Marsha P. Johnson, the Revolutionary

By Nico Lueba Jones

Jones is a second year at Sarah Lawrence College.

Marsha P. Johnson was born on August 4, 1945 in Elizabeth, NJ. She self-identified as a street queen and “transvestite” at a time when the word transgender did not yet exist, but she always called herself a woman and used “she” pronouns. The P stands for “Pay It No Mind,” and that was her attitude much of the time, with her friends saying she had an exuberant personality and a penchant for optimism. She dressed in brightly colored outfits and cared deeply for the people in her community, often praying for them. She was so generous, some of her friends even called her “Saint Marsha.” She has gotten a lot of attention lately as one of the trans women of color that Pride has forgotten, and many credit her with being an instigator at the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is much fuzzier than that, with Johnson herself saying she didn’t arrive until the riot was already underway, and her close friend and partner in activism Silvia Rivera saying she was there when the riot started but did not instigate it. She is remembered as a prominent figure nonetheless. Regardless of her involvement in the Stonewall riots, what I think makes Marsha so amazing is all the activist work she did after the riot.

After the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson continued to advocate for LGBT rights, participating in and organizing protests. It was following one of these protests, a sit-in at New York University in 1970, that Johnson and Rivera decided to found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. At the protest, many groups had come together to protest for gay rights, but Johnson and Rivera noted that there were no groups protecting the interests and livelihoods of street youth, particularly transgender youth. Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were themselves homeless and working the streets to make money, and they knew how dangerous it could be. Rivera even credits Johnson with saving her life, after meeting her in 1963 and offering her some comfort and constancy in her life. STAR was the first documented LGBT youth shelter in North America, and by the next year they had opened their first house for street youth in a trailer parked in a parking lot in Greenwich Village. When that shelter fell through, they got a building. Together, Silvia and Marsha provided a safe living space, a gathering space, and a space for LGBT youth to learn. STAR expanded to multiple cities before having to close in the mid 1970’s.

Johnson’s activism did not end, though. In the 80’s she worked with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) as an organizer and marshall. Johnson herself was HIV positive, and participated in direct action demonstrations with ACT UP for much of the 80’s, and cared for many of her HIV+ friends. Johnson dedicated her life to activism, to protecting LGBT youth, homeless LGBT folks, and making her community better and safer for herself and everyone. She was an active member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), marching every year on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and her direct action both personally and through STAR helped feed and house many trans and gay homeless youths. She was also an activist against police brutality, regularly engaging with police who harassed her and addressing their harassment in court when she was arrested. Marsha P. Johnson’s activism extends far beyond Stonewall. As a trans person myself, I am happy to have Marsha as a radical trans icon, to remind me to always look out for my community, and when it comes to those who don’t like us, to pay them no mind.

Works Cited

Brockell, Gillian. “The Transgender Women at Stonewall Were Pushed out of the Gay Rights Movement. Now They Are Getting a Statue in New York.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 12 June 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/06/12/transgender-women-heart-stonewall-riots-are-getting-statue-new-york/?noredirect=on.

Feinberg, Leslie. “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries .” Workers World, Workers World, 24 Sept. 2006, 11:53pm, www.workers.org/2006/us/lavender-red-73/.

“Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries Found STAR House.” Global Network of Sex Work Projects, NSWP, 12 July 2017, www.nswp.org/timeline/event/street-transvestite-action-revolutionaries-found-star-house.

“From Cowtown to Gaytown”: Kansas Politics and Gay Rights in Wichita, KS

By Korbin Painter

Korbin Painter (he/him/his) is an M.A. candidate in the History Department at the University of Iowa. He was born and raised in Kansas and he is an alumnus of the University of Kansas. His research interests include LGBT history of the United States and Germany, focused on LGBT politics, social movements, and the history of emotions. Korbin can be contacted by e-mail at korbin-painter@uiowa.edu.

In Kansas, before the election of Governor Laura Kelly, there were no laws on the books at the state-level to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in employment, housing, and adoption. However, individual cities such as Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City have enacted such laws. In 2007, during her service as Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius issued an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet, in 2015, former Governor Sam Brownback revoked this order. In fact, during Brownback’s tenure, there had been many attempts by the Kansas state legislature to restrict the civil rights and protections of LGBT people in both the public and private sectors. Former interim Governor Jeff Colyer signed a law in May of 2018, which allowed adoption agencies in Kansas to refuse to place a child with LGBT couples on “religious or moral objection” (Polaski).  

