Monthly Archives: April 2020

Plant Parenthood – Growing our Gardens

By: Shanelle Haile, PhD Student in the Department of Sociology and Grad Parent Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

Our home garden in Cranston, Rhode Island

Two weeks ago, I shared why gardening is a practice I continue during the COVID pandemic. I hope it inspired you to get into your own gardens and get your hands dirty!

As promised, in this follow-up post, I share a few photos of the budding plants that will be a part of my container garden this summer. Let my mistakes serve as an example to you. If you have just decided to plant seeds, it’s not too late! I lost my squash plants to frost last week, though thankfully my lettuce survived. As a backup, my daughter and I recently started planting tomato, jalapeno, and habanero seeds to add to our garden.

The first photo below is of my daughter, Hanna, stirring coffee grounds, leaves, eggshells, and grass in our makeshift compost bin. The materials in our compost bin will be mixed with soil when we move our seedlings outdoors in late May. The second photo is of Hanna dutifully watering our tomato seedlings and pepper seedlings under our grow light. She makes it a point to check on her seedlings every morning.

We aren’t the only ones working on our gardens. Many in our Brown community – students, faculty and staff— are getting their hands dirty these days. Below are photos from two students who shared photos of their lovely budding gardens with us.

These photos below are from Brown graduate student Alison Weber. Her daughter, Elanor (age 2), is pictured planting seeds in the first photo and then watering blossoming lima bean seedlings in the second photo (courtesy of Alison Weber).

These photos below were taken by Brown undergraduate student Beka Yang. They show her container garden of squash, lettuce, and bok choy in the first photo. In the second picture, Beka captures her budding Chinese kale seedlings (courtesy of Beka Yang).

The only thing more inspiring than working on my own garden is connecting with and receiving updates from others in the Brown/SDC community who are doing the same. So share your gardening adventures in the comments, or tag us on your gardening photos via Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Here’s to Spring and new beginnings…

Rooted Radio 002

By: Jennifer Katz, Senior studying Science, Technology, Society and the Gender, Health, & Wellness Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

These mornings I let my alarm go off six or seven times, the end of each snooze interval repeatedly jolting me awake. I am desperate to savor the warm embrace of being perfectly bundled in my blue toile-patterned covers. More than usual, it’s been difficult to convince myself that it’s worthwhile to face the chill outside of my bed,  especially when “outside” is restricted to the few rooms in my home.

While April has been devastated by the damage of this grand flood, from my window I can see evidence that spring is here and the warm days of May are on the horizon. The cherry blossoms are shedding pastel pink flowers, softly gracing the earth’s floor. The hydrangeas in my backyard are just beginning to bloom, painting a blur of amethyst along the lining of my cracked wooden fence. A green-eyed cat with light gray fur gracefully glides behind the room that I have now designated as my office, pausing to meow for food through the glass. Since I’ve last been home, my parents have installed two more bird feeders, incorporating into my every day a rainbow of colorful birds like Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, as well as their songs, whistles, and chirps.

Rooted Radio 002 is for daydreaming about the future, reflecting on the past, and celebrating renewal. 

Country Living during COVID-19

By: Rae Gould, Associate Director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative

Leverett, Mass.

Rather than thinking of time at my home in Western Massachusetts as “isolation,” I am working to remain focused on opportunities for reflection, growth and rejuvenation. Although some days are more challenging than others, rediscovering my love of cooking through healthy, home-cooked meals and culinary explorations, combined with rediscovering the great outdoors, have been welcome reprieves from the daily news and associated stresses.

One example is a recent first-time exploration of Catamount State Forest, located in Colrain, Massachusetts. This remote forest near the Vermont border has an even more remote pond in the center, accessible only by foot. Time away from my computer and the confines of my home was a welcome break on the cool spring day I explored this area. Although I have lived in Western Massachusetts for two and half years, I’m finding that the COVID-19 experience provides a new reason to explore this beautiful area of the state and plan to take advantage of socially-distanced activities like walks and hikes in remote areas as warmer temperatures arrive this spring. Another beautiful part of nature in this area, black bears, is perhaps the only other consideration to enjoying the outdoors these days, besides social distancing, of course. I hear from my neighbors that the bears are awake now, although I have not had the pleasure of a visit on my property yet this year.

