Healing, justice and loving transformation

July 8, 2020

Healing, justice and loving transformation

Nobody seemed excited to teach and learn online last quarter, but UW students and faculty navigated the early months of this year’s public health crisis with grace and solidarity. 

It can also be hard to get excited about the coming academic year with so many unknowns and so many societal and personal challenges in play. Still, there are reasons to feel gratitude and opportunities to truly connect. In the midst of all this turmoil, our community is sharing traditions and theoretical perspectives that help us care for ourselves and for one another. 

One recent example: Feminism in the Borderlands

Chicana feminist theory has transformed and been transformed by intellectual, poetic, and aesthetic traditions as it moves throughout the U.S. borderlands. To understand the history and present-day power of old and emerging traditions, students in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies (GWSS)/Honors’ spring seminar, “Feminism in the Borderlands,” were immersed in many forms of Chicana feminist theory in practice, through texts, poetry, music and other creative works. 

Dr. Michelle Habell-Pallán, faculty in UW’s GWSS, Communication, and Music departments and prolific international activist, teaches powerful Honors seminars and study-abroad programs, frequently engaging students in collaborative community projects, including nonprofit social justice engine and culture-building digital archives “Women Who Rock.” 

Students in her spring seminar attended the most recent Women Who Rock (un)conference, hosted online on May 30, where participants were invited into the Mexican traditions of ofrenda and altar making (among other things) to “simultaneously facilitate a process of collective grief and celebration of life.” Many of the (un)conference workshops are still available to the public as videos, including wisdom from National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, Ofelia Esparza, and her daughter Rosanna Esparza Ahrens. 

Much of the course material focused on “mechanisms of remembrance” and adapting to the online format made it easy for guest visitors—like Turkish/Mexican-American recording artist, Maya—to join the class.

“It was a really tough quarter, but students were awesome!” Habell-Palan said, “It was important to be meeting while the #BlackLivesMatter movement was so visible, because they were seeing historical responses from the 1960s that connect to a similar (not identical) kind of pain and outrage we were feeling together about the death of George Flloyd. The early Chicana activists were mostly enrolled in college and the Chicana movement was an example of young people finding and creating a way to change the world. It allowed me to assure students that they CAN do something and to help them connect with personally meaningful examples.”

Sadie Van den Bogaerde, now entering her second year in UW’s Interdisciplinary Honors Program, felt inspired by the course and the (un)conference, in particular: “Witnessing such powerful conversations from so many wise women gave me a lot of hope. The state of our country and world right now has been weighing down on me recently, but the event today reminded me what we’re all fighting for.”

Associate Honors Program Director, Juliana Villegas, who curates Honors’ interdisciplinary curriculum and international programs, has confirmed “Feminism in the Borderlands” for Spring 2021. She is hopeful that Habell-Pallán’s popular study abroad program on wellbeing, race and gender in Ecuador will run next summer, too.

Reimagining the future, this fall

Villegas explained that student input inspires Honors courses that fulfill general education and experiential learning requirements while immersing students in subjects that resonate, taught by professors who live the material. “Many Honors faculty are grounded in anti-racist theory and movements both on and off campus,” Dr. Villegas explained. “It’s exciting to see a growing demand for these courses and to connect students with the long and multifaceted work of confronting racism and repairing systems and cultural wounds that go back generations.”

So, students have lots of opportunities to engage in this type of thinking before next spring. From the “Biology of Diversity,” to “Prison Logics and Abolition Futures,” Honors’ fall lineup is packed with socially meaningful, transformative courses. Jeanette Bushnell’s “Lovework: an unfinished syllabus,” applies a healing indigenous lens to contemporary practices and invites students to recenter in more authentic and compassionate paradigms. Or students can celebrate the joy of music and movement while challenging cultural assumptions with Marisol Berrios-Miranda’s “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music.” 

For a public-writing focus, Dr. Villegas is offering “Mestiza Consciousness”; and LaTasha Levy and Joel Walker will each lead special Calderwood seminars on “#Blacklivesmatter in Historical Context” and “Migration Stories and the Idea of America,” respectively. All three seminars are made possible by the Calderwood seminar curriculum pilot, led at UW by Honors in partnership with the Calderwood foundation and multiple degree programs on campus. 

And that’s just a handful of the opportunities Honors students have to engage deeply in the issues they care about, most. 

Villegas is proud of the people and ideas behind these courses. “Hopefully, as new and prospective UW Honors students look through our 2020-2021 curriculum and learn more about our faculty, they know that they are entering a community of scholars and activists who’ve been working to understand and address very big issues for decades. And they are invited into this work. Teaching, learning, creating and reflecting are powerful forms of activism.”