It is clear that many Kansas leaders do not support LGBT Kansans. In at least the last decade, many Republican legislators have not only refused to support or enact legislation that protects LGBT people and their families, but they have also championed discriminatory and harmful legislation that threatens the lives and livelihoods of LGBT Kansans (Mallory and Sears). The elections of democratic Governor Laura Kelly and democratic Representative Sharice Davids signify the resilience and efforts of LGBT Kansans and serve as reminders of Kansas values and spirit. As we move into Pride Month, I am reminded of the radical history of LGBT people in Kansas.

Often, people who live in “blue states” and large coastal cities are quick to dismiss Kansas as merely “fly-over” country, characterizing Kansans as “backward” and deeply conservative. Without dismissing the patterns in Kansas electoral politics, this perception and characterization is unfair, inaccurate, and obscures the lives and history of LGBT Kansans, who have been active in fighting for their civil rights and protections for decades.

One example from LGBT Kansas history takes us not to Lawrence or Kansas City, often characterized as liberal hubs in the “red state”, but to the city of Wichita. Wichita, Kansas is perhaps best known as the home of airplane manufacturing, McConnell Airforce base, and the BTK killer. It may be surprising to some that Wichita holds an important place in LGBT history in the United States. In fact, the designer and creator of the iconic rainbow pride flag, Gilbert Baker, was born and raised in Wichita.

In May of 1978, Washington Post reporter Bill Curry visited Wichita to report on a major political battle over a gay rights ordinance passed in September of 1977, which would protect Wichitans from employment and housing discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. While Curry was in Wichita, he observed the anti-gay slogan “From Cowtown to Gaytown” littering car bumpers across the city. Wichita is known as “Cowtown” because, in the 1860s and 1870s, the Chisolm Trail, the Southwest Railroad, and the Santa Fe Railway ran through the newly established city of Wichita. Wichita thus became a major center of commerce and trade, as well as a railhead for cattle drives from Texas. The bumper sticker indeed represented some Wichitans’ homophobic fears about an encroaching degenerate sexual minority who “cannot reproduce so they have to recruit” (Curry).

In the 1970s, there were a large number of gay and lesbian people and organizations in Wichita. Gay and lesbian Wichitans lived and worked, attended Church, and frequented bars and other community gatherings around the city. One of the early gay rights groups in Wichita was called the Homophile Association of Sedgwick County (HASC). In 1977, the HASC took a proposal for a city ordinance to the Wichita City Commission and Mayor Connie Peters. Wichita City Ordinance No. 35-242 would prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the city of Wichita. Gay and lesbian leaders Bruce McKinney, Pat Kaslo, and Robert Lewis led the fight. “Kansans are conservative, but they’re not bigots, not all of them,” one woman told Curry, “if they were, we wouldn’t be voting on a referendum” (Curry).

Anita Bryant and “Save Our Children”, 1978 https://timeline.com/anita-bryant-anti-gay-dade-county-christian-conservative-video-history-e026fd5bfad8

Soon after the ordinance was passed by the Wichita City Commission in a 3-2 vote, Anita Bryant – celebrity, anti-Gay crusader, and spokeswoman of Florida Oranges – mobilized in Wichita. Bryant and her organization, “Save Our Children”, had just won a fight to repeal a similar gay rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Bryant and “Save Our Children” began recruiting many Wichita pastors, like Ron Adrian, and campaigned to put a stop to homosexuality in the heartland. “The whole strategy of homosexuals,” commented Adrian “is to get homosexuality recognized as a normal lifestyle and an accepted lifestyle – and they’re getting a lot of publicity, that’s for sure” (Curry).

A fierce battle played out among Wichitans as the city commission voted to hold a referendum for the gay rights ordinance. In this particular historical moment, Wichita, Kansas became the battleground in the United States over sex, deviance, civil rights, and religious liberty. However, on May 9th of 1978, the ordinance was repealed. Gay Wichitans became the subjects of sensational news coverage across the country. In fact, the night of the repeal, the gay residents of San Francisco’s Castro Street marched on Union Square, chanting, “Wichita means fight back.”