I think of my colleagues and friends from Brown University daily and remain connected a number of ways: regular meetings with staff and faculty, helpful webinars offered by Wellness at Brown and Talent Development, and continuing to plan projects for when the campus returns to normal. In the meantime, I’ll work to stay healthy and balanced through reconnecting with the beautiful area I’ve chosen to call home, and I’ll keep reminding myself that country living during COVID-19 is a blessing during these trying times.

Image credit: Photos of McLeod Pond, Catamount State Forest, Colrain, Mass. (by the author)

Feminists at Brown: Lessons of Hope and Resilience

By: Ivy Bernstein ‘21, Executive Board of Feminists at Brown

Because most college students sleep in on the weekends, Brown’s campus tends to be empty at 7:30 AM on a Saturday. Such was the case on March 7th, the Saturday before Brown switched to remote learning, the day of the Feminist Leadership and Mentorship for Equality Conference (FLAME). The cold air whipped my hands that were exposed to the open air from carrying boxes of bagels, tote bags, and folders to the student center. My heart raced as if to say, “Today’s the day we’ve worked towards for months! Get ready!” 

My campus organization, Feminists at Brown, meets every Monday from 8:30-9:30 PM in the Sarah Doyle Center. Curling up on the cozy couches and sipping cups of tea provided by the center, we check in with each other by sharing “Ka-Chings” and “Grievances,” or one good and bad thing that happened to us that week. For the three years I have participated in this ritual with Feminists at Brown, it has been a source of comfort for me. The group is a place to vent about something difficult you’re dealing with, but also a community that celebrates your successes with you. Throughout the year, we engage in feminist discussions and plan the annual FLAME Conference for high school students in Rhode Island. With the goal of making feminist discourse and Brown’s resources accessible to young people, we invite high school students from across Rhode Island for a day of workshops, lectures, and activities. We provide a broad range of workshop topics, including climate justice, queer feminisms, womxn in politics, transnational feminism and racism, the commodification of feminism, consent, and sex education programming. 

The satisfaction of spending months organizing for one conference and then seeing first-hand how your work impacts students is an indescribable feeling. However, on the morning of the conference, all I could feel was anxiety. At this point, Brown had announced that events larger than 100 people must be postponed because of COVID-19. FLAME usually hosts about 40-50 students, so the conference was still happening. However, students were canceling the morning of, likely because of last-minute concerns about the virus. In the end, only 16 students attended. Disappointment hung in the air. However, as the day went on, and I was able to talk to the students about their lives and experiences with the conference, my disappointment faded. Some students articulated that because their high school offered abstinence-only sex education, they really appreciated getting sex education programming at FLAME. Others explained that they did not have spaces to talk about feminist issues at their high schools, and so FLAME offered them a unique experience.

The most powerful moment of the day was the “Open Mic” portion of the closing ceremony. At first, the air was still. Who will participate? There was nervous chatter. The Feminists at Brown leaders started to worry if we should do a different activity. Then, suddenly, a brave girl stood up. “I’ll go,” she said. She shared a poem about experiences with sexual objectification and opened up about her struggles. The students supported her, cheering, whooping, and clapping. Now that she broke the ice, students poured on to the stage, talking about what feminism means to them, or personal experiences with gender-related issues. They were so wise beyond their years, so eloquent and poised, that I began to tear up. One girl stood up and said, “I want to thank the Feminists at Brown club for putting this together,” and explained why the day impacted her. I could feel the hot tears running down my face, and I didn’t even try to hide it.

Thinking back to that day, it feels like a miracle that this conference even happened. Everyone’s events were getting canceled, and the University itself ended classes just days later. That day was one of the last days where life felt normal, and while the conference’s impact may have reached fewer people than we expected, the depth of our reach felt profound. In the month since then, we have all (the high school students and Brown students) dealt with new and unexpected things. The sense of community and support that I felt that day stays with me, as well as the support I feel on our cozy Monday nights in Sarah Doyle. While Feminists at Brown Zoom calls may not offer free tea and comfy couches, they do offer me the chance to reflect each week about something good in my life. This ritual of gratitude has been a true gift through these times of uncertainty. 

Image credit: Photo of the tote bag Feminists at Brown gifted to the attendees and volunteers at the FLAME Conference. Graphic design by Jane Freiman ’22.

