By: Maurisa Li-A-Ping, Coordinator for First Year and Sophomore Programs at the Brown Center for Students of Color
Providence, Rhode Island
While quarantining and social distancing it feels like there are mirrors all around me. The ones you find in the circus, making tall things short, big things small, and oval things square. Everything feels filtered and contorted, even my body. So much is lost and gained in the illusion of shame. Some days I am a soaring acrobat, while others I am a clown walking the tightrope. In the blaring silence of quarantine, I turn to Lucille Clifton for resilience and comfort.
Last night while reading “homage to my hips” I wondered, did she wake up with the utmost reverence for her body? Was it gained over time? Did someone name those parts of her worthy? I am not sure of how but, I too want a body that is magical and mighty. It feels right to start with gratitude so each day I honor the joy and horror of living in my body.
What has she done for me today?
What has her terror taught me?
Where does love live within her?
I am not sure if you too feel you are being chased by mirrors. If your round has become triangular and your small has been turned big. However, I am sure of praise: the act of offering glory to one’s self as a form of survival. Do it with me: (as said by Lucille Clifton in her poem homage to my hips)
By: Teresa Conchas and Jennifer Katz, Student Coordinators at the Sarah Doyle Center
Perhaps it is the rain that appears to have no end that provoked it. As if I was possessed by some azure calling, I started this week on a quest to collect songs revolving around the color blue. In #72 of the 240 meditations on the color blue in Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, she writes,
“It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.”
When I spoke to Teresa, by serendipitous chance, she had undergone a parallel excursion into the color blue this week. We joined blue forces. She wrote to me, “at first I had a hard time compiling songs around the color, and then I just couldn’t escape coming across it.” Maybe we are all feeling and searching for a touch of blue right now.
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.
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.
By: Rae Gould, Associate Director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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/Shutterstock.com; 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.
By: Matthew Guterl, Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies
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.