Governor Laura Kelly, Representative Sharice Davids, Janelle Monáe, Former Governor Kathleen Sibelius https://twitter.com/laurakellyks/status/1051187659878612993

As a gay man, born and raised in the small town of Augusta, Kansas, I was filled with excitement on election night in 2018 as I watched the results come in. Representative Sharice Davids became the first openly lesbian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is openly lesbian but serves in the Senate). Alongside Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Davids was also among the first Native American women to be elected to the House. In the Kansas State Legislature, Representatives Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard were elected as the first LGBT state legislators in Kansas history. Laura Kelly’s election to the governorship of Kansas was significant as she expressed support for the LGBT community and has a voting record in favor of LGBT rights. One of Kelly’s first moves in January as Governor was to reinstate former Governor Sibelius’s executive order and restore state-level protections for LGBT state-workers (Shorman). On election night, I felt an immense swell of pride and hope that Kansas leaders may soon recognize the dignity of LGBT Kansans and move to provide us with civil rights and protections.

As we celebrate Pride month on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is critical now, more than ever, that we remember gay and lesbian radical liberation politics in the 1970s. When we do this, we discover that these stories extend far beyond the “Gay Meccas” of New York City and San Francisco. These stories remind us that LGBT people, love, and resistance are everywhere; even in Wichita, Kansas.

References

Cover photo comes from the @KansasDems twitter and can be found here, https://twitter.com/KansasDems/status/1134814393101893632

Two brilliant and thoughtful works on LGBT activism in Kansas are Beth Bailey’s Sex in the Heartland (1999) and C.J. Janovy’s No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas (2018).

Equality Kansas, https://eqks.org

Wichita Pride, http://www.wichitapride.org

Curry, Bill. “Wichita Gay Rights Vote Today.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 May 1978. www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/05/09/wichita-gay-rights-vote-today/9471d460-49de-4f80-9f59-ba06b6e0bd6b/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee33b7742d0f.

Gilchrist, Tracy E. “Kansas Governor-Elect Laura Kelly Moves to Protect LGBTQ People.” Advocate, Advocate.com, 9 Nov. 2018. www.advocate.com/politics/2018/11/08/kansas-governor-elect-laura-kelly-moves-protect-lgbtq-people?amp&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=politics&__twitter_impression=true.

Mallory, Christy and Brad Sears, “Discrimination against LGBT People in Kansas” UCLA School of Law, William’s Institute, January 2019. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Kansas-ND-Report-January-2019.pdf

Polaski, Adam. “Kansas Governor Signs Dangerous Anti-LGBTQ Child Welfare Bill, Latest in Disturbing Trend.” Freedom for All Americans, 18 May 2018. www.freedomforallamericans.org/kansas-governor-jeff-colyer-signs-dangerous-anti-lgbtq-child-welfare-bill-latest-in-disturbing-trend/.

Shorman, Jonathan. “Kelly reinstates protections for LGBT state workers in Kansas eliminated by Brownback” The Wichita Eagle, 15 Jan. 2019. https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article224559230.html

The Mattachine Society: Henry “Harry” Hay and Harold “Hal” Call

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.

A year ago, when I began my Master’s research on homosexuality during the 1950s in America, I was certain that there was an abundance of research on the topic. I didn’t think there was anything more to discover that John D’Emilio, David Allyn, Estelle Freedman, Allan Bérubé, and Margot Canaday hadn’t already found. They cover such an immense breadth of information that covers the homophile movement, McCarthyism, red-baiting and queer-baiting, riots, Lewd Vagrancy laws, and sexology reports.  As I flipped through page after page of archived materials at the Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections, I noticed that there is an integral piece of the history of the Mattachine Society and the homophile movement that has gone understudied or completely ignored.

For the purposes of this post I am writing today, I will not pose my question onto the audience (you, the reader) until I have finalized the thesis in a year from now. Today, I present to you a few members of the Mattachine Society that assisted in the early beginnings of the gay rights movement and key figures in the thesis I am crafting. Posts that will follow throughout the month of June that I intend to cover include the Daughters of Bilitis, riots (including Stonewall and Cooper Do-nuts), and historical figures of the LGBT+ community.