Rooted Radio 001

By: Jennifer Katz, Senior studying Science, Technology, Society and the Gender, Health, & Wellness Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

Dear friends in the Sarah Doyle Center community,

Wherever you are in the world right now, I hope that you are safe and healthy during these difficult times. With all that is going on, there are moments where the weight of it all has been distracting, and sometimes even debilitating. It has been important for me to find daily practices that help me feel and stay grounded, especially on a day when the noise is too much and the ring of loneliness is even more shrill. These practices can be small: making my bed, brewing coffee, taking a short walk. It is dedicating a moment to stillness to check in with my body and take a judgment-free mental inventory at that present moment. Music, for me, and making playlists in particular, has been one of these grounding practices. I play it while I’m brushing my teeth, cooking with my family, or winding down after a day’s work.

I will be sharing “Rooted” playlists every week for the next month, honoring the SDC’s Women’s History Month theme “Radical Roots: Nourishing Feminist Work.” I’m hoping that we can find refuge in our common humanity right now. I’m hoping that the music that has been centering me, can bring us closer together and help center you as well. I’m hoping to honor that we’re not alone. 



Image credit: Rooted Radio image by Katherine Sang ’21

Radical Roots: Still Planting Seeds, Still Nourishing Feminist Work

By: Shanelle Haile, PhD Student in the Department of Sociology and Grad Parent Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

Our home garden in Cranston, Rhode Island

“Humility in relationship to nature’s power made survival possible” (hooks 2009:67)

This semester has been difficult. We are all wading through uncertain waters as we navigate our way out of a global health pandemic. My own fears and anxieties have worsened many times since the beginning of this crisis. I worry about the health and safety of my family, my friends, and many others more vulnerable than myself. The worry can be mentally and emotionally crippling. Someone recently asked me how I am managing to balance being a graduate student and a parent who desires to continue doing feminist work during this time?

My answer is that I get my hands dirty. By that, I mean that I literally put my hands in dirt (or soil, rather) as a way of grounding myself amidst all that is happening around me. Grounding oneself is a common therapeutic technique used to help those experiencing anxiety in anchoring themselves to the present. There may also be biological evidence that gardening is a particularly valuable grounding practice. Lowry et al. (2007) found that harmless bacteria present in soil activate serotonin and thereby act as an antidepressant. Although these findings pertain to laboratory mice, I am sure this could be true for humans as well! 

Certainly, gardening has been one of the most calming and centering activities in my daily life. It is also an activity that promotes food and environmental sustainability, community, and care. It is a radical practice, which my grandmothers and at least one of my great-grandmothers also used for anchoring themselves from uncertainty as black women living in the Jim Crow South. I recall words from bell hooks’ essay, “Earthbound on Solid Ground,” in which she reminds us that reconnecting with earth has always been a practice rooted in racial and psychological resistance,“Reclaiming our history, our relationship to nature, to farming in America, and proclaiming the humanizing restorative of living in harmony with nature so that the earth can be our witness is meaningful resistance” (hooks 2009:70). 

I will pass this history and practice to my daughter, Hanna, pictured here gathering leaves this month for composting and fertilizing our squash seedlings. There couldn’t be a better time to teach her how to get her hands dirty!

This year, the Sarah Doyle Center kicked off our Radical Roots theme to acknowledge prior feminist work and plant figurative seeds for the future. Although our spring gardening event had to be cancelled, we are still planting and cultivating figurative and literal seeds! 

Stay tuned for a future blog post in which I will share photos from my family’s budding garden as well as photos provided by others from the Brown community who continue to engage with us about their own gardening practices.

We may be physically separate, but we are still planting seeds together and still nourishing feminist work. 

“To tend the earth is always then to tend our destiny, our freedom, and our hope.” (hooks 2009:68)

We will continue to do the work. This is how. 

Image credit: Photos by Shanelle Haile


hooks, b. (2009) Belonging: A Culture of Place.Taylor and Francis

Lowry, C. A., Hollis, J. H., de Vries, A., Pan, B., Brunet, L. R., Hunt, J. R. F., Paton, J. F. R., van Kampen, E., Knight, D. M., Evans, A. K., Rook, G. A. W., & Lightman, S. L. (2007) Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior. Neuroscience, 146(2), 756–772.

