I wanted to write a thesis surrounding an African country. As an artist and musician, I also knew my thesis would have a creative subject matter. After having seen Zanele Muholi's work in Cape Town and at the Brooklyn Museum, everything came together beautifully. I was fascinated by the braveness and beauty of Muholi's participants (portrait subjects) who boldly and unapologetically claim a queer identity--given the recurring rhetoric of homophobia and hate crimes when it comes to discussions of non-heterosexuality in South Africa. I dug deeper and was able to find a host of queer South African artists and media-makers creating work that highlighted the dissonance of the legal inclusion of LGBTQI persons amidst persistent homophobia. Inspired by their work, I embarked on this year-long project which culminated in a visit from Muholi herself at my apartment in Harlem. 

You are graduating this month with a degree from Barnard College in Africana Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. How have you been able to integrate your interests in the work you have done here at Columbia?

My academic training and personal interest in studies of women, genders and sexualities has allowed me to observe, experience and navigate the world acutely aware of axes of power, gender, race, class, ethnicity and sexuality (the list goes on). From running an artists workshop through my New York City Civic Engagement Program (NYCCEP) fellowship to singing in Barnard's all-female acapella group Bacchantae, I am always working to ensure that I am in some way engaging in, and contributing to, new understandings of social and cultural relations. I am deeply indebted to Barnard WGSS and Columbia IRWGS for allowing me to explore the various interdisciplinary theoretical frames that have guided my thesis, my work on Columbia's campus and continue to shape my everyday life. 

What are your plans for the future?

As I have graduated in three years, I am planning on taking it really easy over the next few months: babysitting and hanging out with my new cat. I hope to do some travelling across Southeast Asia during the winter and return to New York to apply to graduate school to further my studies in the field of gender and cultural studies. 

3 Questions for Rosi Braidotti

April 8, 2016

Prof. Dr. Rosi Braidotti, who holds Italian and Australian citizenship, was born in Italy and grew up in Australia, where she received a First-Class Honours degree from the Australian National University in Canberra in 1977 and was awarded the University Medal in Philosophy and the University Tillyard prize. Braidotti then moved on to do her doctoral work at the Sorbonne, where she received her degree in philosophy in 1981. She has taught at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands since 1988, when she was appointed as the founding professor in women's studies. In 1995 she became the founding Director of the Netherlands research school of Women's Studies, a position she held till 2005. Braidotti is a pioneer in European Women's Studies: she founded the inter-university SOCRATES network NOISE and the Thematic Network for Women's Studies ATHENA, which she directed till 2005. She was a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College in 2005-6; a Jean Monnet professor at the European University Institute in Florence in 2002-3 and a fellow in the school of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1994. Braidotti is currently Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University and founding Director of the Centre for the Humanities.

1. What are you currently working on?

I have just co-edited, together with Paul Gilroy:Conflicting Humanities, which will be published in the next few months. It is the first volume in a new book series I am editing for Bloomsbury Academic, called, quite simply ‘Theory Series’, which aims to present cartographic accounts of emerging critical theories and to reflect the vitality and inspirational force of on-going theoretical debates. This first edited volume is impressive: Conflicting Humanitiesaddresses the provocative question of how we might reinvent the humanities. Taking the intellectual and political legacies of both feminist theory and of Edward Said’s work as a point of departure and frame of reference, the contributors – working in a range of disciplinary settings – assess the current condition of humanism and the humanities. We argue that the definition of the core task of the humanities as the pursuit of democratic criticism remains more urgent than ever, though it needs to be supplemented by feminist, environmental, and anti-racist perspectives as well as by detailed analysis of both digital mediation and the necro-political governmentality of our time.

I have also pursued my posthuman critical theory work by editing the Posthuman Glossary, a volume co-produced with Maria Hlavajova from BAK (The Centre for Contemporary Art in Utrecht). The book will provide an outline of the critical terms of posthuman critique in present-day academic, artistic and intellectual work. It also builds on the concepts that we discussed during a series of four international symposia in May-June 2015, focusing on the broad thematic topics of anthropocene/capitalocene, eco-sophies, digital activism and algorithmic cultures and security.

Besides my current research projects and teaching as a University Professor, I am also the director of the Centre for the Humanities. We organize seminars and events that explore and enhance the social relevance and the impact of the Humanities today through intensive cooperation not only with other faculties, but also with the City space, its cultural institutions, festivals and artists communities. We also focus on pioneering research projects that aim at assessing new directions for the Humanities in the contemporary world, mostly the Digital, Environmental and global Humanities.

Finally, what is also really important for me, is the international dimension of the work I do, institutionally, socially and intellectually. For instance my brief but highly productive visiting professorship at Columbia University allowed me to expand the connections with so many colleagues and programmes in the humanities. Moreover, as a board member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) and at the European level the network of Humanities Institutes and Centres (ECHIC), I am very active in building the international dimension of discussions in the field of the humanities.  Throughout all this work, I find myself applying and translating the epistemological and methodological insights of feminist theory to different fields. Our key concepts and ideas, for instance the politics of location, or embodied and embedded perspectives, is extremely relevant to contemporary discussions on neo-materialism, the affective turn and the posthuman predicament. Feminist theory remains the conceptual core of my work because it has developed original tools and methods of analysis that allow for more incisive accounts of how power works in discourse, inn institutions and individual research practices.

2. What blogs are you currently reading?

Huffington Post and a few random others. Nothing systematic.

3. Feminism is…

The gesture – visceral, intellectual, emotional and always socio-political – that consists in saying:

 “NO I WOULD PREFER NOT TO !” to all the instances of oppression, marginalization, neglect and disqualification of women, LGBTQ+ and other gender-marked individuals and organisms. It is a collective, trans-national and trans-species movement for social justice, that fights for the respect and  empowerment of both human and non-human agents who are discriminated on the basis of their sexed and gender being. Profoundly emancipatory at heart, feminism also expresses a fundamental aspiration to freedom on the part of subjects whose existence is not valued adequately and not cared for fairly. Feminism is also transformative in that by pursuing its aims, ends up challenging and redefining in an affirmative and innovative way our shared assumptions about what it means to be ‘human’ today.  

This project requires visionary power or prophetic energy, qualities which are not highly valued scientifically in these times of coercive pursuit of quantified academic ‘excellence’. Yet, from the very early days, Joan Kelly typified feminist theory as a double edged vision, with a strong critical and an equally strong creative function. Faith in the creative powers of the imagination is an integral part of feminists’ appraisal of lived embodied experience and the bodily roots of subjectivity. This creative dimension constitutes the affirmative core of the radical epistemologies of feminism.  

Call for IRWGS Graduate Fellows

March 23, 2016



IRWGS Graduate Fellowships

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) seeks applications for 2016-17 graduate fellows.  Graduate fellows will be expected to participate actively in IRWGS activities and to complete a maximum of 60 hours of work per semester.  Fellows will coordinate the IRWGS Graduate Colloquium (described below), organize the Graduate Student Open House, attend and help with IRWGS public programs, and assist the IRWGS Director and Associate Director, and the Directors of Graduate Studies and Undergraduate Studies with occasional research, administrative, and social media.

Stipends will be $3000 per semester. 

Selection will be based on academic distinction in feminist and departmental scholarly work, and a proven commitment to IRWGS and its activities. IRWGS Graduate Fellowships are generally awarded to Ph.D. students who have completed or are in the process of completing the IRWGS graduate certificate.  Please note that IRWGS graduate fellows may not hold other fellowships or grants (including the Whiting and the Kluge from Columbia) in 2016-17. Applicants must indicate in their application any plans to apply for other fellowships and grants in 2016-17 and must inform the Institute if they accept other grants that may conflict with the IRWGS Graduate Fellowship requirements. These are GSAS rules.  Occasionally the position is divided between two fellows who share duties and the stipend.


The IRWGS Graduate Colloquium

The Colloquium consists of two ongoing programs: “Theory Salon” and “Graduate Colloquium.”  IRWGS Graduate Fellows coordinate these programs and, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, have significant input into determining the content of both programs. In past years, meetings have focused on graduate student work-in-progress and recent published scholarship in the field, faculty-led discussion of particular texts or a body of work, current research by Columbia or visiting faculty members, and/or workshops on professional issues such as preparing work for conferences and for publication, drafting dissertation prospectuses, and applying for academic jobs.

Graduate Fellows will be expected to secure space for all events (usually the IRWGS seminar room), maintain a regularly updated email list, notify participants of upcoming events, copy and distribute any pre-circulated readings, purchase light refreshments for each meeting, maintain a Colloquium budget, and write IRWGS blog posts for all IRWGS public programs.

Please submit a brief letter of application, a CV, and a short writing sample to irwgs@columbia.edu by or before Friday, April 29, 2016. Please include the names and contact information of two faculty members familiar with your work and ask one of these faculty members to send a brief letter of support to irwgs@columbia.edu by April 29, 2016.  

Feminist to the Core with Ellie Hisama

March 18, 2016

by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

On March 2, Ellie Hisama delivered the latest installment of IRWGS “Feminist to the Core” with her presentation on teaching Music Humanities. Hisama is Professor of Music as well as Director of Graduate Studies at IRWGS.

Hisama opened by suggesting how feminist critique compliments the goals of Music Humanities. If Music Hum aims to teach students how to practice “critical listening,” then feminist questions and provocations can expand and refine our sense of what it means to listen critically and actively. One way to do this is to consider how the choices made by the syllabus—what works to include and which to exclude—shape our understanding of the history of Western music, specifically with regard to the criteria which establishes a composer as worthy as representing a coordinate on the timeline of music history.

The first composer Hisama discussed was Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who already ranks among Music Hum’s required composers. Hisama singled out Schubert’s “Heidenröslein,” a lieder (or song) which sets Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem “Rose on the Heath” to music. Unlike the later works Hisama introduced, “Heidenröslein” has had a formidable place in music education: it is often used to teach ear training and is common in recitals. Yet, for Hisama, a feminist teaching of this song wouldn’t consider Schubert’s music in isolation from the words of Goethe’s poem, which details a coercive and violent encounter between a little boy and a beautiful rose which attempts to resist the boy’s plucking. How might recent discussions of campus sexual assault prompt us to listen to this song differently?

A specialist in 20th century American music, Hisama then considered what two later composers, Julius Eastman and Ruth Crawford Seeger, would add to the Music Hum syllabus. Absent from both music history at large as well as histories of black and African-American music, Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was nonetheless a central figure in the downtown New York experimental music scene in the 1970s. Eastman provides us with the opportunity to consider the relation between form and personhood as a black gay man: he saw his controversial, improvised music—unapologetically given titles like “Gay Guerilla”—as a vehicle for self-understanding, writing that “it’s through art that I can search for the self.”

Hisama then turned to the case of Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953), whose career allows us to reevaluate the gendering of American musical modernism and our designation of what musical genres fit under the banner of “modernist.” Hisama’s point of departure was the shape of Seeger’s career. A composer of incredibly “forward looking” modernist pieces in the 20s and 30s, Seeger retired from composition after having a family but continued to collect and arrange folk music. In what ways, then, can we consider arrangement an act of composition, Seeger’s later career as arranger of folk music thus seen as an extension of her earlier work as a modernist composer? And what place does folk and traditional music have in making the canon of musical history, especially given how widely reproduced and circulated Seeger’s folk arrangements had?   