The Mattachine Foundation (1950-1953), later becoming the Mattachine Society in 1953, formed in the mind of its founder, Harry Hay, in 1948. While historians debate the exact year the organization formed, most conclude that it was 1950, but Hay conceived of the idea two years prior. Henry “Harry” Hay was born to a well-to-do family on April 17, 1912 in Worthing, Sussex England. As a child, his family moved to California. Heavily influenced by Marxism and communism, Hay joined the Community Party USA in his adult years while living in Los Angeles. When the party discovered that he was gay, they told him to either resist his urges or to leave the party, so he left.

Henry “Harry” Hay image from https://makinggayhistory.com/podcast/harry-hay/

Determined to find an organization that would welcome him for being both gay and a communist, Hay decided to take matters into his own hands and formed the Mattachine Foundation. The organization welcomed homosexual men and women regardless of race, creed, class, gender, and political affiliation. Despite Hay realizing his dream through the Mattachine, Harold “Hal” Call took over its leadership in 1953. There are mixed accounts on why Hay stepped down as leader; some speculate it was a disagreement the two had, others say that Call was a more conservative member and didn’t believe Hay’s communist beliefs could benefit or assist in the growth of the Mattachine.

Nonetheless, Call took over in 1953 and changed its name to the Mattachine Society. Born in Grundy County, Missouri in September 1917, Call enlisted in the military as a private in 1941, and went on to receive a purple heart for his service. Upon returning to US in 1945, he moved to California and joined the homophile organization he would later become leader of. His dreams for the Mattachine were realized when, in 1955, he co-founded Pan Graphic Press, which would go on to publish The Mattachine Review, The Ladder, and other homophile publications. His goal was to ensure that the organization would and could grow throughout the nation, while assisting other homophile groups in their growth. They viewed each other as brothers and sisters of the gay liberation movement of the 1950s.

Harold “Hal” Call image from https://makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-13-hal-call/

Call and Hay are only two of the countless members of the Mattachine that are key figures in the early beginnings of gay liberation; both considered fathers of the early homophile movement. The Mattachine would go on participate in legal proceedings, hold annual meetings in major cities, and help gay men and women across the United States. Under Call’s leadership, it appeared that nothing could stop the steady growth of the organization. Starting in 1955, chapters began in Denver, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C. Some were short lived, while others have continued to thrive to this very day. Come 1961, the national organization of the Mattachine in San Francisco disbanded; thereafter, the society became a regional body.

Despite the disbanding of the first chapter of the Mattachine, the homophile movement continued to grow and change as most do. Today, the D.C. chapter seeks to keep the history of the Mattachine alive and well by digitizing the documents they have archived and offering resources to anyone who may need them. You can find them here: https://mattachinesocietywashingtondc.org/ . Now that we are a full week into Pride, I hope that this post finds you all at a moment of joy and celebration among friends, family, and/or loved ones. For more information on the Mattachine Society’s history, I highly recommend the Making Gay History podcast; links for specific episodes are found under the images of Hay and Call.

From Los Angeles to New York: Student Activism and the Fight for Justice

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

On March 11, 2019, student activists at Sarah Lawrence College swarmed Westlands – the administrative building – at seven in the morning. They called for the college and the administrators to listen to their detailed list of demands which ranged from access to housing opportunities to assistance with international visas. The students announced that they would occupy Westlands until the demands were met; thus began the approximately ninety-hour long occupation. Their chants reverberated throughout the crowded halls, their sleeping bags and textbooks lined the floors, and their courage could be felt across campus and in every single classroom.

Undoubtedly, these students are some of the most determined, inspiring, and emotionally-generous individuals on campus. While I sat in Westlands in support, I began to think of the student activists throughout history and across the nation who have demanded and occupied just as those that surrounded me. The students demanded that administrators better the environment of the institution, which is not an isolated occurrence in any capacity. For instance, at Sarah Lawrence College alone, students have demanded that the college adjust their policies and provide better opportunities and access for students of color since the 1950s with sit-ins occurring in 1969, 1989, and now in 2019.

As I pondered on the idea of writing a piece on the history of student activism, I began to think about the demands made by student activists that came to fruition. Every activist hopes that positive change is realized, but more often than not, feelings of being disheartened and exhausted come from these tireless and courageous efforts. In the hopes of inspiring students to continue making necessary demands, I put the spotlight on the February Sisters of the University of Kansas and the years of activism by students that caused UCLA to create a Chicano/a Studies department.