Nontraditional References (Part II)

By: Timothy Shiner, Senior Associate Dean, Student Support Services

My kitchen table, Pawtucket, RI

Back in 2005, I was asked to write a brief informal reflection as part of a journal published for students and alums of my graduate school program. At the time, I was working at the University of Vermont Women’s Center, focusing largely on sexual violence prevention and response, and my self-care skills were not very good. While I had been out for many years, I was struggling with my identity as a queer man and where I fit in the LGBTQ community. I was burnt out and carrying a lot of personal and vicarious trauma. There was so much inequity and injustice in the world and having finished my graduate degree and worked a few years in the “real world”, I was disappointed to learn that “adulthood” didn’t mean inherent stability, peace of mind, or an ability to control my circumstances and prevent bad things from happening to me or others.

I didn’t really know how to write such a reflection at that moment. Being aware of even a fraction of the struggle which happens in the world, I had never really been able to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” But I had become deeply impacted by feminist and womanist thinkers like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Ursula LeGuin, and Gloria Anzaldúa and I had come to believe that whether things happen for a reason or not, we can make meaning out of the most difficult circumstances. And while I had been looking to these and other sources (some of them accepted as “scholarship” by the academy) for comfort during that difficult time, it wasn’t until a series of moments outside the traditional academy; an art show, a performance art piece, reading a series of children’s novels; that I started being able to make a little meaning of my own. The reflection I had been asked to write became an outline of my process at that moment; an exploration of Nontraditional References and how they can help us make meaning.

Fifteen years later, like many of us, I find myself catching up on shows I’ve been meaning to watch, returning to old favorite works, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen. One of the shows was the first season of the adaptation of those same children’s novels from 15 years ago; HBO’s His Dark Materials. The adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s books is very good, I think, but it is a later point in the novels that the viewing reminded me of and that I have returned to again and again over time to reground myself in difficult moments (so minor spoiler alert…).

In my piece from 2005, I wrote, “In Pullman’s fantasy world, children are being severed from their spirit. A force called Dust fights for consciousness, for the end of oppression, and for balance and harmony with other humans and with the world itself” (Shiner, 2005, p. 137). As the novels progress, this force of Dust is endangered and is being siphoned away but near the end of the story, a wise character tells the protagonists:

Conscious beings make Dust – they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on. And if you help everyone else in your world to do that, by helping them learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious…Then you will renew enough to replace what is lost…” (Pullman, 2000, p. 491-492)

This moment in a fantasy novel, this charge, continues to bring me purpose and hope in difficult moments and to remind me of the simple goals of why I work in education. Whether in novel or television format, this work of fiction has helped me make meaning for almost two decades.

The worlds of science fiction and fantasy have always been a lens of meaning making for me and no one has shaped my worldview with this tool more than Octavia Butler. She wrote words and captured ways of thinking I return to again and again. “All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change” (Butler, p. 81). In this world that seems changed beyond recognition, how do we make meaning? Butler reminds me that change is constant, and that I need to accept that. I need to accept that I cannot control change. But I also need to bring intentionality about the way I impact every person I interact with as everything that you touch, you change.

One of the things that has changed dramatically for me in the past 15 years is that I no longer view my life in terms of work only. The simple things of life that restore me have become just as important as the meaningful work which I do each day on campus. And nowhere does this practice feel more salient than in my kitchen. For me, cooking and baking ground me. It is an opportunity to be creative, to feel the satisfaction of working with my hands, and to engage in a practice that nourishes my body and my soul. And, it is a deep connection to my mother.

Mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce, a variation on how mom taught me to make it.

As a child, I was often in the kitchen while my mother (and on many occasions, my grandmother and aunt) cooked. Whether it was a nightly meal or the once annual two-day process of canning grape jelly from the vines in my great aunt’s yard, the warmth, aromas, and conversation were “home.” The recipes she taught me are still part of my rotation: oatmeal scotchie cookies, cornbread and chili, and my all-time favorite meal, homemade baked mac and cheese. But now it is an exchange of recipes and conversation, we are mother and son, but also friends. She calls me from 2000 miles away when I’ve had a rough day even if I didn’t tell her I was having one. She just knows. During this time of isolation, we are speaking every day. Our conversations range but we always talk about what we are cooking. The food and the relationships nourish us both.