Hisama’s last example was hip-hop singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill. Hip hop pieces like Hill’s would enable students to analyze music in precise, technical ways without requiring them to know how to read music, given how hip hop’s emphasis on rhythm provokes us to think critically about how and why beats align with certain lyrics. Hip hop also opens up discussion of race, gender, sexuality, and the relation between art and power and to view “contributions [to musical history] beyond the canons of the greats.” In her concluding remarks, Hisama prompted us to reflect critically about what criteria govern who gets taught in the Core.  She also urged her audience to interrogate the division between popular and classical music, as well as to think about teaching the history of musical practices (such as 18th century opera divas or the circulation of Seeger’s folk arrangements) as key sites of feminist intervention into teaching Music Humanities.

Call for Teaching Assistants -- Spring 2017 V1001: Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies

March 2, 2016




The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia announce their search for Teaching Assistants for the spring 2017 course V1001 – Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies.


Graduate students currently enrolled in a PhD program in any Arts and Sciences Department are eligible to apply, with approval from their home department.  Please note that Columbia TAs may not hold more than one TA position in any one semester and may not accept additional fellowship or departmental support during the term of the TA appointment.


Candidates should send a letter of intent (including background, experience, and fields of interest), an updated CV, and the name and contact information for one academic reference to Professor Laura Ciolkowski c/o irwgs@columbia.edu, by or before 4pm, Monday, May 2nd.  Application materials may also be dropped off at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, 763 Schermerhorn Extension.

Posthuman Feminism with Rosi Braidotti

February 25, 2016

by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

                On February 18, Rosi Braidotti delivered her talk “Posthuman Feminism” to a packed crowd, many of whom sat on the floor and stood in the hallway in order to hear her speak. Currently Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Braidotti is perhaps Europe’s foremost feminist philosopher.

            Braidotti began by outlining the method that informs her approach to the concept of the “posthuman.” She aligned her analysis with what Michel Foucault terms “genealogy,” a way of analyzing the present by reconstructing “how we got here” through identifying the multiple and often contradictory traditions of thought which come together in our current understanding of a concept. For Braidotti, current scholarly interest in the posthuman extends the critique of humanism associated with the biggest names in 20th century philosophy: Theodor Adorno, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gilles Deleuze and Foucault, among others.

                  Yet, Braidotti’s genealogy doesn’t only consist of continental philosophy and critical theory. For Braidotti, post-colonial and critical race theory, and especially feminist critique, illuminate how certain kinds of bodies have historically been excluded from the category of the “Human” and, moreover, challenge the notion of a universal “Humanity” by emphasizing the different ways embodiment is experienced. She expanded her genealogy still further through reference to non-academic cultural and social movements like punk, second-wave feminism, and David Bowie, all of which respond to the exclusiveness of the category of the Human by “opting out” from the species altogether. Though I’m an avid reader of French critical theory, and though I am consistently captivated by what Braidotti calls the “vitriolic, satirical” energy of second-wave feminism and am a longstanding Bowie fan, it never quite occurred to me how these three separate cultural formations occurred during the same historical moment.

            In her lecture, Braidotti paired the term “posthumanism” with the term “post-anthropocentrism.” Just as women, people of color, and bodies marked by other forms of difference have been excluded from humanity, so too have non-anthropod organisms, such as animals and even the global environment. Yet, for Braidotti, the posthuman and post-anthropocentric are distinct terms with quite different genealogies. While the “posthuman” has an expansive and diverse genealogy, “post-anthropocentrism” does not. The legacies of fascist violence have generated extensive critiques of humanism, but the Nazis’ use of biology to justify their genocidal program has discouraged us from thinking biologically, from thinking specifically about ourselves as a species. As Braidotti put it, “Darwin is the missing part of critical theory.” In response to our impoverished vocabulary for thinking critically about species, Braidotti encourages collaboration with scientific modes of intellectual inquiry that wouldn’t simply reproduce a universalizing concept of the human which critical theory has sought to displace.  

            For Braidotti, feminist thought is central to this project. She concluded her talk by considering the ways capitalism in its current form has responded to destabilizations of the category of the Human. This category’s coherence has been undermined by identity politics and post-colonial activism, but also by the speed of technological innovation. Whether in the form of consumer products like smartphones or data-mining surveillance mobilized by counterterrorism, technology has become inextricable from contemporary experiences of embodiment. Capitalism can embrace this epidemic “posthumanism,” or it can reassert humanism through the ideology of “we are all human” or “we’re all in in this together” as exemplified in the United Colors of Benetton advertisements or the “We Are All Africans” campaign. However, by emphasizing the embodied nature of experience, Braidotti argues that feminism highlights and allows us to interrogate how power and difference shape yet are also made invisible by the ways “human” and even “posthuman” currently operate in politics and the marketplace.

Rubens Paints Rape: A Feminist to the Core event with Margaret Carroll

December 15, 2015

by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

On December 7, 2015, the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality hosted its final “Feminist to the Core” lecture of the semester. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Department of Art History. In her presentation “Rubens Paints Rape,” Margaret Carroll -- Professor of Art at Wellesley College and a specialist in 16th and 17th century Dutch painting – focused on both the political and artistic contexts of Peter Paul Rubens’ painting The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1615-17).

Carroll started her lecture by discussing her personal history of viewing this painting. Her gradually shifting response to Rubens’ painting was inspired by a 1985 lecture on late Titian which never touched upon the “problematic depiction of rape” in paintings such as the Rape of Europa. During this moment in the history of art criticism, evaluations of Renaissance painters such as Titian and Rubens continued the tradition of raising questions about style and form, while largely ignoring content. Carroll mentioned how the innovative work of feminist art historians in the 1980s helped her reevaluate the initial enthusiasm which she, first viewing the painting as a teenager, had for Rubens’ vivid colors and the “dynamic contradictions” organizing the painting. Inspired by these feminist critics, Carroll sought to develop a new method for interpreting visual art, which would allow her to address the “painting as a problematic cultural phenomenon.”

According to Carroll, what mattered most to Rubens’ contemporaries in connection to rape was not so much the genital act itself but rather the ‘use of force” and the presence of an “unwilling partner.” This emphasis on force structured not just understandings of the relationship between men and women, but also a series of hierarchical binaries: force establishes sovereignty the same way that “form dominates matter, soul dominates body, man his wife, master his slave, king his subject.” Many classical and Renaissance thinkers saw the use of force as pleasurable not just for the sovereign but, problematically, for the dominated subject as well; it’s no wonder, then, that the erotic charge rippling across the painting’s surface might make 21st century readers uncomfortable.

Carroll argued that Rubens’ painting is an allegory for the double marriage between France and Spain’s royal families, which was often compared to the myth of the Leucippus daughters.  She emphasized that this double marriage consolidated the political strength of both countries by conjoining the two kings in a “fraternal bond.” That they both symbolically “acquired their wives in a joint sexual adventure” vividly literalizes what Carroll had said about same assumptions about power undergirding both political sovereignty and relations between men and women.

In her lecture, Carroll didn’t vilify Rubens for eroticizing the forced abduction of women and for “misrepresenting the lived experiences” of actual women. Rather, she turned to a later painting, Rubens’ 1622-25 The Exchange of Princesses at the Border, which renders the future queens’ conquering husbands invisible and thereby suggesting, for Carroll, “Rubens’ own process of maturation,” his attempt to “accommodate the wishes and fantasies of female patrons” by “try[ing] to understand what a woman could not bear to watch.”

Thinking of You

December 11, 2015

by Joo Kyung Lee, Emma Volk, Students of English W3775 Narrating Rape: Gender, Testimony & Violence

One of the speakers on the “Legacy of Rape” panel was Anna Di Lellio, a sociologist and policy analyst who partnered with artist Alketa Xhafa Mripa to produce “Thinking of You,” a participatory art installation in Kosovo that paid tribute to survivors of sexual violence during the Kosovo War. The evening after the panel, Di Lellio screened a documentary on “Thinking of You” and answered further questions about the project.

“Thinking of You” played with the idea of “airing clean laundry”—using clean clothing to respond to the crisis. The project featured thousands of donated dresses hung on clotheslines in a football stadium. Di Lellio explained that its installation in a football stadium suggests penetrating a male world and showing a sense of active response, in a space that is both public and private (confined). This form of response is shown through airing laundry. Airing laundry is a banal scene from everyday lives of people. It is simple laundry hanging on clothesline, and while it is a scene that may have disappeared from the urban landscape, it is still visible and a large part of everyday life. The project takes this ordinary, everyday practice and object and gives meaning to it. In using simple clothing and not an obscure object, the project is able to reach out to everyone who has been violated.

The usage of clothing is an interesting one too. During the panel discussion of “The Legacy of Rape: Art, Law and Social Justice,” artist Patricia Cronin (“Shrine for Girls”) and Di Lellio discussed the presence of clothing in their works. Cronin suggested that clothing served as a kind of reminder of the absent body; that in viewing a piece of clothing, one could imagine that “the body had touched the clothes.” In her arrangement of clothing for her work, she explained that they were presented as if “bodies have just left” the clothing. This significance of clothing seems to resonate with Xhafa Mripa’s “Thinking of You.” The body is a witness to the trauma. In viewing over 5,000 dresses of women—both victims and their supporters—the viewer is able to imagine the bodies that have touched the clothing, the women, their stories, their traumas, all presented so casually yet neatly in a stadium. In viewing, we get to “think of you:” all the women who have been violated during the war.

Yet a difference from Cronin’s work is that in “Thinking of You,” clothes are put up so that they resemble clean laundry; the aspect of physical cleanliness and organization is emphasized. Clothes are not arranged to represent the corporeality of the object. Rather, while the clothing embodies the traumatic experience of women, it does so in a way to exonerate them. That is, the cleanliness of laundry serves to restore honor to women socially disgraced by their rape. As many of the project’s participants noted, “Thinking of You” was successful in not portraying the survivors as victims. “Thinking of You,” both in its installation and presentation, allows the viewers including survivors to experience the project as a moment of empowerment and community without glorifying victimhood or retraumatizing the survivors.

“Thinking of You” as a project was not just an artistic response to genocidal rape, but was also highly participatory by design. Indeed, according to Di Lellio, mass participation was the project’s primary goal. For sixteen years, no one spoke about the estimated 20,000 women who were raped during the Kosovo War. For the month when Di Lellio and Xhafa Mripa travelled across Kosovo collecting dresses, the nation as a whole could no longer feign forgetfulness. The participatory and high profile nature of the project created space for Kosovars to confront the silences surrounding the sexual crimes that occurred during the war and to initiate the formation of a collective memory—both social and institutional—honoring the victims of these crimes.

The installation’s success depended on the donations of over 5,000 skirts and dresses, given to the project by both women and men. This collection process was arguably as important a part of “Thinking of You” as the installation itself was. Xhafa Mripa and Di Lellio visited towns across Kosovo to hold a series of collections that were themselves commemorative, even ceremonial events. At each event, Xhafa Mripa had the chance to individually speak to and thank each person who donated a dress. The documentary on the making of the project shows each donated dress being laid out with great care. Solidarity and respect was evident everywhere, even in the small gestures of women smoothing the wrinkles from the fabric of their dresses before giving them to Xhafa Mripa.

Many of the clothing items had special meanings for those who donated. The Kosovo ambassador to the United States donated the dress she wore on the day she signed the declaration of independence, telling Xhafa Mripa, “I want to give back to those women for whom the war has not yet ended.” A woman who gives psychosocial assistance to survivors donated a dress the women she works with gave to her in 2001. “Now,” she said, “I am giving it back to them.” Other dresses were donated by survivors themselves, including two dresses with messages from survivors handwritten on them. The multitude of stories told by the various dresses highlighted the project’s focus on creating a space for memory that was at once individual and collective.