On February 4th, 1972 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS, the February Sisters – consisting of twenty women and four children – occupied the East Asian Studies department on campus. They called on the institution to provide free daycare that the University would finance, that women fill open positions in the administration, to develop an affirmative action program directed by women, and establish a Women’s Studies department. Directly following the protest, administrators began to meet the demands. The Hilltop Daycare Center was founded in 1972, the Women’s Studies department and Major were developed in 1972, Student Health services began to provide reproductive health options, and Marilyn Stokstad was hired as the associate dean.

The February Sisters’ tireless efforts to have their demands met should not slide under the radar, nor should those of the Chicano/a high school students of Los Angeles. In March of 1968, approximately 20,000 students walked out of their classrooms to protest the racism and the complete disregard of Mexican-American heritage by public school administrators and teachers. Students recognized their power in hitting them where it hurt; money. If the students did not attend their classes, the school lost funding. At this moment, UCLA noticed what they could do to benefit themselves and the Chicano/a community. They started offering Chicano/a Studies courses, and developed the department in the early 90s. As a result, the university marked an increase in enrollment. Without Chicano/a students recognizing their power as students in the cog of the institution, perhaps the department would not have been founded.

The unwavering courage and activism of students makes actual change. From the West Coast, to the Midwest, and all the way to Sarah Lawrence College on the East Coast, students have the power to enact change and cause unjust institutions to reevaluate the entire system. The students that occupied Westlands on March of 2019 will change the landscape of social, political, and cultural conversations at the college forever. They are calling on students, faculty, staff, and administration to recognize systematic racism, how it is perpetuated, and the lack of humanity that can exist in an ivory tower of academia. Just as the February Sisters of the University of Kansas did not rest until their demands were met, and the high school students of Los Angeles witnessed the development of a Chicano/a studies department, these dedicated and passionate student activists will push forward and make necessary demands until the change that needs to occur, does.

  1. “A Statement of Action,” KU Libraries Exhibits, accessed March 28, 2019, https://exhibits.lib.ku.edu/items/show/6835.
  2. “Women’s Rights Activism and Deans of Women at the University of Kansas.” Omeka RSS, exhibits.lib.ku.edu/exhibits/show/deans-of-women/the-february-sisters.

Sarah Lawrence College Students Occupy Westlands Administration Building Demanding Racial Justice

Students occupy Westlands in March 2019

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.


Disclaimer: The Re/Visionist fully supports student’s rights to protest. This blog post includes opinions about the protest that belong to the writer of this blog specifically.


In the early hours of Monday, March 11th, 2019, undergraduate students collected at the Westlands Administration Building at Sarah Lawrence College to begin what has now been a 57 hour long occupation of the building (at the time this blog was written). The Diaspora Coalition, an organization created by students of color to speak to and address the injustices they face at the hands of the Sarah Lawrence Administration, organized the occupation.

Loudly chanting the words “Sarah Lawrence, what a shame? 30 years and still the same! Sarah Lawrence, what a shame? 50 years and still the same!” protestors reference the treatment of students of color over the college’s history. The Diaspora Coalition organized, demanding that the institutional and racial issues faced by students of color, which have been generationally ignored, be addressed in a swift and collaborative manner. One organizer explained that some of the current demands were copied from former protest demands, indicating that the protests of 1969 and 1989, among other protests, have not led to the substantial outcomes students have hoped for.

It is the belief of this writer that students of Women’s History, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, and Africana Studies are, by the nature of what we give voice to, inherently activists. Therefore, the Women’s History Blog took time to interview some of the organizers to find out their thoughts on the occupation and related protests around campus, as well as their thoughts on how graduate students fit into the protest. The organizers have requested that we keep their identities out of the blog post and other social media posts for their anonymity. Therefore, the three students we interviewed will be referred to as Organizer One, Organizer Two, and Organizer Three.

“None of us are at a point where we are trying to convince people of the validity of our humanity.” Fiercely and passionately stated, Organizer Two made clear that their intentions were focused on supporting the needs and demands of students of color, many of which are related to intersections of institutional and structural policies that are any combination of racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, ageist, and ableist, among others. Demands that vary from more affordable housing and meal plan options, to free access to necessities like laundry detergent and affordable summer storage, to more hiring of faculty and staff of color, their demands were diverse and extensive.