A television adaptation of my favorite books…returning to writings that have shaped my worldview…a recipe and a conversation…nontraditional references continue to help me make meaning out of difficult moments in life. They help me to find peace of mind, to let go of things I cannot control, to feel grounded and connected. They help me to hope.

I closed my 2005 piece reflecting on a performance art piece I had seen by Arab-Canadian feminist author Joanna Kadi entitled Hope is a Four-Letter Word. As I try to make meaning in this moment, to find peace of mind, and to reground myself, her words seem more important than ever.

We are plunked down at the crossroads of past, present, and present. Not past, present, and future. A crossroad is comprised of two places, not three. We need to let go of the future. We need to let go of the 8,741 negative, scary, awful futures we have been composing in our minds night after night. We need to look at the ground under our feet…touch Mother Earth, touch healing soil, seek prairie remnant. Understand our past, understand our present, understand that we are not present in the future. Make our choice about whether to include hope in our present. In the actions we take to change the world, to create the world, in the personal movement we make and the larger movement we make, let us bring hope with us, let us insist on her presence. Above the door write, “Seize hope all who enter here.” (Kadi, 2004)

Image credits: Banner image by maradon 333/; lasagna image by Timothy Shiner


Butler, O. (2012). Parable of the Sower. Open Road Media.

Kadi, J. (April 20, 2004). Hope is a four-letter word. Live performance at the University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.

Pullman, P. (2000). His dark materials: The amber spyglass. Alfred A. Knopf.

Shiner, T. (2005). Nontraditional References. The Vermont Connection, 26, 136-141.

Lessons from Octavia Butler

By: Matthew Guterl, Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies

Providence, RI

I have been teaching a small undergraduate seminar on Black speculative fiction. It has been, for me, an extraordinary honor to work with this small group of dedicated young people towards a better understanding of this genre, and to do so, from the start of the semester, in light of the nation’s racial retrenchment under the current President, and now, just as tragically, in the midst of a global pandemic. I won’t speak for the students, but for me this class has been a gift – a weekly reminder of the power of imagination to draw up futures that center Black life, and to disrupt what seems possible or pre-determined.

As much as I have felt anything over these past few weeks, I have missed these people and our conversations.

In hindsight, everything we read and watched seems like a parable for the present, but one novel – Octavia Butler’s Kindred – stands out. The book, originally published in 1979, is the story of a Black woman named Dana who is inexplicably and repeatedly transported back to the antebellum South to save her ancestor, a white slaveowner named Rufus. Whenever Rufus’s life is threatened, Dana is yanked backwards in time without warning. She appears out of thin air, dressed in modern clothing, embodying modern Blackness, and causing quite a stir. She rather pointedly refuses to pretend that she is an enslaved person. She won’t stay in her “place” as determined by the slaveholding regime or accept that she “belongs” in antebellum South. Calmly and soberly, and against the grain of her surroundings, she insists on both her Blackness and her humanity. Over time, her reappearances keep Rufus alive and by extension ensure her very existence. By the novel’s conclusion, both Dana and Rufus are fundamentally changed by this recursive experience, leaving us to wonder about causality and inevitability.

Binding the past to her present, Butler’s text was meant to answer a simple question: what would you have done if you have been forced to confront slavery? She had heard many Black men and women of her generation insist that they would rise up and rebel, that they would die fighting against their enslavement. And she wanted to dramatize what she saw as the overwhelming totality of slavery, the impossibility of simple, straightforward resistance. Along with the importance – the deep and foundational importance – of knowing your history.

When we met as a class, we talked a lot about Dana, who is nonplussed by her time travelling. Practical and level-headed, she routinely confronts what would be horrific with thoughtful planning. In her California home in the present, she has the forethought to wisely assemble a bag of necessary supplies and ties them to her waist, so that they might travel back in time with her. When that bag gets lost, she quickly makes another. She brings maps and history books from the present into the past, destabilizing the certainties of slavery’s expansion. She brings knives and painkillers, soap and toothpaste and clothing. Like the author who created her, Dana is a woman of lists, a champion of organized thinking in the face of what should be overwhelming crises. This faith in relentless practicality saves her life. In the end, the knife she brings back in time – the kind of weapon denied to any enslaved person, the kind of weapon she knew she might need – is what she uses to kill Rufus in the novel’s final pages, when he loses sight of her humanity, moves beyond redemption, and comes to see her only as a slave.