Above all, the participatory aspect of “Thinking for You” facilitated the creation of a very tangible solidarity of all Kosovars with the silenced survivors of sexual crimes during the war. The collection events and the installing of the project featured laughter and tears alike, with space for both quiet reflection and collective acts of remembrance. Through its participatory nature, “Thinking of You” was able to realize its goal of remembering and honoring survivors.

Shrine for Girls

December 10, 2015

by Erasmia Gorla, Flavia Lagnado, and Ximena Vial; Students of English W3775 Narrating Rape: Gender, Testimony & Violence

The first installation of Patricia Cronin’s Shrine for Girls appeared in the 56th International Art Exhibition, All the World’s Futures, organized by la Biennale di Venezia. The Exhibition, devoted to addressing “the disquiet of our time,” displayed the works of artists from 53 different countries, each of which aimed to represent, in curator Okwui Enwezor’s words, “the ruptures that surround and abound around every corner of the global landscape today.” 

At the panel event organized by Columbia IRWGS on December 1, Cronin described how she first conceived of the idea for her project. The space she had acquired for her exhibit, la Chiesa di San Gallo, didn’t allow her to hang anything on the walls and required her, instead, to use the three existing altars to display her work. Simultaneously, three recent events highlighted by the media filled her mind: the rape and murder of two Indian girls, the kidnapping of 276 Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and the exploitation of “fallen women” in the Magdalene asylums—institutions that operated in the 18th-20th centuries but were more recently brought to public consciousness by the 2013 film, Philomena. She decided to turn the altars into three shrines dedicated to each of these groups of women—shrines for girls.

In the small, deconsecrated church in Venice, Patricia Cronin placed a pile of clothing on each of the three shrines found within, one to represent each of the events that were so embedded in her mind. Next to each pile was a small photograph, indistinguishable from a distance, more specifically depicting their respective group of women. At the IRWGS panel, Cronin stressed her decision to put the brightly colored saris on the one altar that could be seen from the street, recognizing how eye-catching they could be to a passer-by. And there is certainly something profoundly haunting and visually arresting about the huge piles of clothing.  As the visitor walks through the door and approaches each altar, they encounter a photograph: by the saris, the two girls raped and murdered in India; the emblematic group photo of the Nigerian girls beside the pile of hijabs; and the women from the Magdalene asylums next to the aprons they wore. Cronin compels the public to make connections between the clothing on the shrine and the girls in the images: these are the clothes they are wearing. In parallel the violence and objectification of the girls, their bodies disappear, rendered invisible, and we are left with a shapeless and indistinguishable mass of fabric. Cronin’s work emphasizes a gradual process of understanding—it starts from the moment the visitor catches a glimpse of the beautifully colored saris, followed by a shocking confrontation with the photographs that reveal what the exhibit is truly about. 

At the panel, Cronin highlighted the strong emotional responses visitors had to her piece, mentioning a group of Indian women that was so moved that they later returned with a black mourning sari to donate to the exhibit. This contribution to the shrine added a new and valuable participatory element to the piece; a group of women who were previously passive audiences to the exhibit became artmakers themselves, enhancing the artwork with an artifact from their own lives. In this act, the group of women expressed solidarity with the girls enshrined and with the artist. Cronin stressed the personal, intimate connection that she, an American artist, felt with this group of Indian tourists in Italy. This dynamic reflects Cronin’s stated goal to forge larger-scale ties across international communities, which is depicted in her art piece. Cronin brings three events—coming from three different regions, invoking three different religious traditions, and affecting women who wear three different types of clothing—together under one roof.

The atmosphere and siting of the piece does promote a pronounced sense of thoughtfulness and introspection; the church is a literal interpretation of the “reverential conditions” identified by Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others as important to enable careful and critical consideration of the work. The visitor is surrounded by the shrines everywhere she looks, likely finding it impossible to turn away, which suggests an insistence on looking and bearing witness. The piles of clothing themselves are large and prominent, occupying a place of importance and attention by virtue of being placed on top of the altars. The church setting, however, has another effect: it complicates Cronin’s global mission for her piece by siting it within a fundamentally Christian milieu, both in terms of location and iconography. Additionally, the church setting and use of the altars contribute to the martyrdom of the girls.  In designating them as martyrs, Cronin aligns these women with a tradition of celebrating suffering with the goal of promoting some greater world good. Such a generalized depiction of suffering can create or perpetuate the idea that the “disquiet” facing women and girls is irrevocable and unchangeable, and that the best we can do is honor the lives who have suffered because of it.

Cronin’s work does follow in the tradition of politically engaged art; her project includes the promotion of three human rights organizations that work toward repairing and eradicating the kinds of abuses illustrated by her exhibit. However, we must question the extent to which Cronin’s piece really does compel us to act and produce change, or how much it teaches us about the events it depicts. A photo of two girls hanging from a tree with the backdrop of a pile of vibrant, crumpled saris is certainly arresting; it makes us stop and stare and it makes us feel bad. Cronin’s piece is beautiful and tragic and moving. But to use this picture of the girls without their consent and without a narrative description of who they were, where they came from, or what happened to them feels sensationalizing and exploitative. It feels like an instrumentalization of their suffering for shock factor, an element that Cronin herself identifies as instrumental to her piece. Rather than compel us to consider the individual narratives and realities of the women represented, Cronin’s exhibit forces us into a global and generalizing framework that risks not doing justice to those whom the piece enshrines.

Legal Issues in Legacy of Rape

December 10, 2015


by Rowan Hepps Keeney and Ayah Tahrah Eldosougi; Students of English W3775 Narrating Rape: Gender, Testimony & Violence

"To see something in the form of an image is an invitation to observe, to learn, to attend to. Photographs can’t do the moral or the intellectual work for us. But they can start us on our way.”

Upon entering the 7th floor of Schermerhorn extension, stair climbers are confronted with a warning announcement. From Dec.1st through 15th this corridor has become home to the Legacy of Rape, “a moving series of first hand accounts from women who have survived sexual violence during times of armed conflict.”  Put on display by the joint efforts of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) and PROOF: Media for Social Justice, the exhibit runs the length of the hall the IRWGS Institute shares with the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS). Greeting elevator goers, at the center of the hall, stands the exhibit's name piece, complete with a mission statement and haunting image of a survivor's outstretched hand. Flanking the title piece to the right and left are displays complete with the photographs of survivors from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal, their faces absent from the photographs, as well as more traditional portraits of survivors from both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Colombia. Alongside these images are personal testimonies provided by the women photographed. 

A discussion of the exhibit and similar projects was presented as a part of an accompanying panel entitled, Art, Law and Social Justice. Speakers included Leora Kahn, founder and Executive Director of PROOF, Patricia Cronin, the artist behind  the Venice Biennale installation Shrine for Girls and New School Professor Anna Di Lellio who presented her work, Thinking of You. IRWGS Professor Marianne Hirsch moderated the conversation, which ended with an analysis of The Legacy of Rape by Columbia Law School Professor Katherine Franke. Franke turned an analytic eye on the exhibit, drawing parallels to law and asking probing questions on the role of the exhibit for its viewers.

Speaking as a professor of law, Franke commented on the relationship between testimonies of sexual assault in legal settings, such as courts, and the testimonies within the  exhibit of photographs and testimonies. According to Franke, the “undoing” that is enacted upon the body in cases of rape and sexual assault is so visceral and raw that attempting to verbally convey such an experience, in a court of law, not only further detriments the survivor, but infringes on the legitimacy of the legal system. In her book Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self, Susan Brison discusses a similar dynamic, in which she was forced to recall the details of her assault so many times in exactly the same manner that she became so distant from her own experience that she could no longer recall which of the details were her own memories and which were shaped through regurgitation. She states that “my story was shaped by what the listener needed to know most urgently… the point was not, exactly, to get the truth unless ‘truth’ is defined purely instrumentally as that which will help accomplish a goal, in this case, the goal of getting the suspect convicted” (Brison, 106-107). Franke identifies the testimonies of the Legacy of Rape exhibit as of a similar regurgitative vain. Assuming the validity of Brison and Franke’s arguments, do exhibits such as the Legacy of Rape or even testimonies in a court of law distance both the survivor, as well as the viewer, from the gruesome details, or even the reality of such traumatic events? What is the exhibit asking from the viewer? 

Franke does not distinguish between the narrative excerpts in the Legacy of Rape exhibit and those that are recounted in court; to her, they both function as dissociations from the actual event. According to Brison, however, testimonies can help grant survivors subjectivity. She states that, “...just as one can be reduced to an object through torture, one can become a human subject again through telling one’s narrative to caring others who are able to listen” (Brison, 57). One could argue that the testimonies in the Legacy of Rape exhibit offer such an avenue, though one may ask then, what are the limitations of creating subjecthood out of narratives? Must the narratives be told verbally? Must they be told directly and personally, or can a second party quote and then distribute said narratives to a more universal audience? What is the difference between these types of testimonies and those told in courts? Does the intent and purpose of a legal system inherently disassociate and, in some ways, simplify these narratives? 

Both the exhibit and the panel grappled with the difficulty of representation and self-consciously took up the task of questioning how to present the testimony of others without appropriating their narratives or re-victimizing the victim. Yet, the issue of identity and the clear racial delineation of those heard (particularly considering the panel conversation) versus those who were merely seen, was not a point of focus. Franke drew a parallel between photographs in the exhibit that displayed women with their backs to the camera and similar work of African American artist Lorna Simpson, who implicated herself in her photography of African American women. Concerning Simpson’s work, Franke said, “The act of looking was informed by the identity of the artist and the work. Not so with The Legacy of Rape where the photographers’ identity is a marginal fact about the exhibit,” then asking, “Or is it?” Similarly, we can ask the same question concerning the identities of the speakers in relation to the identities of the photographed subjects. In her remarks, Franke discussed the unspeakability of rape and the use of testimony as a tool of law and politics. Does the erasure of identity politics, beyond that of gender solidarity, within both the Legacy of Rape and Art, Law and Social Justice, perpetuate the use of testimony as a political tool? In an effort to give voice to the unspeakable, have the victims of sexual violence also been made victims of political violence?

Narratives of sexual assault survivors deserve and demand to be spoken and heard in order to stop the ubiquitous silencing of such experiences. The Legacy of Rape exhibit certainly takes steps forward to speak about these dynamics, though there is also a presence of controversy around the best platform to do so. There will always be difficulties in the representation of such complex and politically charged issues, particularly in the forums of law and exhibition. It is crucial that in expressing the testimonies of survivors, artists, activists and legal representatives are careful to “not speak, for other survivors of trauma in order to speak with them” (Brison, 30). The Legacy of Rape, as is evident by Franke’s points, tows the line between the two. While art, activism and law seemingly reside within separate realms, Franke’s commentary demonstrates the ways in which these fields converge when called upon to make speakable that which is not, and do justice to rape.

PROOF's The Legacy of Rape Exhibit

December 10, 2015


by Egon von Conway, Andrea Duerr, Alay Syed; Students of English W3775 Narrating Rape: Gender, Testimony & Violence

In the silent and desolate halls of Schermerhorn Extension, an intervention is being made. A tale of violence and violation, trauma and memory, testimony and witnessing, unspeakability and legibility, refusal and empowerment, is being told. A space of collective acknowledgement, grieving, accountability, and healing is being created. If you make your way up to the seventh floor before December 15, you’ll come face to face with five looming panels displaying text and photographs, breaking the silence that we’re so often confronted with when talking about rape and gender-based violence in the everyday.

The panels comprise a photography exhibit curated by PROOF: Media for Social Justice, in collaboration with UNHPR and hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS). The exhibit, titled Legacy of Rape, interrogates and displays the use of rape as a weapon of war. Attempting to highlight a global phenomenon, the exhibition focuses on rape and sexual violence during war in four different regions, depicting groups of women in Nepal, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Bosnia and Herzegovina and Colombia. The exhibit presents sixteen photographs of rape survivors and accompanying selections from each of the survivors’ testimonies and stories.