The list of demands is comprehensive, covering a wide variety of issues that students of color experience. Recognizing that despite their best efforts to include the voices of all students of color at Sarah Lawrence, Organizer Three referred to the Talk Back event as an opportunity for students to share feedback on the demands. Understanding that “it was impossible for us to talk to everybody,” Organizer Two made clear that the demands were not meant to be the only demands expressed by students, but a place to open the conversation. Organizer Three added, “The things that we are asking for are things that we believe will benefit the larger Sarah Lawrence Community,” and if people in the community did not feel like their voices were being heard, that it is the job of the organizers to listen to that feedback and address those needs. The Talk Back event is scheduled to be held in Resigner in the PAC on Wednesday evening starting at 5:30 PM.

When talking about how organizers intended to reach the students, faculty, and staff who had turned the other cheek, Organizer One said that they hoped to bring in people who agreed and disagreed with them, faculty and staff, undergraduate and graduate, to talk about the needs of this community. It is hoped that the Talk Back, modeled after the 1989 Talk Back, can be a space for people to come forward with questions and contributions. The format is set up to allow for a rotation of questions and comments from students, faculty, and staff. When asked about the representation of graduate students, the organizers were especially hopeful that graduate students would be able to attend because, as Organizer Two put it, “We have it bad, but [graduate students] have it on another level of bad.”

Concerning their efforts to include the needs of graduate students in the list of demands, organizers stated support for people of color at Sarah Lawrence, “including international students, graduate students, faculty, and staff” in the opening of their demands. As they looked to connect with graduate students, the organizers, many of whom are friends with graduate students, found that their access to graduate students of color was sparse. When they did know graduate students of color, some were concerned that sharing organizing information with too many graduate students, many of whom work at Sarah Lawrence and whether they were students of color or not, might lead to administrators finding out. The possibility that students would be met with backlash, possible harm, or threats of arrest when preparing to enter Westlands was a real concern. As a white, middle class, cis woman, I understand that these are experiences that I am rarely exposed to, and I personally understand and respect their decisions to keep themselves safe in their organizing efforts.

As a graduate student who is involved with the Graduate Student Senate, an organization which is meant to highlight and advocate for the voices of graduate students, I would like to publicly state that some of the major issues facing graduate students are financial. Specifically, two major issues we face include a lack of affordable, on campus housing and a lack of funding for thesis research and fieldwork travel. New York City and surrounding areas are very expensive to live in, and on campus graduate housing is not available to us, making Sarah Lawrence a massive financial burden for many. As it relates to research, fieldwork travel, and other expenses related to intellectual and professional development, our grant funding sources are sparse, causing many graduate students further financial strains. Additionally, due to the high quantity of non-traditional students within graduate programs, I believe that it is imperative to include their needs in the list of demands, such as considerations for educational cost, family housing, and affordable daycare. It is important to note that some of these issues are class specific and affect many students, but are especially important to address when intersections of race are included in one’s identity as a graduate student.

Later, organizers were asked about their efforts to connect with administrators before occupation, one organizer said that through various committees, they had worked to have their voices heard. Another organizer affirmed this, saying that “sometimes the format of those spaces doesn’t really allow for us to say what we need to say.” Again, understanding that my experiences are related to my own privileges, I personally support their actions within a system that is more apt to support someone who looks like me, and I understand that more radical forms of protest are often necessary in securing meaningful change.

After the interview took place, I chose to spend a few hours with the protestors in Westlands in solidarity. Reflecting on my experience while there, my own job on campus as a graduate assistant, and on feedback I have heard from other graduate students, I firmly stand with and support the Diaspora Coalition in their efforts to affect structural and institutional change at Sarah Lawrence. I believe that, to those with frustrations about the protest, it is important to note that no protest is perfect. Even the Women’s March in 2017, though attended by thousands of women across the country and world, was not fully inclusive of women and nonbinary people of color, both at the planning table and in working to support those people in in attending the gathering. Similarly, this protest has some places for improvement. It is my belief that the Diaspora Coalition efforts to reach graduate students since the protest began have been genuine and helpful in reaching the goal of greater inclusion.

Wrapping up the interview, the sentiment was that many of those protesting are exhausted both physically and emotionally. The students are asking for your support. Anyone can support in a variety of ways, including visiting their Facebook page, or by looking for them on instagram or twitter under @slc50sitin. You can also view their demands here. Another way that people can participate is by calling using the scripts provided in on the Facebook page, linked above. Please consider supporting the students however you see fit.