Dana is prudent, canny, discerning, prepared, and willfully committed to her own survival. She is the hero we need right now, in an age of singular uncertainties. And my deepest hope is that the students who are enrolled in AFRI 1100X, and who are now zooming into our meet-ups from bedrooms, kitchen tables, and patios in almost every conceivable time zone, and who might feel displaced, buffeted, and even scared, can find in Dana’s steely determination to plan and organize her way out of trouble a practical model for their own everyday survival. Don’t hide, she might advise. Make a list. Organize your stuff. Keep it close. Be ready. What you are living through is not normal. Cool-minded preparation will save you.

Image credit: Michael Kraus/

Why we ALL need poetry as reflection, survival and stillness especially these days…

By: Sage Morgan-Hubbard, Assistant Director of Student Development at the Swearer Center for Public Service

Currently in quarantine with my mom and family in Hyattsville, MD

Dear all,

Happy poetry month! May your life be filled with poems this month and always! These are the typical words I would be writing around now as a poet and poetry lover however this year they don’t feel as genuine. I mean, we have a global pandemic right now and I can’t even take my children to play at the playground or drive across state lines, how can I be sitting around thinking about and writing poetry? And then again, how could I not? I am working on a project on the great Chinese American Civil Rights activist, author and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs who was born here in Providence, RI and who lived through many other tough times such as the great depression and she is famously quoted as saying “the only way to survive is to take care of one another.” One of my other favorite writers and poets, my Lorde and savior, Audre Lorde writes that “poetry is not a luxury.”

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

And today I believe it more than ever, poetry is not a luxury of the privileged few such as the Brown University educated folks who live and work up on College Hill in the (upper) East Side of Providence but it is an essential communication tool for all of us to celebrate and survive, to help take care of each other. As one of my other favorite poets, the incredible Lucille Clifton writes in her poem “won’t you celebrate with me

come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Lucille Clifton is one of those poets who appears to be so simple in her word choice and yet I keep on returning to her profound words again and again. I remember actually being introduced to her work fully in professor Rick Benjamin’s “Poetry in schools and communities” engaged research education class where he came to class and recited the poem that he said he always recites in classes when he teaches on the first day and one that he wanted us to recite and share with our students because it is so short and powerful and can resonate in almost any setting. This white cis heterosexual male professor recited from memory,

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and I keep on remembering


And I had to sit with that. And let it digest. And return to it during dinner. And talk to my friends about it. And soon it was part of my curriculums too and shared with me wherever I went as well as I shared with students in prisons, on the southeast sides of Washington, DC or South and West sides of Chicago, etc. everywhere I went with disenfranchised populations especially we spoke Lucille Clifton together and spoke about what are the memories that we hold dear, what are the ones we are told to forget, what are the things that people be mad at us about and how do we resist? This combination of community care, engagement, questioning and survival is why I love poetry so much. It gives voice to so many stories that are seldom told with luscious language and precious moments that make me feel and think in multiple ways. After September 11th, when I was a college freshman at Brown in 2001 and I had just lost my maternal grandmother, two days before the start of TWTP and I was already an emotional mess, I know that I needed a poetry club and poetry friends to hold my sorrows, insecurities, feelings and grief. That is when I started WORD! Spoken Word Poets and Activists because I needed poetry to survive and hold me. Clifton continues,

born…both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

See? How poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. It took me four years and an Ethnic Studies degree from Brown to come to the realization that these few lines said so clearly. As a woman of color, I had to be myself and make the path up along the way. This is part of why I was drawn to be an independent concentrator in “Performance Studies: Socially Conscious Art of the Everyday,” my poetic tribute to women of color artists before me. Poetry allowed me the language, space and tools to be political and outspoken and angry as well as be

…amazed by peace

It is this possibility of you


and breathing in the quiet air

that another one of my poetic sheroes, the great June Jordan, founder of Poetry for the People writes in her tender poem, Poem for My Love. In thinking about these last few weeks in the strange ever shifting times of COVID-19, I need these quiet peaceful poems as well as the mournful and hopeful pieces. This past week, while thinking through everything, I was also drawn to Adrienne Rich and her poem,  What Kind of Times Are These

because in times like these

to have you listen at all, it’s necessary

to talk about trees.

