“Gender, Sex, & Sauce: OW Students Serve Up Social Consciousness with Progress on the Side” by Jamel Sleem, English major.
On Monday, March 3. 2014, SUNY Old Westbury’s New Academic Building was host to The Student Symposium on Gender & Sexuality. This remarkable event – organized by the Women’s Center, Carol Quirke, Jessica Williams, and faculty from the departments of American Studies, English, Psychology and Sociology – saw the coming together of students and faculty from numerous disciplines all for the singular purpose of creating a public dialogue about an ever-important and ever-evolving issue: gender.
Five separate panels gave voice to various subject matter concerning each and every one of us. Subjects ranging from Gender Challenges, Masculinities, and Heroines, to Women & Religion and Women & Beauty helped to focus the conference and steer the discussion down productive avenues. Almost two dozen students from varying backgrounds and all walks of life brought their unique perspectives and voices to the conversation.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of program organizers and moderators – including the English Department’s Professors Williams, Emery, and Graf – the overall selection, which featured works from their combined classes as well as Professor Dissinger’s, touched on many important aspects of the ongoing and, in many cases, escalating conflicts faced by marginalized individuals the world over.
Of particular interest were presentations from English majors Alexa Bauman, Naomi Johnson, Joseph Lagalante, Jr., Jonathan Noyes, and Shakiraah Medford. Alexa presented her paper from Professor Emery’s Literature Across Cultures I class: Challenging Traditional Gender Roles in Society: Modern Female Protagonists in Ama Ata Aidoo’s Anowa and Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis. Joseph’s paper, The Dominican Model of Manhood and the Broken Sucio: Identifying Masculinity as the Unifying Theme in the Works of Junot Diaz, sprang from his work in Professor Graf’s Senior Seminar I class. Professor Dissinger’s Literature Across Cultures I class was the fertile ground from which two presenters reaped their bountiful harvest. Naomi attacked the issue succinctly with Female Avenger: A Reading of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, while Jonathan opened eyes with his presentation, What’s Good for the Gander is Wrong for the Geese: Why the Construct of Gender is Harmful. Finally, Shaakirah Medford delivered a presentation titled Black Beauty and the Media: Redefining Our Own Beauty created for Professor Chipley’s Women and Media class.
Some students shared an event from their own past that helped to inform their present and altered their plans for the future. Others were motivated to share based on the struggles of family and friends and the impact those journeys had on their own lives. Still others were called to open up based on the influence that a specific text or work of art had on them, personally. And some simply had something important to say — and this distinct venue offered them an unprecedented platform from which to have their voices heard. Whatever the reason, each student brought something new and thought-provoking to the table.
The only thing more impressive than the tenor and tone of the discussion as a whole was the way in which it was received. Chairs ringed the hall but for much of the proceedings, the walls were lined with onlookers too engaged to leave for lack of adequate seating.
In one humble viewers opinion, this is an event that should be repeated in both form and function annually, as the length and breadth of the issues at hand multiply and shift with increased speed and readiness every day. Such a worthwhile pulpit should be maintained for future students in upcoming years.