A Graduate Student’s Response to the Occupy Westlands Sit-In

Sarah Lawrence students occupy Westlands in 1989

 

By Katherine Swartwood

Katie is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.


Disclaimer: While this post provides some critiques of the Occupy Westlands protest, it in no means serves as statement of opposition. The author supports Sarah Lawrence College’s students of color and their mission to increase diversity and inclusion on campus.


The protest occurring in Westlands is indeed a noble endeavor to end discrimination on Sarah Lawrence’s campus, increase opportunities for minority students, provide a diverse faculty, and more. However, it is important to highlight those students who the Diaspora Coalition overlooked – graduate students. When Re/Visionist editors interviewed protestors and organizers, they expressed their desire to include graduate students at Sarah Lawrence, but found it difficult to get in contact with us. One organizer explained, “When it came to graduate students, we felt like we hit a wall” when attempting to reach out to graduate students of color. It was proposed by some Coalition organizers that the organizers may have feared graduate students working in administrative offices would have spoiled the protest by telling their bosses. I disagree with both reasonings for this exclusion.

Firstly, graduate students share several spaces with undergraduate students: The Pub, Bates, the Library, classes, campus committees, some graduate students even work directly with undergraduates in their campus positions. Therefore, there was opportunity to include graduate students of color, LGBTQIA+ graduate students, low income graduate students, and first generation graduate students. Secondly, I disagree with the assessment that graduate students working in administrative offices would reveal the plans, ruining the element of surprise and causing physical harm to protestors. While a fear of violence is not irrational, it may be unfair to assume graduate students would be the instigator of such violence by reporting the Coalition’s plans and allowing administrators to contact police and/or security. As graduate students we would never wish harm upon any member of the Sarah Lawrence community. As activists, we would never perpetuate the systemic and institutional racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. of the ivory tower of academia. Could graduate students of color not be passionate enough about inequality on campus to join the occupation and not side with administration. Are we not social activists as well? Do we not reject institutional racism and discrimination? Would we not also risk our campus jobs along with the undergraduates in order to support such an important cause?

Precisely, it’s these graduate students working on campus and those serving in leadership roles with GSS or on campus committees who could have constituted an important resource to the Coalition. Without sharing confidential information, we could have provided a unique look into Administration operations, the conversations occurring in committees and Board of Trustee meetings, especially those regarding diversity, education, faculty, and health that undergraduates may not have been privy to through their previous efforts to engage with these governing bodies. Furthermore, graduate students could have provided insight into both the similar and special issues they face as minority students within the Masters’ programs.  

The Coalition has created a necessary set of demands, but almost none included the issues graduate students experience. Some can be interpreted to include graduate students of color, but clearly defining how these demands could include graduate students is important. We too have international students, students of color, low income students, first generation students, and LGBTQIA+ students who lack resources and programs that lack diversity. For instance, Sarah Lawrence offers no graduate on campus housing options (besides limited positions as Graduate Housing Directors.) Students can only work a maximum of 20 hours a week with pay as little as $12 an hour. Some jobs do not even provide the fully allotted 20 hours of work. How, then, does Sarah Lawrence assume low income, international students, students of color, etc. are meant to pay tuition, eat, and afford rent in one of the most expensive counties in the country? With some departments offering little funding, some students are forced to rely on the “Graduate Student Scholarship,” (which provides for some students $6000 or less before you petition, but not nearly enough to make tuition affordable), Graduate Loans, and the PLUS Loan, adding to their already massive undergraduate student loan debt, to simply survive. Other students, like Human Genetics, are forced to pay out of pocket for required clinical rotations, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars in the hope that the small Graduate Student Senate reimbursement grant reserve for thesis research, internship travel, conferences, etc., (funded by graduate student activity fees) can cover the entire cost (it can’t). These issues like those listed in the Coalition’s demands, result from intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class status, etc.

The Diaspora Coalition has now invited graduate students to speak at their Talk Back event on Wednesday 3/13, at 5:30 PM in the Miller Lecture Hall, which I encourage any and all graduate students to participate in. However, it does not negate the fact that they, along with administration, donors, and Trustees, have neglected to consider how these unequal practices have affected minority graduate students. Even when graduate students speak up in meetings, we are overlooked in favor of undergraduates. We do not doubt that their issues matter, but we simply ask to have graduate students’ treated with respect by the administration.