I have been surviving by not only talking about trees but walking in the trees, relearning the necessity of the trees feeding my lungs with fresh air and new perspectives not the constant depression news cycle and death tolls. 

In these times, the silence and listening, the spaces between the poems are as important as the poems themselves. In closing like many nonlinear womanist/feminist pieces, I will start again and let my thoughts flow in their natural circular cyclical patterns–Happy poetry month. Please read a poem. While I love prose, poetry can capture beautiful moments in ways nothing else can. As I am trapped in the house with my almost three-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son I know it is not the annoying crying frustrated moments when we need space from each other but those moments that take our breath away when I can see them literally grow before my eyes. I have never had more respect for stay at home moms, homeschool families, single parent households and teachers and as Audre Lorde says the poems I have seen be birthed in the silences, in “these places of possibility within ourselves.” Lorde also writes that poetry is

illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt.

And in this moment of feeling I want to end with a poem that has moved me. He is not a woman poet but one that all of my lovers (of all genders) have wooed me with and it seems like such a lovely poem to end on in this moment for its introspection and pacing. Reading poetry might be the best thing for us to do in this stillness, in quarantine. This poem is entitled, “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda.

I look forward to reading your poems online or hearing them recorded soon. For those who want to support a new Brown university student led project, please write and submit poems to Poems from a University Quarantine.



Image credit: Photo of my inquisitive and poetic daughter Samira Xaxua-Bey by Sage Morgan-Hubbard during the long days

Live Through This

By: Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist

Home Office, West Side, Providence

My personal feminism comes to me in many ways. At times when I love it and I rely on it and it sustains me to listen more closely and try to do better. Sometimes my feminism comes to me when I don’t want it to, especially when I was younger. I would ask myself, “why can’t I find a way to like what everyone else seems to like?” whether that question pertained to gender specific toys, gender roles, or later to marriage and children. Thinking about it now, that feminism was like a little punk voice that refused to be quiet inside of my head.

I have said that I feel feminism is just part of some people; an innate drive in them for fairness, to be heard, and to help others be heard. Growing up Generation X in an Irish Catholic community in Minnesota, my 1990s feminism was reflected by my location and in the era and embodied in Riot Grrrl and in fellow daughters of “second-wave” feminists and in the form of other musicians like Liz Phair, the B-52s, Tracy Chapman, and Sinead O’Connor. I was schooled by vintage readings like those from Shulamith Firestone and Toni Morrison and by contemporary pieces by bell hooks and Pam Houston.

I think about this now while reflecting on the last day that I spent in the workshop of the Pembroke Center Archives before the campus closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all of us, I had been cooped up with early warnings to stay at home and inundated by too much news and too much worry.

I was in my office in Alumnae Hall when I heard that feminist voice inside of my head once again. It told me to get some distance from the moment and to work on something creative and DO IT LOUD! Why not? No one else was in Alumnae Hall – a cavernous building that from 1927 to 1971 had been home to social and religious activities of Brown women and Pembroke College events and historic moments. 

Pembroke Center Archives website banner

So I logged on to the Pembroke Center’s website, which is under construction, and I got to work adding my changes and additions to the new pages about the archives (picture above). And then I added sound. I chose Courtney Love’s band Hole and TURNED UP THE VOLUME on her 1994 album, Live Through This

I had not listened to the album in years, but when I heard that iconic opening guitar from the song “Violet” come blasting out, I felt a rush of energy and I immediately recalled the time I saw her play in Minnesota when I was in high school. It was December and Love was contrarian as ever. There was a Christmas tree on stage and I remember that in the middle of one of her songs, she walked over and pulled the whole thing over and dragged it across the stage and then threw it into the audience. She hated what she was supposed to like too… 

I hate COVID-19 but I loved that moment in Alumnae Hall. When feminism served as my buoy. When no one else was there but me and the deafening sounds of feminist punk, women’s history and inspiration. 

Image credits: Photograph of Alumnae Hall by Mary Murphy, Winter 2020; Website photography by Nick Dentamaro, Brown University, 2019