By Caroline Shapley & Victoria Lawson | Echo
Women's Week events were held on March 14 and 15, but the hosting club called For Audre hopes conversation will continue beyond Women's History Month.
For Audre, an initially exclusive book club for discussing women's issues and intersectional feminism, is now extending a campus-wide welcome to anyone - including men - who would like to engage in these conversations.
The co-facilitators of this club are senior Tiless Turnquest and sophomore Stephanie Mithika.
Turnquest started For Audre informally in March 2016, but made it an official club under the Office of Intercultural Programs (OIP) umbrella last semester in August. Turnquest was inspired to start the club after enjoying a discussion group on a missions trip in the Dominican Republic. Her friends encouraged her to continue similar discussions on campus and For Audre was born, named after feminist icon Audre Lorde.
"The purpose of these discussions is basically for people to become conscious of the fact that their lived experience is not the only lived experience," Turnquest said. "So, it can be sometimes difficult to engage with those who are different form you, so we're not necessarily trying to shape or change anyone's beliefs, but just expose them to difference. Because as Christians we are called to love everyone, and if you're only able to love someone who looks exactly like you in terms of physicality or mentally, then you're going to live a limited life."
According to Mithika, For Audre hopes to primarily reach women processing identity development pertaining to their gender, sexuality and faith. Their goal is to give curious women and men a space to wrestle with these concepts and educate themselves with others.
For Audre helped coordinate Women's Week on campus, which celebrated Women's History Month with students wearing black badges and T-shirts encouraging female empowerment and engaging in campus events. Outside of Women's Week, however, For Audre's goal is to cultivate a safe space for dialogue about gender, sexuality, race and other identity issues.
The two events For Audre hosted during Women's Week were Wednesday night's Womani-tea gathering in Larita Boren Campus Center and Thursday night's Why Feminism? panel discussion in Cornwall.
Womani-tea encompassed the celebration of women and womanhood. This was done through art, poetry and narrative storytelling. It provided a time of reflection for what it means to be a woman and the journey of walking into womanhood.
Mary Anleitner, a senior creative writing major, shared written work at the WomaniTea. She shared part of her senior project, which is centered around the feminine identity, as well as other works. Anleitner acknowledged the vulnerability that comes with sharing a piece of personal writing.
"It's more of a time of bonding of women being like, 'Oh, yeah, I experienced that too,' and then growing together and talking about it," Anleitner said.
In creating her work and sharing her story, Anleitner acknowledged some events and choices in her life which have shaped her ideas of womanhood.
"You don't need a career to be a whole person," Antleitner said. "A lot of times I think it's either you do that stay-at-home mom thing or you're the career woman. You don't actually need both - or either - to be a whole person and I think that's just like what feminine identity is about - what anyone's identity is about - is finding out you're actually a whole person."
Thursday's event, Why Feminism?, included a panel of speakers who delved into what feminism is and why it is important.
"There aren't that many vocal or outright feminists on campus, especially with faculty and staff, so it was a bit of a challenge to find staff that could speak for that event," Mithika said.
After putting together Thursday's Why Feminism, the co-facilitators acknowledged the challenge they experienced in trying to find a male voice for the discussion. Troy Tiberi, former hall director, agreed to speak as a male voice at the Thursday night panel.
Tiberi was hesitant at first because he wanted to make sure a male speaker wouldn't be seen as a threat to the voices of women at the event. However, Tiberi was assured his thoughts would be beneficial to the conversation and was welcomed on the panel.
For Audre's presence on campus during Women's Week sparked conversation and inspired both men and women to discuss identity issues.
Junior Caitlin Jacques values what For Audre has taught her and believes the club is doing important work. She feels that the club has helped her change the way she perceives herself and the people she interacts with on a daily basis.
Jacques hopes to see more attendance and encourages other students to get involved, even if they might feel uncomfortable at first. She wants to invite students who are unsure about For Audre to come anyway with a teachable heart.
"The leaders (Turnquest and Mithika) recognize that not everyone's going to be an expert in feminism," Jacques said. "Come willing to learn and you'll always be welcome."
For Audre meets in the OIP office Mondays at 8 p.m. Contact Turnquest at @firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.