The aim of PROOF’s exhibition is multi-faceted. As described by PROOF’s founder and executive direction Leora Kahn, the Legacy of Rape project aims to assist in building strategies and tools for activism and social reform with groups of women in the four regions. For this project, PROOF partnered with survivors of rape and sexual abuse in these regions to produce images, testimonies and stories. The organization and the groups of women worked with documentary photographers to take portraits of the individual survivors. PROOF has organized a number of different exhibitions from these materials. The groups of women, with the help of PROOF, organized exhibitions within their own communities that function as catalysts for testimony and activism. In each country, stated Kahn in an accompanying panel discussion on December 1st, the exhibit was designed differently, maintaining cultural sensitivity and optimizing impact. For instance, in the DRC, relatable testimonies were selected with the hope that the exhibition would provoke a response amongst a hidden community of survivors, whereas the one designed for Colombia aimed to provoke political action and reform. Furthermore, PROOF is engaged in a long-term project to organize the materials into traveling exhibitions aimed to educate and target different populations. The instantiation of Legacy of Rape being presented here at Columbia University, is designed to educate university students. This exhibit, states Kahn, is supposed to serve as a “springboard for discussion,” not only for the communities documented and directly impacted, but for the wider international audience in order to educate, build solidarity, and meticulously chip away at the silence surrounding issues of rape and gender based violence.

The takeaway question of the photography exhibit, along with the accompanying panel discussion, is one that holds both the artist and viewer responsible in bearing witness to the stories of these survivors: how does one narrate or portray a victim without further victimizing them? What is the role of the artist in presenting a narrative that is not only provocative and impactful, but also respects the boundaries of these victims? In this respect, the photographers/artists included here found a way to pay homage to the wishes of the victim in what is allowed to be shown of them and what is bearable for them. According to Kahn, the subjects of these portraits were actively involved in the process of selecting testimonies to be presented within the exhibit. The portraits on the other hand, attempt to give voice to something beyond language, providing a sharp contrast, as well as accompanying visual evidence to the testimonies laid out.

The provocative exhibit captures something beyond words, as texts and images function as different forms of testimony and recognition. There seems to be no official or standardized way to show victims or bear witness to their testimonies. Each photographer involved utilizes different styles of portraiture. What seems important within this exhibit is to keep the dignity of the victims and portray them in a respectful manner. All sixteen portraits seem to reference this wish. This is directly highlighted within the portraits of the women in Nepal and the DRC, in which their faces and therefore identities are hidden from the camera, in order to prevent any further social stigma, humiliation, and repercussions that this visibility may cause for their children, spouses, family, and social standing.  However, the choice to hide the faces of the victims does not take away from the gravity of their testimonies, but further invites the viewer to bear witness, to read the testimonies, to hear the silences these bodies have been enshrouded in.

Presenting a different modality of testimony and photography, the Bosnian women are shown in everyday settings with their full names accompanying their portraits and stories. There seems to be an indication in these portraits and texts that the personal stories of these women are well known and documented. These women have been trying to get justice and reparation from the government for years, some successful, others not. Yet their poses in the photos demonstrate resilience, determination and awareness of their legal rights, even if bringing their perpetrators to justice is not always possible and is often painful. The four Colombian rape victims are portrayed at a very close range. Only their faces are shown, their faint smiles central to the photographs that have been cropped just below the neck. This makes for a very intimate moment between viewer and subject. These portraits look destined to be shown in a gallery show. In the narratives, all the women reference the unimaginable that was inflicted on their body over and over again. Not showing their body in the portraits underlines the atrocities committed against them. An accompanying blurb presenting the overarching theme of the panel states that four million Colombians are considered to be “internally displaced” within the country, and gender-based violence is the cause of the displacement of two of every ten women by some estimates. “These women” reads the blurb, “have yet to receive any compensation or justice.” This exhibit presenting the stories and portraits of survivors of rape and sexual assault, aims to open up conversations about these issues in order to educate and build international awareness, solidarity, and pressure on state governments to provide resources and assistance to these victims.

Tuesday night’s panel discussion, titled Art, Law, and Social Justice, echoed some of the concerns and questions provoked by PROOF’s exhibit. The panel comprised of Kahn, artist Patricia Cronin (Shrine of Girls), professor and curator Anna di Lellio (Thinking of You), and Professor Katherine Franke of the Columbia Law School. The panel was moderated by Professor Marianne Hirsch of IRWGS. Along with how to portray the story of a victim without further victimizing them, the evening’s discussion centered on the role of art as a medium for social justice, awareness, and reform, interrogating the role of testimonies and legal systems within the processes of healing and accountability. Cronin highlighted the importance of finding a “solemn way to talk about women.” The power of art, stated Cronin, “can work across language and geographical barriers to move people to care, think, and feel.” The aim of her work was to “unnumb people” from the violence of the 24 hour news cycle. Anna di Lellio agreed with Cronin in her belief that art can reach and move individuals across cultures, language, and even gender demarcations. Hers was not just an artistic project but a “participatory project” which promoted community building, not only for survivors, but also their families and allies. 

The works of Cronin, di Lellio, and PROOF, all deal with the erasures and silences surrounding the issues of sexual assault and rape. One way to grapple with the idea of erasure, stated di Lellio, is to answer by visibility. In addition to visibility these projects engage ideas of legibility, requiring interpretation and presenting more than just what the image or exhibit depicts. Furthermore, these projects make arguments about “rendering forms of human suffering legible,” leaving a lot to the viewer to digest and process. This project of legibility, agreed the panelists, is a political project in its own terms. Whereas in many societies, law is the highest form of recognition and legibility, it can also do “epistemic violence at times to subjects it is supposed to be serving and protecting,” stated Franke. Thus in order to once again grapple with the question of how to present a victim’s narrative and provide some semblance of justice and healing with sensitivity, care, and responsibility, it is important for artists, activists, academics, and audience alike, to engage with the intersection of law and art critically and effectively.  

In these so often silent halls, exhibits like these force us to engage, disrupting business as usual.

Familial Undercurrents: A Lecture by Afsaneh Najmabadi

November 25, 2015

by Elizabeth Dolfi, Department of Religion PhD and 2015 – 16 Graduate Fellow


Afsaneh Najmabadi’s lecture ‘Familial Undercurrents,’ on gender, sexuality, family structure and modernities in Iran, provided a fascinating introduction to a work-in-progress that is part theoretical meditation, part historical-sociological investigation, and part family history.  Najmabadi is interested in the rapid transformation of conceptions of marriage and the family among educated and upper class Iranians during the early and mid twentieth century, and the everyday practices and affects which allowed people to live with and through the gaps left by these shifting social and ideological possibilities. 


This project began with the unearthing of Najmabadi’s own family secrets and her attempts to account for their consequences in her life and the lives of her kin. She did not grow up in a “combined” house, and neither she nor her mother knew about her father’s second household until well into adulthood. In dealing with the emotional fallout from this discovery, Najmabadi asks how “a form of family life that would have been normal for my mother’s generation could have become a shameful family secret only a generation later?”  Najmabadi wonders how the imperial “love marriage” generated “family unspeakables” and, often, “the will not to know.”


In her effort to track historical shifts in the construction of, in Najmabadi’s evocative language, “the kin who count and those in their shadows,” Najmabadi is particularly interested in the affective lives of those who wrestled their way through these incomplete transitions. She asks what the promises of modernity and companionate marriage were, and how, when the practical realities of marriages failed to live up to the romantic ideal (as when a second family exists, but as a secret rather than a naturalized part of the home or the family structure), people lived with, through, and in between the inheritance of social and ideological changes wrought by imperialism. Using oral histories and archival material, she investigates the fall-out from silences and secrets – the ways that relatives become strangers, that monogamy’s promises are broken, and that kin are exiled to the margins in order to posit a center for the nucleated family. 


Najmabadi’s analysis of family photographs as sites where never-fully-realized modernities are enacted, resisted, and “lived with” in quiet, quotidian ways was particularly compelling. She connected the arrival of photography in the Middle East with the Europeanization of marriage ideals, describing the camera and the photograph as objects of everyday life through which these changes were negotiated and “off-modern” practices were generated. She spoke about oral history interviews with older Iranian women who lived through these transitions and rejected the narrowing logics of the nucleated family (because, of course, these were never quite nuclear families). When looking at a family photograph with three women labeled as “mother” in pencil on the back, for instance, these women would rebuff Najmabadi’s request to identify their mother by insisting that the photograph identified “all of their mothers.”  Family photographs recapture, for Najmabadi, familial logics in which aunts, uncles, siblings, and mothers were called by these names without any “half” or “step” modifiers.  They also suggest some of the patterns of affect and sentiment that went along with these family systems. 


Wedding photographs, on the other hand, give us access to something a little different. In the 1930s and 40s, wedding photos were often taken at a photographer’s shop on a different day from the wedding.  They were typically taken in western-style wedding clothes (white dress, black suit) that were only worn for these photos and not for the actual wedding ceremony or celebration. In marking the couple as sartorially and spatially separate from the wider family, the bride and groom in these photos were ritually presented as different from their parents and their parents’ generation. Going to the photographer’s studio became a crucial way for brides and grooms to stage coupledom and their investment in the bourgeois conjugal family (no matter what kind of home they actually lived in). These photographs might be displayed in homes in which the companionate couple and monogamous romance existed in an unresolved juxtaposition to a household full of many mothers and (half) siblings.

Najmabadi concluded by addressing the difficulty of excavating these pasts without, one the one hand, slipping into nostalgia and, on the other, imposing anachronistic terms on her subjects.



Theory Salon with Linda Zerilli, “The Turn to Affect and the Problem of Judgment”

October 29, 2015

by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 Graduate Fellow

On October 19, graduate students and faculty from in and outside Columbia came together to discuss Linda Zerilli’s recent article “The Turn to Affect and the Problem of Judgment.” A professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, Zerilli is also currently the Faculty Director of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality

Zerilli’s opening remarks situated her article within debates in political theory and philosophy, specifically the “mind-body” problem associated with René Descartes. Cartesians view the mind—that is, processes like reason and judgment—as independent from the matter of the body, though the mind can influence the body. Many political theorists and philosophers have questioned both the extent to which reason can be disentangled from the body’s material processes as well as the importance of conscious, rational judgments to the analysis and crafting of political projects. Feminists in particular have asked how people interact with the world through impulses other than disembodied reason; given the Western tradition of negatively associating women with sentiment and irrationality, it’s unsurprising that feminist thinkers have sought to reevaluate the importance of emotion to politics. Yet, Zerilli distinguished these critiques from the “affective turn” of the last decade. Instead of viewing reason and the affective responses of the material body as interdependent, many key figures in affect theory have continued to separate affect from reason and judgment. They argue that the affective responses of the material body preexist the cognitive functions which produce knowledge; what distinguishes their approach from Descartes’ inheritors is that they privilege the pre-rational body over the rational mind. Zerilli calls this approach “layer-cake ontologies.”

Though critical of these “layer-cake ontologies,” Zerilli seeks to understand why affect theory has been so attractive to scholars across disciplines. According to Zerilli, many are frustrated with how analyses of the socially constructed nature of heteronormative gender haven’t yielded significant progress in displacing these social norms. Why are we still attached to these norms given that feminist and queer theory have revealed them to be harmful and arbitrary? Zerilli sees affect as offering an explanation: even if we “know” these norms are bad, perhaps below our conscious awareness we’re still attached to the enacting of these norms. Still, unlike many affect theorists, Zerilli asks how we might think about how a person acquires knowledge and grasps concepts through their bodily interactions with the world. Just as we learn what a chair is through learning what to do with a chair, perhaps we learn the norm of sexual differentiation not by being told the linguistic proposition “male and female are binary terms” but by learning how to perceive other persons as fitting the aspect of either masculine or female. In exploring these possibilities, Zerilli turns to ordinary language philosophy in the vein of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell. 

