Campus / News / May 6, 2015

Students push community to heighten involvement

Freshman Warkaa Abdulhussain talks during a Color of Violence workshop. (TKS/Simon Schatzberg)

Freshman Warkaa Abdulhussain talks during a Color of Violence workshop. (TKS/Simon Schatzberg)

Six students who attended the fourth annual Color of Violence (COV4) conference in Chicago connected problems in the feminist world with issues currently being discussed on the Knox campus. 

The students hosted a workshop on Wednesday, April 22 as part of Diversity Art Month, in which they shared what they had learned at the conference with the rest of the Knox community.

The six students received funding from Knox through Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA) to travel to Chicago for the conference, which took place the first weekend of Spring Term. The conference was hosted by INCITE, a national feminist organization that focuses on women and queer people of color. At the conference, the students found common ground with the attendants from across the country with similar experiences.

“After the MLK day protest, people were like, ‘the protest made no sense, you guys just complain for the sake of complaining.’ Racism is not seen as being a big deal,” said freshman Lexi Toney, who attended the conference. “But at the conference these women basically told me ‘No, Lexi, you’re not crazy, these really are problems worth discussing.’”

After the conference, the students were excited to return to Knox and teach their peers what they had learned.

“For me, this was a really powerful conference,” said senior Forrest Linsell, who attended the conference. “It evoked a lot of inspirational, aspirational feelings to keep doing this kind of work.”

The title of the conference was “Beyond the State: Inciting Transformative Possibilities,” and a central theme was exploring non-state strategies to reduce violence.

“The conference focused on ways to combat violence non-violently while refusing to collude with state violence, like police and prisons, or at least deeply questioning whether we can rely on them as long-term solutions, particularly when concerned with women of color, trans and queer people of color,” said Linsell.

During the workshop, the students criticized what they call the “carceral feminism” that they see as the dominant framework for addressing sexual assault and domestic violence in our society.

“Carceral feminism is an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution and imprisonment as the solution for violence against women,” said sophomore Nashra Mahmood, who attended the conference. “It caters to white women, and it excludes women of color … carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity and immigration status leaves certain women more vulnerable to violence, and that greater criminalization often puts these women at risk of state violence.”

The workshop leaders see carceral feminism functioning at Knox through the mandatory reporting policy.

“Mandatory reporting takes away agency from the survivor,” Mahmood said. “They’re trying to help but they’re causing more harm than good, because they’re attacking survivors rather than helping them.”

As an alternative to carceral feminism, the leaders of the workshop offered what they call “transformative justice”: community based responses to sexual assault and domestic violence that avoid participation of law enforcement.

“Transformative justice can be kind of controversial, because especially if you’re a victim, the thought that your rapist is not going to be put somewhere that’s far away from you is kind of scary,” Toney said. “But transformative justice is a process. It’s not like somebody does something, and the next day they’re like I see what I did wrong and I’m not going to do it again and I’m sorry.  But jail does not help people. The ideal solution is somewhere in between, where both people are protected and considered.”

The workshop leaders see transformative justice at Knox as a pretty distant ideal. However, they see certain steps that can be taken towards its fulfillment.

“Community accountability is the first step right now,” Mahmood said. “The campus is pretty apathetic right now, and the administration doesn’t hold itself accountable. We try to hold ourselves accountable, but there’s a divide between the students. The first step is holding ourselves responsible as to how are we contributing to the problem rather than just pointing fingers at each other.”

Simon Schatzberg

Tags:  Color of Violence COV4 student workshop

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