Therefore, while it is promising that the Diaspora Coalition asked us to participate, they should have considered us from the start and included us more directly and clearing within their demands. We can only hope the administration takes these demands seriously and incorporates graduate students within these changes moving forward.

Since this post has been written, undergraduate and graduate students have reached an agreement to collaborate on a list of demands that are inclusive of both groups. Further developments will be posted as the protest continues. Stay resilient. -Blog Staff

Revolutionary Women of Music: Nina Simone, Poly Styrene, and Valerie Agnew

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College.

This morning on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, I woke up to Lizzo’s “Juice” stuck in my head. Off to a good start, I continued my morning routine while Carly Rae Jepsen, Cherry Glazerr, Rico Nasty, and Dream Wife – amongst others – shuffled and played on my Spotify playlist. As Tacocat’s “Hey Girl” came on, it hit me, why aren’t we talking more about the women that have pioneered not just music as a whole, but have used their platform as artists and musicians to promote social, political, and cultural change? Of course, there are the greats we all know, but what about Nina Simone, Poly Styrene, and Valerie Agnew? For this week’s post, I will share a portion of the activist efforts of these women.

Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, was a notable African American jazz, R&B, and gospel singer and songwriter, as well as a civil rights activist. While Simone initially aspired to become a concert pianist, her desire for social and political justice led her down a different path. Gaining mainstream success from her debut album Little Girl Blue, her song “Mississippi Goddam,” inspired by the racism that plagued (and continues to plague) the United States, propelled her to the forefront of the civil rights movement. For the rest of her career, Nina Simone spoke and performed at civil rights meetings and protests. Her political activism never disappeared from her music, and her desire for justice continued up until her death in 2003. For more on Simone’s life please see autobiography I Put a Spell on You (1991).

Poly Styrene, born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said on July 3, 1957, was a British woman of color and the frontwoman of the punk band X-Ray Spex. Styrene started the band after running a local news ad that stated she was looking for “Young punx who want to stick it together.”[i] As a result, X-Ray Spex was born and so was the beginning of their critique on capitalism which would last for their entire career. Styrene questioned bondage in every aspect of the word. Whether it was sexual, social, political, capitalist, or other, she would deconstruct the entire system with her singing. As Maria Raha states in Cinderella’s Big Score (2005) “amid all the jubilant chaos, they were able to provide a solid, relevant social commentary.”[ii] Styrene continued to promote listeners to fight back until her untimely death from metastasized breast cancer on April 25, 2011. Please see Cinderella’s Big Score for more information about Poly.

Valerie Agnew, born January 13, 1969, was the drummer of the Seattle based Riot Grrrl feminist-punk band 7 Year Bitch. Agnew was a longtime friend of The Gits singer Mia Zapata. While 7 Year Bitch’s lyrics are so incredibly politically charged, it wasn’t until the rape and murder of Zapata that Agnew’s platform as a musician and as an activist came to a head. Agnew, alongside fellow feminist punks, formed the Home Alive collective in the mid-90s. The collective – still around to this day – strives to provide affordable self-defense courses for women and members of the LGBTQ community. Punk-feminists were sick of seeing the people that they cared for become victims to such violent crimes, and Agnew stood up and said that enough was enough. Since the formation of the collective, people have continued to utilize the educational tools that they have learned and that their website now provides. While Agnew is only one of the founders, she and 7 Year Bitch stick out for their unapologetically anti-patriarchy songs such as “Dead Men Don’t Rape” and “M.I.A.”

Simone, Styrene, and Agnew are only three of the hundreds of women that have used their platform to question injustices, capitalism, and the patriarchy. For the sake of time and length, I have chosen these three because of their impact on me personally. While they all reside in different genres of music, the three of these women have their determination towards social, cultural, and political activism in common. On this International Women’s Day (as well as the entirety of Women’s History Month), I encourage you all to look at women who have started a revolution through music, and how big of an impact music can have when women such as Simone, Styrene, and Agnew are at the frontlines.


[i] Maria Raha, Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground, (California; Seal Press: 2005), 86.
[ii] Raha, 89.