Call for Teaching Assistants: Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies

October 14, 2015

The Department of Sociology, in coordination with the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia seeks Teaching Assistants for V1001 – Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies.

Graduate students currently enrolled in a Columbia University PhD program in any Arts and Sciences Department are eligible to apply, with approval from their home department.  Please note that Columbia TAs may not hold more than one TA position in any one semester and may not accept additional fellowship or departmental support during the term of the TA appointment.

Candidates should send a letter of intent (including background, experience, and fields of interest), an updated CV, and the name and contact information for one academic reference to Professor Shamus Khan c/o irwgs@columbia.edu, by or before 4pm, Friday, December 11.  Application materials may also be dropped off at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, 763 Schermerhorn Extension. 

Feminist to the Core: Julie Crawford on Homer’s ILIAD

September 18, 2015


by Victoria Wiet, English and Comparative Literature, PhD ’17 and 2015 – 16 Graduate Fellow

            IRWGS’ “Feminist to the Core” series kicked off its fall programming with Professor Julie Crawford’s lecture on Homer’s The Iliad. The series aims to not only explore Core Curriculum texts from a feminist perspective but also to introduce feminist interpretive frameworks, which can be carried over to other Core readings and courses outside of the Core Curriculum.

            In her talk, Professor Crawford, Mark van Doren Professor of English and Chair of Literature Humanities, considered the ideological premises which we might assume structure The Iliad: the privileging of warrior masculinity and the exclusion of women from the values and practices central to this definition of masculinity. Crawford troubled this reading by focusing on the formal elements, which gradually develop alternative principles (namely that of “care” and co-feeling) across the arc of the poem.

            Crawford began her lecture by performing the feminist move of looking for evidence of female voices and agency in a text reputed to largely exclude them. The Iliad is one of the Western Canon’s most famous stories of the traffic in women: the event which catalyzed this narrative of the Trojan War, is, of course, Paris’s abduction of Menelaus’s wife Helen. The exchange of women for material and immaterial gain is thought to be foundational to patriarchy because it consolidates bonds between men, although Crawford qualified that in Ancient Greece the traffic of women also puts them in competition with each other. Yet, Crawford used the rubrics of narration and female artistry in order to challenge the reading that characters like Helen and Chryseis are merely objects or chattel. Crawford moved from discussing how men in the poem authorize themselves to speak of Helen’s desire to demonstrating how Helen asserts her presence as a narrator of her own story. Through the figure of Helen, Crawford illustrated, references to social and political bonds between women (such as the Amazons) encroach upon the narrative’s apparently male homosocial world.

            Crawford emphasized how the poem exposes the tremendous amount of labor necessary for creating warrior masculinity. Not only does the poem displace warrior masculinity by locating it in an idealized past, but the constant imperatives to “be a man” also show that this ethos is something that is produced through threat and discipline. Crawford pointed out that even the narrator of the Homeric poem takes on the labor of reproducing this ideology by saying, “be a man, dear friend.”

            In demonstrating evidence of female agency, Crawford offered a way of reading The Iliad that can easily be transported to analyses of a much wider range of literary texts. She rounded out her talk by considering elements of The Iliad which, to me, felt more specific to the epic poem itself. She listed the many ways the poem analogized warriors to both mothers and children and noted the parallel between Andromache’s ignorance about the fate of her husband and Achilleus’ ignorance about the death of his beloved friend Patroclus. Crawford’s concluding remarks emphasized that The Iliad gradually develops an alternative ethos of “co-feeling” typically associated with female nurturers.

            Please join us on Monday, October 12th for the next “Feminist to the Core” event, Professor Margaret Carroll’s lecture on rape in Baroque art.


IRWGS Work Study Job Call

August 26, 2015

IRWGS is hiring! See below for details. If interested, please email our program coordinator, Khadija Belly (k.belly@columbia.edu)

Work-Study Position Description – AY2015-16

Responsibilities include these FOUR components:


·      Write 2 blog posts per semester

·      Contribute to IRWGS social media accounts

o   Facebook, twitter – help maintain active presence and frequent interactions

·      Cultivate and maintain networks with student groups and solicit student organization events and news.


·      General front-office reception.  Greet guests, answer phones, check irwgs@columbia.edu, check and send mail.

·      Provide support to the Institute (Director, Associate Director, Finance Manager, Program Coordinator and faculty) including photocopying, scanning, research, drafting correspondence, etc.

·      Maintain various Google calendars (update calendars by entering on campus events to Affiliated Events calendar)

·      Maintain files, scans, Dropbox files, libraries (pdf, syllabus, 754), and archives

·      Maintain office, seminar room, storage spaces, and announcement areas in hallway


·      Publicity: Hang posters, distribute fliers, and other advertising

o   Add calendar/event listings to IRWGS website, Facebook, Twitter, Columbia events calendar. Send to other departments/schools/groups/listservs as applicable.

·      Make buttons and other promotional materials.

·      Assist during events: Set-up and break-down of seminar room (or other space).  Help serve wine (if applicable), clean throughout event, help where necessary

·      Take photos/video, live tweet

·      Create event listings to advertise programming.  Post edited photos.

Academic Coordination

·      Check different class listings  (Bulletin, UNIFY, irwgs.columbia.edu, Summer Studies site, etc) for errors.

·      Research lists of cross-listed and related courses.  Solicit cross-listed and related courses from professors.

Christia Mercer writes op-ed for Washington Post on Prison Divestment

July 16, 2015

IRWGS Executive Committee member and Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosphy Christia Mercer has published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today on schools and prison divestment.

Please click here for the article.

Jack Halberstam's Queer Futures: “Zombie Humanism at the End of the World"

July 6, 2015

by Nicole Gervasio, English Ph.D. '17 and 2014 - 2015 IRWGS Grad Fellow

Jack Halberstam closed out “Queer Futures” for this year by playfully politicizing several seemingly disparate aspects of contemporary culture— zombies, biopolitics, wilderness, prisons, and even pet ownership. A professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies, Comparative Literature, and English at the University of Southern California, Halberstam will be hosting a master class at IRWGS for the next two weeks.

The adventurous trajectory of Halberstam’s arc towards “zombie humanism” started with the concept of “wildness” as an occasion for “aesthetic rupture.” Thinking in terms of aesthetic rupture involves overlapping genealogies that normally would not be read together but nevertheless make sense aesthetically and historically. Halberstam staged “wildness” as a substitute for “queer,” which, in his view, “no longer signifies the wild array of embodiment and utopian projects that it once did.”

In the space of what was once queer, wildness encompasses all that is chaotic, reckless, and intense to the point of violence. Halberstam shifted discourse from queerness as a polemic against normativity to monstrosity itself—“the entropy of life, stuff, matter, and worlds.” By queering subjectivities that compulsorily inhabit that space of “living death,” we can fathom the ways in which the state imposes scripts on lives that don’t assimilate with normative views of what “living” means. 

Having enumerated black men in prisons and seniors in retirement communities as conscripts of living death, Halberstam chose one subjectivity that we would not as readily associate with regulatory violence to illustrate his thesis: household pets. “Your pet is not really alive,” he explained. “Its life script is determined by you… It is, in fact, a prosthetic extension of the human that owns it.”

Despite being a devoted pet owner myself (Halberstam would probably point out that my choice of the designation ‘owner’ is key), I couldn’t deny some of the obvious truths to his bone to pick with man’s best friend. I particularly appreciated his blistering critique of “the colonial narrative” regarding “rescue” dogs: humans cannot logically “domesticate, abandon, and then rescue again” the very creatures whose conditions of captivity they created in the first place.

Having disillusioned many an audience member with “the carceral intensity of pet-owning,” Halberstam moved into a more theoretical discussion of biopolitics and zombie humanism. He noted the racialized history of zombie mythology, particularly the fear that zombification would re-enslave free Haitians in their sleep. Zombies therefore began as “a political narrative about holding slavery at bay, but also recognizing it as a living memory and potentially a part of the present.”

By the 1960s, zombies in films like Night of the Living Dead allegorized the intensification of American viewers’ relationships to consumer capitalism. Now zombies work in a neocolonial mode—whether through fantasies of de-extinction or television shows like The Walking Dead and In the Flesh. The dominant ‘zombie imperialist’ logic, Halberstam said, works like this: “You create the conditions of rupture and disaster, and then you become the redemptive force” to reverse the very disaster that your race has enabled.

For more Halberstam, check out this Thursday’s “Keywords” interdisciplinary roundtable discussion, where Halberstam will be theorizing “trans” with Yvette Christiansë, Jack Pula, Yasmine Ergas, and Jean Howard from 4:30-6:30pm in 1512 International Affairs Building.

Image Credit: from AMC's The Walking Dead

IRWGS Welcomes our 2015 - 2016 Graduate Fellows

July 6, 2015

A hearty congratulations to our 2015 – 2016 IRWGS Graduate Fellows Liz Dolfi (Religion), Victoria Wiet (English and Comparative Literature), Andrea Crow (English and Comparative Literature), and Alyssa Greene (Germanic Languages). Fellows are selected annually, based on the excellence of their scholarship and their commitment to women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

Liz Dolfi, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Religion Department, has a strong background in gender studies. She has a B.A. in Women’s Studies and an M.A. in Religion and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has also recently completed her Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies here at IRWGS and was a TA for Professor Ciolkowski and Professor Jordan-Young’s Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies course this past semester.

Liz says she is “interested in developing workshops on research methods and prospectus writing that address the particular needs of students working across multiple academic disciplines.” She also believes that “making feminist scholars more familiar with the critical language of religious studies is a politically urgent project, and critical studies of religion and secularisms are too frequently neglected in feminist scholarship.”  As a Graduate Fellow, Liz hopes to invite to IRWGS guest lecturers who “explicitly engage questions about religion and are able to make these subjects accessible to students from other fields.”

Victoria Wiet, a fourth-year doctoral student in the English and Comparative Literature Department, has been a part of the IRWGS community since she started at Columbia.  Last semester she was a TA (with Liz) for Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies, and she has also taught the Gender and Sexuality-themed section of University Writing.

As a graduate fellow, Victoria would like to “promote teaching in affiliation with IRWGS as a building block for teaching in one’s home discipline.” She also looks forward to developing pedagogical workshops and continuing to attend IRWGS events, which she says have provided “surprising points of contact between my work and those working in different disciplines and time periods.”

This year, IRWGS has also appointed Andrea Crow and Alyssa Greene as Graduate Conference Fellows.  Andrea and Alyssa will be organizing the February 2016 conference “Practicing Utopias: Feminism and Activism in Institutional Contexts.”

Andrea Crow, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, is currently in the process of completing the IRWGS graduate certificate. Andrea notes, “feminist and queer theory have been central to my work both as a researcher and teacher throughout my time in academia.”  Andrea has served as Graduate Assistant to the CSSD working group “Women Mobilizing Memory” and has also been heavily involved with IRWGS events since her arrival at Columbia.

Alyssa Greene, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Germanic Languages is also pursuing the IRWGS graduate certificate, and has been involved with IRWGS since her first year at Columbia. Like Andrea, Alyssa is a part of the CSSD working group “Women Mobilizing Memory.”  Alyssa says that “IRWGS is one of the few truly interdisciplinary spaces she’s encountered at Columbia” and as a grad fellow she hopes to “continue reaching out to students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines and departments.” 

