Scripps Humanities Institute Opens Feminism Speaker Series

From a feminist analysis of Kanye West’s use of Nina Simone’s lyrics to a critical consideration of the role of gender in the Hawaiian nationalist movement, the wide scope of lectures featured this semester by Scripps College’s Humanities Institute examines the many lenses through which we engage with feminist thought. 

The Humanities Institute (HI) brings outside lecturers to campus once a week to discuss the semester’s theme. Past themes have included included “Re-visioning Food Sovereignty: U.S. Supply and Consumption;” “Music, Dance, Ritual, and Belief: Transforming Societies;” and “Social Media/Social Change: Negotiating Access, Control, and Unrest in the Information Age.” Lectures are open to 5C and Claremont community members. 

This semester’s theme, “Feminism and the Radical Imagination,” reflects student interest in the topic. 

“Being at a women’s college, it’s very fitting,” said Jennie Frishtick SC ’16, one of the HI’s junior fellows.

Junior fellows, who must be nominated by professors and partake in a rigorous application process, receive credit for attending HI lectures every Tuesday and participating in a classroom discussion led by the visiting lecturer the following day. Fellows also introduce the weekly speaker, take speakers out to formal dinners, and produce final projects of their choosing. 

This semester’s theme also represents support for Scripps’ Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) department.

“I think the HI does a really good job of picking unique themes that specifically reach out to certain types of students,” fellow Jade Ulrich SC ’14 said. “There are more and more students interested in FGSS, so I think the theme is timely.”

“To actually commit a budget to bringing really cool people in to talk about this subject really shows Scripps support of this department,” she added. 

This semester’s speakers, who are chosen by the director as well as other faculty members, have included Teri Sculman, who spoke about decolonization in Hawaii, as well as Salamishah Tillet, who discussed contemporary samplings of Nina Simone in hip-hop music. 

Fellow Kayon James SC ’16 highlighted how this semester’s speakers shed light on different contemporary feminisms. 

“The Humanities Institute is really holistic in terms of how research is being done, what the speaker themselves are doing, and also the subject [the speaker is discussing],” James said. “The program is about more than just one kind of feminism—it’s really about feminisms.”

Despite the diversity of speakers brought in by the HI each semester, fellows note under-attendance. 

“It’s hard to get people to know about [events],” Frishtick said. “We all put posters up around campus and I think [programmers] are working really hard to gain visibility. This semester we’re doing this thing where we all made Twitter accounts if we didn’t already have them and we tweet at least once during every lecture.” 

As it is early in the semester, the HI is looking forward to many more speakers, including filmmaker Gerry Rogers, author Helena Maria Viramontes, and distinguished professors from across the country. 

On Feb. 18, visiting professor Aishah Shahidah Simmons will present “Afrolezfemcentric Perspectives on Coloring and Queering Gender-Based Violence.” Simmons is a filmmaker known for her work on No! The Rape Documentary

“I’m especially excited for next week’s speaker,” Ulrich said. “I’m actually helping her put on two other events so I’ve really gotten to know her. It’s pretty cool because I get to introduce her. It’s an interesting pairing going to the formal lectures and then seeing them in a less formal setting the next day. You get all your questions answered.” 

HI Director and Scripps Music Professor Candida Jacquez spoke about the broader role of the institute. 

“It’s a tremendous opportunity not just for the Scripps Campus but also for the entire consortium because we have a range of visitors to the HI: everyone from emerging scholars who are doing some very cutting-edge work to people who are extremely well established and well renowned internationally,” Jacquez said.

She added that the Institute reflects the value of a liberal arts setting. 

“This has been one of the most amazing experiences as a professor in terms of working with students,” Jacquez said. “I came from a very large research institution where I was used to teaching undergraduates 300-400 students at a time and I came to a liberal arts institution very purposefully because I was very much committed to the education values of an intimate values and actually getting to know my students. The junior fellows program, I think, is an even more intense example of this.”  

The Humanities Institute can be found on Twitter by searching the handle @ScrippsHI or the hashtag #HISpring14.

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