#TheSuffrageAcademy

Welcome back to the 255! As we quickly approach the end of the semester, we would like to remind our students to take time for themselves to get through the challenging and stressful final stretch of the Fall term. This week would we are highlighting a college wide program launching in Spring 2021. 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In commemoration and honor of the women whose work led to the amendment’s ratification and those who continue to struggle for its decolonization, the Politics & Human Rights and International Studies Departments are collaborating with departments across the college to create the “Sojourner Truth Suffrage Academy”!

The Suffrage Academy is an interdisciplinary curriculum across all of MMC’s Divisions such as Art, Dance, Business, Communications, and History. All Divisions are hosting courses for the Suffrage Academy that directly or indirectly discuss the history of suffrage. In recognition of the contested history of suffrage, the program is dedicated to Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist, who embodied both that passionate dedication to the cause and that critical spirit that seeks to make it deeper and more just. In order to further promote the program, we reached out to one of its primary coordinators, Erin O’Connor, to learn more about the Suffrage Academy and how students can participate.

  1. What is suffrage and why does it warrant this type of ongoing interdisciplinary scholarship?

Suffrage is the right to vote, straightforwardly. In terms of how it warrants ongoing academy inquiry, I believe it does because the sphere that we enfranchise as the rights to vote is in need of ever expanding. The inclusion can never be exhausted. The inquiry into suffrage stands today in that regard. Specifically, I think of the recent scholarships of the intersection of racial justice and climate. For example, I am teaching a class on Trans-Species Suffrage that is an inquiry into multi-species democracy. What would it look like if a tree had the right to vote? How does that sit in relation to the contested history of suffrage?

2. What is the Sojourner Truth’s Suffrage Academy?

The Suffrage Academy is an interdisciplinary initiative to bring multiple perspectives of the ongoing history of suffrage. That includes courses from across the college in arts, business, communications, international studies, politics and human rights, dance, other fields. I have solicited faculty and asked division chairs to recommend faculty whose courses might be relevant to the issue of voting rights. For example, COMM 363 Black Female Sexuality in Film with Professor Cyrille Phipps, she is not going to do a normative inquiry into suffrage but rather taking a few weeks to look at how do representations of black women in film inform or have they informed suffrage debates. Do they inform how people think of black women’s’ voting rights? Similarly, other examples are Erin Greenwell’s course Video Field Production and Elisabeth Motley’s course Dance Composition II. Both of these courses are very hands on and look at technique and how can we use technique to speak to the topic of suffrage and critique the history of suffrage. There are 15 classes in the Academy. Some of them are immersive and discuss suffrage throughout the entirety of the course and others are labeled connection courses that discus suffrage in an assignment or a few weeks throughout the semester. On the one hand the Suffrage Academy is the interdisciplinary curriculum itself. On the other hand, these courses will be placeholders for our speaker series. The Suffrage Academy is not actually made up but what was already existing in our speaker series. It just needed a name. All of these professors are already talking about social justice and women’s rights in their courses, so it was just natural for us to come together and give it a name. This history is so contested. This program is not seeking a normative dialogue around women’s rights but rather is going to allow us all to learn and grow together.

3. What led to the creation of this intiative across the departments?

Of course, 2020 is the centennial for the ratification of the 19th Amendment. When we were talking about our event series in the fall, it came to light that there was a theme of social justice. We did not seek out this theme but rather it emerged. And for the Spring, Professor Manolo received an email from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard who had curated this 19th Amendment visual archive of the Suffrage Movement. And that little blimp was the impetus for us. It made so much sense – conversations about race and sex coming together. We were already discussing these themes in our classes. So it came up on the heels of the Fall event speaker series and the centennial for women’s suffrage. I think finally a crucial part is the hope to create a space in which difficult contested histories can be unearthed, rearranged, and be put forth anew. I always say the work of decolonization is a life time. We have to decolonize suffrage and decolonize our education around what suffrage looks like.

4. What are some of the courses being offered outside of Politics & Human Rights and International Studies?

In the History Department, we have Lauren Brown teaching a history course entitled American Women’s History and another entitled Monumental Debates. We also have a special faculty member, Ricardo Bracho, teaching Participation in Liberation: Women of Color and Citizenship. In the Business Division we have Professor Lorraine Martinez-Novoa teaching The Social Psychology of Dress. When speaking with her, she found it interesting that how fashion changes in line with these changing perceptions of liberation and freedom. In the Communications Division, there are courses such as Erin Greenwell’s Video Film Production, Sarah Nelson Wright’s Creating the City, Tatiana Serain’s Reporting Gender, and Cyrille Phipps’ Black Female Sexuality in Film. In the Dance Division we have Catherine Cabeen teaching Ethics, Aesthetics, and Gender Representation in the Performing Arts, and Elisabeth Motley’s Dance Composition Course.

5. Are there any courses for students looking for AIP courses? And do you have any favorites that stand out?

The Suffrage Academy is full of AIP courses. We have Reform and Revolution with Professor Jessica Blatt who teaches with a Reacting to the Past Pedagogy that is a EP and UP course. We have many REP courses, Participation and Liberation, Black Female Sexuality in Film, and Professor Brady’s Social Movements course are all REPs. In terms of EPs, there is my Trans-Suffrage course. Professor Nossiff is teaching Politics of Abortion which is a UP course. For anyone looking for AIP courses, the Suffrage Academy has a variety of selections.

We would like to thank Professor O’Connor for answering our questions about the Suffrage Academy. We highly encourage students to take the opportunity to participate in these courses and event series. For students who are interested in the program you can contact Professor O’Connor at eoconnor1@mmm.edu. We look forward to these crucial dialogues around the contested history of women’s suffrage and MMC’s efforts to decolonize it. Lastly, we would like to thank you all for joining us this week. As always, a gentle reminder to be kind, stay safe, and get ready for the holiday season.

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