Columbia Law Professors Katherine Franke and Suzanne Goldberg React to Supreme Court Ruling

July 2, 2015

Following the landmark decision by the Supreme Court last Friday, there has been plenty of discussion about how the ruling will affect gay rights in America. Katherine Franke, IRWGS Executive Committee member and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, and Suzanne Goldberg, EVP for University Life and Director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, have responded to the news:

"Dignity" Could Be Dangerous At The Supreme Court by Professor Katherine Franke

A Progressive Agenda for Married Queers by Professor Katherine Franke

How We Changed Our Thinking on Gay Marriage featuring Professor Katherine Franke

What The Landmark Ruling on Gay Marriage Means for Higher Education featuring Professor Suzanne Goldberg

Image Credit

2015 IRWGS Curriculum Development Grant

July 2, 2015

IRWGS is happy to announce the recipients of the 2015 Curriculum Development Grants. More information about the grant, offered with the generous support of The Heyman Center and the Mellon Foundation, can be found here.

Recipients are:

Rachel Adams
Professor of English and American Studies
“Illness, Disability, and Gender in Graphic Narrative”

Patricia Dailey
Director, Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
“Historical Approaches”

Yasmine Ergas
Director, Gender & Public Policy Specialization, SIPA,
“Challenging The Boundaries of ‘Work’: Sex, Care, and Procreation”

Marianne Hirsch
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
“Narrating Rape: Gender, Testimony and Violence”

Hikari Hori
Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures,
“Japanese Animation and Beyond: Gender, Power and Transnational Media in Visual Cultural Studies”

Eliza Zingesser
Assistant Professor of French and Romance Philosophy
“Reading and Writing (On) the Body in the French Middles Ages”

Congratulations to Lucie Vagnerova (IRWGS/GSAS Teachers Scholar Program) on winning the 2015 Mayerson Award!

July 2, 2015

From Columbia's Music Department:

Lucie Vagnerova (Historical Musicology) has been chosen to receive a 2015 Meyerson Award for Excellence in Core Teaching. This award, which carries a stipend, is given annually in Art Humanities, Music Humanities, and Literature Humanities to an outstanding graduate student preceptor in each course. 

Lucie's achievement will be recognized at the Spring Core Party, Friday, May 8, 3-6pm (ceremony about 4pm), Core Curriculum Office, 202 Hamilton Hall.   

Lucie was also selected for the 2015-16 GSAS Teaching Scholars Program. With the support from a curriculum development grant awarded by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality--made possible by the Heyman Center for the Humanities--Lucie will offer the new undergraduate course "Sexing Sound Art" in fall 2015. For the IRWGS course list see http://irwgs.columbia.edu/courses/fall-2015.

Congratulations, Lucie!

Interview with Caitlin Lowell, winner of the 2015 Women's and Gender Studies Award

July 2, 2015

IRWGS is happy to announce the 2015 winner of the 7th Annual Women’s and Gender Studies Award.

This year, Caitlin Lowell (CC '15 and Political Science and American Studies major) has won the Women's and Gender Studies Award for her essay "Justice Is Not An Institution: The University of Michigan and the Alternate Responses to Sexual Violence on Campus." We interviewed Caitlin to learn more about her work and her plans for the future.

1. What inspired you to focus on The University of Michigan and sexual violence on campus as your senior thesis?

Throughout my work doing sexual violence organizing, I was struggling to find models that worked for transformative and restorative justice within the university. I had been inspired by community-based literature that grappled with how to create transformative responses to violence, especially Andrea Smith's preface in The Revolution Starts at Home. As we're facing a moment where some lawmakers are calling for greater police involvement in college adjudication processes, I wanted to find a case study of a school that had engaged with socially just restorative and transformative approaches to violence. 
I focused on the University of Michigan because it is one of the few schools nationally that has a long and established history of using restorative justice approaches in response to sexual violence. It also is a school that has received much praise over the past few years for its responses to sexual violence, as well as a great deal of backlash from some survivors and an ongoing Title IX investigation during this same time period. This made the University of Michigan a useful case study to examine this pivotal moment that's happening nationally as colleges are reexamining their responses to sexual violence.
2. You are graduating this month with a degree in Political Science and American Studies. How have you been able to integrate your interest women's studies in the work you have done here at Columbia?
One of the reasons why I loved American Studies as a major is that it allowed me to be truly interdisciplinary in the work that I did here. I focused my courseload on intersections of gender, queerness, and race in America, and was able to take many women and gender studies classes this way. These classes have in turn affected my activism around sexual violence, mental health, and LGBTQ issues on campus throughout my time at Columbia.
3. What are your plans for the future?
I'm going to spend the year following graduation as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow through the Congressional Hunger Center. This is a fellowship that addresses issues of economic justice and hunger through a social justice and anti-racist lens. I'm going to spend the first half of the fellowship doing direct work in field site somewhere in the U.S. and the second half of the fellowship continuing to work on these issues in a policy placement in D.C. In this fellowship, I hopefully will get to work in placements that address how issues of gender and sexuality intersect with economic justice work.


Embodiments of Science: “Gender-Based Issues for Women in the Natural Sciences”

May 7, 2015

by Grace Delmolino, Italian/ICLS Ph.D. ’17 and 2014-15 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

During IRWGS’s final “Embodiments of Science” program of the spring semester, students and faculty gathered to hear a panel discussion on issues facing women in the natural sciences.

The four speakers began by discussing the “leaky pipeline” metaphor that is often used to talk about gender disparity in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Although men and women enter STEM fields at the undergraduate level at roughly similar rates, gender disparity steadily increases as the “pipeline” wends its way through graduate education, postdoctoral programs, junior faculty positions, and so on, until the pipeline—i.e. the number of women in these positions—has become just a dribble at the level of tenured faculty members. This holds true for both the academic and corporate worlds. Not only is the pipeline leaking—the plumbing itself is broken!

Maya Tolstoy, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, reported that Columbia’s Commission on the Status of Women has just completed a decade-long study revealing that the percentage of women in STEM—especially at the junior faculty level—surged in the early half of the decade, but has now plummeted back down to nearly what it was before. If the trend of small and steady increase at about 4% per decade continues, Tolstoy cautioned, it will take approximately seventy-six years to reach parity. It is a sobering thought.

Anne Taylor, Vice Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia Medical College, pointed out that although the practice of medicine has had parity for about 20 years, advancement into academic medicine shows a similar pattern. Why does such disparity persist in academic STEM fields? And why, asked Tolstoy, did we see such progress a decade ago, and such backsliding shortly thereafter?

The panelists reflected on the kinds of social conditioning, biases, and stereotypes that contribute to the gender gap in STEM. Rajini Rao, Professor of Physiology at The Johns Hopkins University, emphasized the importance of mentoring and support for women in these fields. Take the example of awards: women tend to win fewer awards for their work not because their work is inferior, but because they are much less likely than men to apply for recognition in the first place. Outreach and encouragement, and above all strong networks of mentors and colleagues to whom women can turn for advice, are crucial for creating the conditions where gender parity can be achieved. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, enables new kinds of networking that can be especially beneficial to women working in these male-dominated fields.

But achieving gender parity isn’t just about women: men are implicated too. According to Liz Miller, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, “male advocates are essential” if we’re going to enact real change in the gender dynamics of academia. All four panelists agreed that it’s absolutely necessary for everyone to call out unacceptable behavior—whether deliberate or not—whenever it’s possible to do so. Miller reminded us that, in scientific experiments, simply reading a statement that bias exists can positively influence outcomes. In fields where gender parity can seem so distant—recall Tolstoy’s calculation of 76 years to achieve parity, at the current rate—there’s a lot of work still to do, even on the level of raising awareness of the gender gap.

There’s a long road ahead for women in the natural sciences. Taylor acknowledged how difficult it can be to forge forward in highly competitive, demanding fields when “the impostor syndrome that everyone feels, for women and minorities, is confirmed, emphasized, and amplified by external systems.” Yet, as Tolstoy pointed out, equally demanding and competitive fields like law reached gender parity a long time ago. The panel concluded with a consensus that, to fix the problem in STEM fields, intervention is required at nearly every level. As the report from the Commission on the Status of Women shows, it is possible to enact dramatic change in a relatively short period of time. But once progress is made, any slackening off of efforts can all too easily result in a negation of that progress. We need to plug the leaks in the pipeline, yes.  But above all, we need to fix the plumbing.

“Lesbian and Gay Rights in American Politics: Public Opinion and (Mis)Representation”

April 13, 2015

by Nicole Gervasio, English Ph.D. '17 and 2014 - 2015 IRWGS Grad Fellow

At last Wednesday’s installment of “Queer Futures,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin H. Phillips asked a pivotal question for civil rights today: to what extent do changing public opinions influence policymakers’ votes on issues regarding our country’s most vulnerable citizens? Targeting LGBTQ citizens, Phillips’s research has come up with a provocative statistical model for quantifying congressional responsiveness to voter opinion in their districts. His findings thus far have been both startling for LGBTQ rights and all too predictable from the most cynical liberal perspective.

“Policy tends to follow public opinion,” Phillips said, “but in the case of GLBT rights, policy has been slower than public support.” He and his team, which includes Katherine Krimmel and Jeffrey R. Lax, decided to find out whether the political process has been failing queer Americans or merely working at a snail’s pace. They have been tracking roll call voting in Congress on five major gay rights issues (same-sex marriage, adoption, hate crimes, military service, and employment non-discrimination) from 1993 to 2011.

These researchers expected to find a strong correlation between public opinion and congressional votes. What they found was both obvious and surprising. Democrats’ votes regularly began to line up with public opinion after 1993, when LGBTQ rights first became a legislative concern. On the other hand, Republicans, as even laypeople would guess, became far less sensitive to public opinion on all hot-button issues— not just LGBTQ rights.

For me, this finding signaled an eye-opening, big-picture takeaway from Phillips’s research into the legislative obstacles facing minorities. On each of the five issues Phillips tracked, individual Democrats consistently responded to change, whereas Republicans upheld the rigid, conservative stereotypes that define their party despite public opinion.

By comparing results from national public opinion polls that asked questions in line with issues on which Congress was voting, Phillips and his colleagues were able to simulate congruencies between the public and Congress’s opinions on both state and district levels. Overall, they found that 67 percent of votes ultimately lined up with majority opinion. Conservatives were responsible for 75 percent of incongruent votes. On average, almost 30 percent of all votes in the five categories they researched would have been different if lawmakers aligned with median voters.

Within political parties, responsiveness hinged on the identity politics of particular policymakers. Public opinion did not once seem to sway Republican votes on LGBTQ issues. However, Democratic responses were far more diverse; whereas public opinion is most likely to sway white male Democrats, all black Democrats always vote pro-gay, regardless of opinions in their home districts. This could be because, Phillips reasoned, “legislators who belong to groups that have historically faced discrimination might draw an analogy between their group’s experience and that of gays and lesbians.”

Up next for Phillips is researching the extent to which LGBTQ citizens are a voting constituency worth courting in U.S. politics. Be sure to check out the next talk for “Queer Futures” with Professor Jack Halberstam this Tuesday, April 7, from 6-8pm in 102A Jerome Green Hall.


