Examining intersectionality, advocacy and collective action: UN Week 2019

Students gather in at UN Week student fair at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb 6, 2019. Victoria Winter/ The Occidental.

Occidental hosted its annual United Nations (UN) Week Feb. 4–8. The week included a total of eight events as part of Occidental’s annual tradition of inviting scholars, activists and diplomats on campus to discuss global topics. This was reflected in this year’s theme of “Gender, Sexuality, and Collective Action” and included discussions on intersectionality and advocacy.

A panel titled “Intersectionality, Inequality, and Collective Action” took place in Choi Auditorium Feb. 5 and was moderated by professor Phillip M. Ayoub of the Diplomacy & World Affairs department. The panelists included Black Lives Matter founding member and artist/playwright professor Funmilola Fagbamila of California State University, Los Angeles, professor Malliga Och of the global studies and languages department at Idaho State University, deputy CIO for the City of Los Angeles Jeanne Holm and Yemeni-Bosnian-American multimedia artist Alia Ali. The panelists spoke of issues regarding intersectionality, including how the theme tied into their work relating to advocacy and social justice. Each panelist had a chance to speak on topics relating to their own fields of advocacy, including police brutality, the #MeToo Movement and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Johnny Hammer (sophomore) helped plan some of UN Week’s events, including the Feb. 6 Quad Fair. Hammer spoke of the misconceptions that some may have regarding UN Week, especially the idea that the events are only meant for Politics, Economics, and Diplomacy & World Affairs majors. He said the UN is meant to represent all people, not just those in politics.

Sandy Nguyen (sophomore), left, and Rachel Hayes (sophomore), right, advocate for Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) club during UN Week at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb 6, 2019. Victoria Winter/ The Occidental

Student-focused projects that aim to include Occidental’s diverse student body were at the center of several of the week’s events.

Maya Angulo (sophomore) helped plan UN Week and designed a photography exhibit that was displayed in Varelas Lab in Johnson Hall for the week. Her exhibit emphasized the importance of acknowledging personal experiences as a form of knowledge.

“When we talk about things like gender and sexuality, those are lived experiences,” Angulo said. “A lot of times we don’t hold experience as a form of knowledge.”

Angulo’s photos, which showcased campus diversity through portraits of students, are just one example of how this year’s theme is being used to connect with students. She said the organizational team planning the week’s events were mainly comprised of women and queer students.

Faculty and former students participated in UN Week’s events, which included two panels Feb. 7 showcasing how Occidental alumni and professors are leading the fight on gender equality and sexuality awareness.

The first of these panels, held in Johnson Hall Atrium, included a faculty panel titled “Not Just Academic: Oxy’s Faculty’s Work to Promote Gender Equality.” Among the three panelists were professor Jennifer Piscopo of the Politics department, professor Erica Preston-Roedder of the philosophy department, and visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles (ISLA) Vicki Ruiz, professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Each panelist was asked how their research helps to achieve greater gender equality. For professor Piscopo, this involved analyzing the barriers women face in getting elected into office around the world and how the United States is trailing behind other countries in terms of women holding legislative positions. For professor Preston-Roedder, this involved the burden that inadequate healthcare systems place on mothers and fathers. For professor Ruiz, the answer was much more personal, tracing back to her days at Florida State University in 1976, where she took one of the first college classes on U.S. women history and explored gender equality. Now, Ruiz’s research focuses on Latina identity and Chicana history.

Another panel, led by students and former alumni, titled “Community Leaders Generating Collective Action: Oxy Students Advocating for Gender and Sexuality Awareness,” also took place in the Johnson Hall Atrium later that same day. The panelists included #MeToo International activist and Kahane Program alum Roz Jones ’18, co-founder of Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) club Rachel Hayes (sophomore), Sandy Pattison (senior) of Project SAFE and AWARE-LA and Waruguru Waithira (senior) of the Oxy Arts Initiative. The panelists discussed their personal projects relating to advocacy and how they deal with challenges associated to their work.

According to professor Laura Herbert of the Diplomacy & World Affairs department, no matter the topic, using these shared ideas to create common ground helps advocates look toward the broader goal.

“When you look at where we are, it’s important to recognize that in many ways in spite of our differences … there are common threads,” Herbert said. “If we focus on particular issues that we care about or affect us immediately, we’re missing kind of the bigger pictures and opportunities.”