IRWGS Director of Undergraduate Studies Christia Mercer on Teaching Philosophy in Prison

April 1, 2015

IRWGS Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor Christia Mercer has written a piece on teaching philosophy to inmates in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

Call for IRWGS Graduate Fellows, 2015 - 16

April 1, 2015



IRWGS Graduate Fellowships

The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) seeks applications for 2015-16 graduate fellows.  Graduate fellows will be expected to participate actively in IRWGS activities and to complete a maximum of 60 hours of work per semester.  Fellows will coordinate the IRWGS Graduate Colloquium (described below), organize the Graduate Student Open House, and assist the IRWGS Director and Associate Director, and the Directors of Graduate Studies and Undergraduate Studies with occasional research, administrative, and social media.

Stipends will be $3000 per semester.

Selection will be based on academic distinction in feminist and departmental scholarly work, and a proven commitment to IRWGS and its activities. IRWGS Graduate Fellowships generally go to Ph.D. students who have completed or are planning to complete the IRWGS graduate certificate.  Please note that IRWGS graduate fellows may not hold other fellowships or grants (including the Whiting and the Kluge from Columbia) in 2015-16. Applicants must indicate in their application any plans to apply for other fellowships and grants in 2015-16 and must inform the Institute if they accept other grants that may conflict with the IRWGS Graduate Fellowship requirements. These are GSAS rules.

The IRWGS Graduate Colloquium

The Colloquium consists of two ongoing programs: “Theory Monday” and “Graduate Colloquium.”  IRWGS Graduate Fellows coordinate these programs and, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, have significant input into determining the content of both programs. In past years, meetings have focused on graduate student work-in-progress and recent published scholarship in the field, faculty-led discussion of particular texts or a body of work, current research by faculty members, and/or workshops on professional issues such as preparing work for conferences and for publication, drafting dissertation prospectuses, and applying for academic jobs.

Graduate Fellows will be expected to secure space for all events (usually the IRWGS seminar room), maintain a regularly updated email list, notify participants of upcoming events, copy and distribute any pre-circulated readings, purchase light refreshments for each meeting, maintain a Colloquium budget, and write IRWGS blog posts for all programs.

Please submit a brief letter of application, a CV, and a short writing sample to irwgs@columbia.edu by or before Friday, May 1, 2015. Please include the names and contact information of two faculty members familiar with your work and ask one of these faculty members to write for you a brief letter of support.  

Celebrating the IRWGS Executive Committee

February 25, 2015

We would like to recognize the distinguished faculty members of the IRWGS Executive Committee for their recent honors and publications. Congratulations to all! 

Patricia Dailey, Director of IRWGS and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature

· Winner of the 2015 Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award


Laura Ciolkowski, Associate Director of IRWGS and Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature

· Editor and introduction, Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (Race Point Publishing, 2014)


Rachel Adams, Professor of English and Comparative Literature

· Received the Delta Kappa Gamma Educator’s Award for Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery

·  Co-editor, Keywords for Disability Studies (forthcoming, NYU Press, June 2015)

·  "Privacy, Dependency, Discegenation:  Toward a Sexual Culture for People with Intellectual Disabilities," forthcoming in Disability Studies Quarterly


Ellie Hisama, Professor of Music

· “‘Diving into the Earth’: the musical worlds of Julius Eastman,” in Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship  (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press, February 2015)

· Awarded fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation/Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Ethyle R. Wolfe Institute for the Humanities

· Will deliver a keynote address at the 2015 Music Graduate Students' Symposium at the Schulich School of Music, McGill University

· Recipient of the 2014 IRWGS Curriculum Development Grant


Jean Howard, George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities

· Co-editor with Pamela Brown, William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Bedford-St. Martin’s 2014)

· Co-editor with Helen Foley, “Tragedy,” a special volume of Publication of the Modern Language Association 

· Co-editor The Norton Shakespeare, third edition (Norton 2015)


Justin Phillips, Associate Professor of Political Science

· "Gay Rights in Congress: Public Opinion and (Mis)Representation” with Jeffrey Lax and Kate Krimmel, forthcoming in Public Opinion Quarterly

·  “Are Survey Respondents Lying About their Support for Same-Sex Marriage? Lessons from A Recent List Experiment” with Jeffrey Lax and Alissa Stollwerk, forthcoming in Public Opinion Quarterly

· Recipient of the 2014 IRWGS Curriculum Development Grant


Carole Vance, Associate Clinical Professor of Sociomedical Sciences

· Presented at the Domna Stanton Annual Lecture at Wellesley College, Dept. of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, October 2014

· Received the 2014 Simon and Gagnon Award from the American Sociological Association (Section on the Sociology of Sexualities) for career contributions to the field of sexualities studies


Katherine Franke, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law

· Awarded a 2011 Gugenheim Fellowship

· Dating the State: The Moral Hazards of Winning Gay Rights, 44 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 1 (2012)


Julie Crawford, Associate Professor of English and Comparative literature

· Mediatrix Women, Politics, and Literary Production in Early Modern England (May 2014)


Mana Kia, Assistant Professor of Indo Persian Studies

· Adab as Literary Form and Social Conduct: Reading the Gulistan in Late Mughal India,” in 'No Tapping Around Philology': A Festschrift in celebration and honor of Wheeler McIntosh Thackston Jr.’s 70th Birthday, ed. (2014)

· Imagining Iran before Nationalism: Geocultural Meanings of Land in Azar’s Ātashkadah.” In Rethinking Iranian Nationalism and Modernity: Histories Historiographies, ed. (2014, University of Texas Press)

· Recipient of the 2014 IRWGS Curriculum Development Grant


Hikari Hori, Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

· Aging, Gender and Sexuality in Japanese Popular Culture: Female Pornographer Sachi Hamano and Her Film "Lily Festival" (Yurisai), " in Matsumoto, ed. Faces and Masks (Stanford University Press, forthcoming)


Josef Sorett, Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies and Associate Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL)

· Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2015)

· Awarded grants from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Louisiville Institute for the Study of American Religion, and the Fund for Theological Education


Hillary Hallet, Assistant Professor of History

· Jensen-Miller Prize, best article in women’s and gender history for “Based on a True Story,” Western History Association, 2012

· Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood  (University of California Press, 2012)

· Recipient of the 2014 IRWGS Curriculum Development Grant

Feminist to the Core: Kristina Milnor on Vergil’s Aeneid

February 17, 2015

by Grace Delmolino, Italian/ICLS Ph.D. ’17 and 2014-15 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

On January 26, an excited group of students and faculty crowded into the IRWGS seminar room to hear Professor Kristina Milnor discuss Vergil’s Aeneid. Professor Milnor put forth a provocative challenge at the beginning of her talk: in this epic of empire that borders on the “comically patriarchal,” how can we uncover the “resistant voice of the text” and do a feminist reading of the Aeneid?

True to her roots as a classicist, Professor Milnor structured her talk around a few pivotal moments in the text and gave passages first in their original Latin, followed by translation. The first part of her discussion centered on the (in)famous “cave scene” in Aeneid IV: trapped by a divinely-wrought storm, Dido and Aeneas retreat to a cave where they consummate their union. But what exactly is the nature of that union? In his “breakup speech” to Dido at the end of Book IV, Aeneas puts forth the argument that he never consented to any sort of marriage with her, and so he considers himself justified in leaving Carthage, a departure that will lead to Dido’s suicide. But the narrative voice of the text complicates this argument. In fact, Dido and Aeneas’ tryst in the cave is described by the Latin word conubiis, which Alan Mandelbaum translates as “mating”: “fulsere ignes et conscius aether / conubiis summoque ulularunt vertice Nymphae” (Aeneid IV.165-6; in Mandelbaum “lightning fires flash, / the upper air is witness to their mating” [IV.221-2]). Conubia can in fact mean “marriage,” and the creation of the marriage bond in Vergil’s time was a much more fluid process than it is today, depending mainly on the consent of the two spouses and recognition by the family. As Professor Milnor pointed out, neither Dido nor Aeneas has a family to recognize their marriage, and Aeneas did indeed consent to what the narrative describes as “conubia.” Although Aeneas argues that he has no obligation to Dido, and that she should not object to his pursuit of imperial destiny, the narrative offers what Professor Milnor describes as an “ambiguous space” in which the reader can challenge Aeneas’ logic.

Moving on to the Book V, Professor Milnor turned to a line near the very beginning: “notumque furens quid femina possit” (Aeneid V.6; in Mandelbaum “the Trojans / know well the pain when passion is profaned / and how a woman driven wild can act” [V.6-8]). Yet, as Professor Milnor asked, do Aeneas and his men really know what fury a woman is capable of? Aeneid V is book-ended by two moments of such fury: first, Dido’s suicide at the end of Book IV (during which Aeneas is already sailing away, leaving it ambiguous whether he realizes the destruction he’s left in his wake) and second, the Trojan women’s burning of the ships at the end of Book V, which Aeneas and his men neither expected nor were able to control until it was too late. Professor Milnor argued that the “cultural trauma” of civil war and the violence of imperial conquest are projected on to inexplicable “female frenzy”: yet the text also allows us to question the blame placed on the shoulders of women. Professor Milnor argues that Vergil gives us both “assertions in the narrative voice, and the opportunity to question those assertions.” Aeneas, it turns it out, in her view, is dead wrong in thinking he knows what women can do.

Professor Milnor rounded out her talk with a dose of historical context for the Augustan regime’s program of domestic control. The so-called “Julian laws” passed by Augustus in 18-17 BCE concerned marriage and adultery, detailing the legally sanctioned punishments for the various situations in which women might be caught in adultery (for men, of course, adultery was not nearly so grave an offense). The formal outlawing of adultery in the Lex Julia de adulteriis is coupled with the state’s intervention in marriage in the Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus, which mandated remarriage for widowed Roman women and set out the ius trium liberorum, the “right of three children.” Professor Milnor pointed out that, according to the ius trium liberorum, a Roman woman who produced three or more children would be granted certain legal privileges, such as the right to inherit her husband’s estate. The ius trium liberorum was intended to create an incentive for Roman wives to fill up the decreasing population of the empire with new Roman citizens: under Augustus, “good domesticity is a state interest.”

A concern with women’s behavior, within the domestic sphere and outside it, is evident in Vergil’s text. And though the Aeneid is not a straightforward critique of Augustan empire, neither is it straightforward praise. In Professor Milnor’s estimation, Vergil may not be an unqualified critic—unlike Ovid, he saw how bad things could get during a civil war—but he nevertheless shows a keen awareness that, in Professor Milnor’s words, “the cost of the drive to imperial glory is paid by women.”

Image Credit

3 Questions for Jeffrey McCune

February 5, 2015

Jeffrey McCune is Associate Professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Performing Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.  He received his PhD in Performance Studies in 2007 from Northwestern University with a focus on African-American Studies and Gender Studies. His research interests include popular culture; masculinity; critical/race/gender/sexuality theory; performance studies; queer theory; contemporary African-American Literature, Culture and Media communication. His book, Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing, was published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. Join Professor McCune on Thursday, February 5th at 4pm in 754 Schmerhorn Extension for his Queer Futures talk here at IRWGS.

1. What are you currently working on?

I am presently working on READ!: An Experiment in Seeing Black, a monograph which explores and offers other ways of “knowing” black people beyond what I call “canonical prejudices.” This work provides a new lens to approach the study of race, gender, sexuality, and class toward an ethics of care and critical generosity. This book moves from hip-hop to neo-slave to Ferguson narratives, developing a rigorous method of reading black texts and performance in ways that deliberately defy academic and cultural training, to arrive at a hermeneutic of generosity, which demands that blackness is always worth attending to with rigor and reverence (what it may offer). READ! is an experiment which challenges the way a set of institutions have carefully crafted, or been used to craft, how it is that black people are understood.

I am also developing a stage play, An Archive of Violence, which takes Ferguson as a centerpiece, to unveil how anti-black violence permeates the everyday lives of black people. This play offers a broader conversation for how the “reproduction of misery” within black life forms, manifests, and erodes life energy and spirit in the lives of black people. At the same time, it illustrates the pre-post/existence of psychical and physical violence in the lives of communities, while also acting as a mobilizing agent for deeper, intrinsic passion for life, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. This one-man show, at present, introduces multiple figures who each embody, manage, and contain excessive amounts of “stuff” which get exacerbated by encounters with anti-black violence within their community and families.

2. What blogs are you currently reading?

I often engage the following blogs: The Feminist Wire, New Black Man, and The Black Youth Project. These are real powerful engagements with contemporary cultural issues.

3. Feminism is…

Lately, I have been thinking of Feminism as the study and practice of critique and contest which challenges inequalities rooted in understandings of gender. However, I am also inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement, to think that feminism is a radical notion which advances that women, their lives and contribution, and well-being MATTERS! Women of all races, sexualities, genders, matter…..and their health and well-being is fundamentally tied to our world’s livability.

Answers complied by Alyssa Cannizzaro, CC '15

Responding to Sexual Assault

December 5, 2014

by Alyssa Cannizzaro, CC '15

On Thursday, October 23rd, Columbia students, faculty, and affiliates gathered in the Jerome Greene Annex for a teach-in on responding to sexual assault. IRWGS Director Patricia Dailey introduced the panel speakers and spoke on the need for an educational event to discuss various aspects of responding to rape and sexual assault in light of Columbia’s new policy changes and the increased public discussion on the issues. Each speaker gave a presentation on a specific aspect of sexual violence response, and audience members participated in a Q&A at the end of the event.

Saswati Sarkar, a Prevention Program Manager at the Center of Excellence in Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence, spoke about the importance of bystander intervention in preventing sexual assaults. The Center of Excellence is a citywide initiative sponsored by the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, which offers many resources for survivors online and at centers across the five boroughs. Programs like Sarkar’s teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways to intervene when there is a risk of sexual violence. Sarkar also recommended using smartphone apps (Circle of 6, BSafe, Hollaback) with notification systems designed to check in with friends or family if you are feeling unsafe.

Christina Brandt-Young of Legal Momentum spoke next about the legal options a survivor faces after a sexual assault. Brandt-Young explained that survivors who want to pursue legal action may choose from one of three methods: criminal law, civil law, or Title IX. Criminal cases go through the court system, while civil cases are more driven by the needs of the victim. Results from civil cases can include family offense petitions and orders of protection. Under Title IX, a school is obligated to create an environment free from discrimination, violence, and harassment (including sexual harassment and sexual violence). Brandt-Young also explained that survivors can confidentially report a rape or sexual assault to the New York Police Department without prosecuting, and recommended speaking directly to the Special Victims Divisions at police precincts.

Suzanne Goldberg, the newly appointed Special Advisor to President Bollinger on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Columbia University, provided a detailed presentation on the updates to the university’s new policy. Changes to the official policy on Gender-Based Misconduct include: the opening of a second Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center with increased hours, improved bystander intervention training for incoming students and current faculty and staff, and the creation of new case manager and investigator positions involved in the adjudication process. The Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center (run by Columbia staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) is a confidential service that can be contacted at 212-854-HELP. Goldberg urged everyone to read the updated policy, examine the resources available on the new Sexual Respect website, and share with her any policy suggestions.

Licensed social worker Monica Pombo works at the Crime Victims Treatment Center (CVTC) at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, the largest and most comprehensive hospital-based victim assistance program in New York State. CVTC offers treatment for survivors and family members of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, and other forms of violence and crime. Pombo wanted students especially to know that they can access free, confidential resources off campus, and such resources include emergency medical treatment, counseling, and support groups.

Dr. Jill Hill, a licensed psychologist who has worked with survivors of sexual violence, spoke about the common reactions and emotional responses of survivors, such as guilt and self-blame. Dr. Hill emphasized that the most important thing a survivor needs after experiencing an assault is support from friends and family. With time and support, survivors will come to realize that their trauma does not define their characters or life experiences.

Two current Columbia students who are survivors of sexual assault on campus gave the final presentation. Zoe Ridolfi-Starr (CC ’15) and Sarah Yee (CC’16) shared their personal stories and also spoke of their activism through the student group, No Red Tape.  No Red Tape works to end sexual violence and rape culture at Columbia and fights for transformative, sustainable, survivor-centered solutions. In addition to running survivor support groups, No Red Tape organizes large-scale protests and activist events. No Red Tape held a rally and survivor speak-out on Low Steps in September that garnered national media attention, and they organized a second rally in partnership with Carrying the Weight Together on Wednesday, October 29th.

Resource Recap

Columbia University:

·      Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center

o   Free, confidential resource for all Columbia students available 24 hours, 7 days a week: 212-854-HELP

·      Columbia University Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students

·      Sexual Respect at Columbia

·      No Red Tape


Outside Organizations:

·      Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital

·      Legal Momentum

·      New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault

·      Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

o   National Sexual Assault Hotline, Free, confidential hotline available 24 hours, 7 days a week: 1-800-656-HOPE


Phone Apps:

·      Circle of 6

·      BSafe

·      Hollaback

IRWGS Grad Fellow Grace Delmolino on "Life Outsourced: Globalization and Transnational Surrogacy in India"

December 2, 2014

by Grace Delmolino, Italian/ICLS Ph.D. ’17 and 2014-15 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

On November 6, 2014, Vaishali Sinha and Sayantani DasGupta spoke on a panel titled Life Outsourced: Globalization and Transnational Surrogacy in India, co-sponsored by IRWGS and the Heyman Center for the Humanities.  Sinha is director and producer, with Rebecca Haimowitz, of the recent documentary Made in India, which chronicles “the human experiences behind the phenomenon of ‘outsourcing’ surrogacy to India.”  The film recounts the journey of Lisa and Brian Switzer, who seek to have a child through an Indian surrogate in Mumbai. 

DasGupta read selections from her co-edited collection of essays Globalization and Transnational Surrogacy in India, and Sinha screened several clips from her film, putting these two texts—one written and one visual—in conversation with each other. DasGupta discussed the implications of globalization for the outsourcing of labor, including birth labor. Many Western couples, who for whatever reason cannot or do not want to carry a child of their own, go to India in search of “affordable parenthood”: while a couple might pay anywhere from $80,000-$100,000 or more for a gestational surrogate in the United States, the same service can be bought in India for around $25,000-$40,000 (including the travel and lodging expenses incurred by having the procedure abroad). Meanwhile, Indian surrogates themselves are usually paid $2,000-$5,000 per successful pregnancy, meaning a pregnancy that results in a live birth.

DasGupta discussed the growing genre of parenting blogs written by Western couples who have hired an Indian surrogate to carry their child. A seemingly ubiquitous image in this corner of the blogosphere, often accompanied by captions like “million rupee baby,” “chai baby,” or “from India with love,” is the picture of a brown-skinned woman, often wearing a sari, nearly always veiled or with her head cropped out of the photo, displaying her naked “baby bump.” These belly-bump images, DasGupta argued, serve a “rhetorical agenda” that goes beyond just privacy protection. Gender, race, class, sexuality, embodiment, reproductive technology, and nationhood are implicated in these faceless depictions of female Indian bodies carrying white children, provoking what DasGupta terms “xenophobic national anxieties about breached borders and veiled bodies.”

In the context of such “technologies of surveillance” that erase the identities and faces of the Indian surrogates who are carrying others’ children, work like Sinha’s documentary Made in India is especially important, for it brings into focus these women and their stories. Aasia, the Indian surrogate featured in Haimowitz’ documentary, is already mother to three children of her own when she agrees to become a surrogate for Lisa and Brian. Her husband works as a mechanic and Aasia says of herself, “I used to clean people’s homes before. I’m not educated.” They live in a slum in Mumbai.

Aasia’s story draws attention to the dire lack of regulation in the field of gestational surrogacy. Though Aasia signed a contract stating she would be paid $2,000 for the child she would carry, the Switzers signed a contract stating they would pay her $7,000, and it is not clear how or where, along the line of many intermediaries between Aasia and the Switzers, this figure changed. Furthermore, when Aasia realized she was in fact carrying twins, she asked for additional compensation for the second child, and was refused. There are no legally binding regulations for this sort of situation: the ICMR offers guidelines, but it is not mandatory that they be followed.

In a lively Q&A session, members of the audience brought up crucial issues and questions: is a woman’s “choice” to become a surrogate really a decision when it is so often motivated by economic exigencies? How are agency and ownership of the body manifested in the practice of gestational surrogacy? According to DasGupta, some feminists see gestational surrogacy as a way to “de-essentialize, queer, and disrupt” traditional modes of motherhood. At the same time, it is necessary to look at surrogacy within the framework of class, caste, gender, and economic status. In an increasingly globalized world, surrogacy rests at a fraught and complex transnational intersection.

2015 IRWGS Senior Thesis Presentations

December 2, 2014

by Nicole Gervasio, English Ph.D. '17 and 2014 - 2015 IRWGS Grad Fellow

Mentors, students, friends and family from the IRWGS community packed every seat at senior thesis presentations on Thursday, November 20. This spring, four Columbia seniors will be graduating with a degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from IRWGS. The diversity and depth of their insights perfectly exemplified the kind of rigorous feminist scholarship that the IRWGS undergraduate program encourages.

Xavier Jarrett (CC ’15) opened with a presentation titled “(mis)Reading Trauma: The Supernatural, Possession, and Catharsis.” Xavier situated the church as a site of “community restoration” for African Americans in the South. Spiritual possession, he posited, offers congregants a temporary release from the trauma of “black flesh [being made] a commodity through the transatlantic slave trade.” However, Xavier showed that even such an ephemeral reprieve remains unavailable to black queer bodies in his analysis of the self-destructive relationship between Randall Kenan’s black queer protagonist and his church in A Visitation of Spirits.

To my pleasant surprise, the next presenter, Samantha Moody (GS ’15), was a former student from the discussion section I led for Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies two years ago. Samantha’s project, titled “Power Dynamics and Labor Induction,” is a Foucauldian critique of natural childbirth. Samantha’s study centers on obstetricians, chiefly the problem that “the excessive use of unnecessary medical interventions during labor” poses to safe childbirth. She concluded that failures of communication, owing to both obstetric training and technology, render it “incredibly difficult for a patient to argue with the institutional power that the white coat represents.”

Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood (CC ’15) turned to another problem related to public health and social justice: the relationship between sexual violence and the prison-industrial complex. She coined the term “justice paradox” to describe the hypocritical tendency in political discourse to conflate “justice” with mass incarceration—a system which is steeped in uneven, neoliberal power dynamics inherently opposed to egalitarian justice. She gave a compelling number of reasons why “justice for sexual violence must not center on state institutions,” which are committed to punishment, not healing or prevention. Invoking a familiar activist chant on campus— “Even with CUID, rape is a felony!”— Morgaine illustrated that a “felony” conviction would not level out the asymmetrical power structures that foster rape culture in the first place.

A deft presentation on the insidious messages that body books send to young girls in American culture closed out the afternoon. Rosalind Bazett Watson (CC ’15) led her audience through a series of close readings of hair-raising moments from The Care and Keeping of You series, published by the American Girl doll company (see above image). Roz argues that body books operate under the guise of empowerment but actually seek “to maximize the social value of the female body” through advice for mental and physical health. In effect, she says, these books teach “young girls to value themselves from an external, physical perspective” rather than for their self-worth as human beings.

As IRWGS DUS Christia Mercer put it, all four of these presentations “modeled commitment, unity, and community” as truly riveting examples of the work that characterizes our majors in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at IRWGS.