March 2015

Dissent, Violence, Justice

Mural commemorating Martyred Ultras

Mural commemorating the Martyred Ultras by Ammar Abo Bakr, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Cairo, February 2, 2012, Egypt. Photograph by Heba Helmi. During political upheavals, these portraits of martyrs commemorate lives lost and act as symbolic tombs. Meanwhile, the Pharaonic style of the mural comments on the history of wall art in Egypt and acts as a reminder of the cultural resources that Egyptians can harness in their “historic” resistance to dictatorial rule.

 

TAHRIR SQUARE. FERGUSON. GAZA. NEW YORK. BOKO HARAM. UKRAINE. PARIS.

Read the news and you might wonder what the world is coming to.
This year, Bryn Mawr set out to examine that question with a yearlong, campus-wide, multidisciplinary conversation devoted to the topic of Dissent, Violence, Justice.

Mawrters talk about the Bryn Mawr Bubble, but the truth is, they love nothing more than to take “a deep dive” into the issues of the day.
So the format of the DVJ series, spearheaded by the Provost’s Office, should be a familiar one to Mawrters, with speakers and artists, faculty members, and students plunging into some of the most challenging issues of our time.

In the following pages, the Bulletin invites you to eavesdrop on those on-campus conversations as Elizabeth Mosier ’84 offers a short course on the long history of conflict and resilience. Take the time, as well, to browse through the gallery of work from Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings, currently on display in Canaday.

 

Conflict and Resilience: A Short Course in a Long History

By Elizabeth Mosier ’84

“How can we understand the root causes of violence?” asks Sociology Professor and Interim Provost Mary Osirim, introducing a faculty panel on structural violence that is part of the Dissent, Violence, Justice series she framed and fostered at Bryn Mawr. “And in turn, how can we learn from the demonstration of agency and empowerment we see in various groups confronted by violence? Can we see any pathways leading to the emergence of more socially just societies?”

Thomas Great Hall seems at once an odd and ideal classroom in which to contemplate these questions. The room glows with light from ceiling sconces; portraits of esteemed past presidents hang on the walls; the goddess Athena glowers in her corner, the hem of her sculpted gown crowded with student offerings. Certainly, it’s a privilege to be in this beautiful stone building, face-to-face (not face-to-screen, for a change) with insightful scholars, as the whole world seems to come apart.

Racial profiling, police brutality, and mass incarceration. The effect of political violence on adolescent development. Structural violence and resilience. Art that bears witness to genocide, and music that celebrates revolution. As the host for the lectures, panels, and exhibitions addressing these issues, Bryn Mawr feels like a relatively safe place to be, but it is by no means comfortable here. Although scholarly work on these urgent and important issues necessarily takes place at a remove, the College today is an institution engaged with the world, not an ivory tower protecting the community from it.

By exploring together some of the most complex and vexing issues of our time, Osirim hopes, we’ll discover connections between local and global problems, increasing our collective knowledge and even strengthening our campus community.

Revolution, One –ism at a Time

“Let’s face it,” Osirim said a month earlier, after the series’ opening event, a lecture by award-winning journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy. “Bryn Mawr women will become global citizens and leaders, so they must be able to understand many different populations from multiple perspectives. The point of the series is not to dictate any agenda. It is to provoke students to ask themselves, ‘How do I better understand my own place in the world?’”

After Eltahawy was beaten and sexually assaulted by members of Cairo’s central security service during a November 2011 protest at Tahrir Square, she defiantly reclaimed her body with two arm tattoos: the ancient Egyptian goddess Sakhmet and the name of the street (Mohamed Mahmoud) where she’d been attacked. Beginning her impassioned talk with these emblems of violence, Eltahawy located her personal story in the larger one of revolution in her native Egypt. Describing Sekhmet as the “goddess of retribution and sex”—both warrior and healer—she said: “The friction between seemingly opposite things is what interests me in the revolution of –isms. The space (Chicana feminist theorist) Gloria Anzaldúa called the borderlands, where the minority lives and learns to survive, is the most interesting and important place for me. My struggle—as a woman, a Muslim, and a sex-positive feminist—is to live constructively with all these identities, to use them to fight all those various –isms.”

In Egypt, where Eltahawy is in the religious majority, feminism is her front-line fight. Nearly a year after protestors ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power, her male comrades’ responses to her assault caused her to question who was on her side. While Egyptian women quietly shared similar stories of sexual violence, men would either ask, “What did you expect?” or apologize, promising not to rest until her honor was restored. The fight for human rights for all people is often obscured in the “Bermuda Triangle of race, sex, and class,” Eltahawy explains, recounting how she assured the men that her honor was intact. “You created this,” she admonished a policeman who denounced her attackers—poor, illiterate conscripts who’d been rejected by the military—as “the lowest of the low.” “And now you’re surprised we’re having a revolution?”

“What’s really being contested,” she said, “is who has a right to be in a public space. If the regime oppresses us all, then society oppresses women. Everywhere there’s conflict and everywhere there’s social upheaval, women’s bodies become proxy battlefields between the various sides. I’m trying to dismantle this idea that just because a man is out on the streets standing up to the regime, he is automatically a feminist and an ally of mine. He is not. What happens when we take the revolution home and it becomes a social and a sexual revolution that challenges both the regime and the patriarchy of the men who I fought the regime with?”

Misrecognizing the Antagonist

Students and faculty members packed the Rhys Carpenter Library lecture hall for the second talk in the series, which featured prison abolition activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore on “Mass Incarceration Today: Understanding the Present Conjuncture.”

Just two weeks after a campus-wide demonstration of solidarity for greater diversity and inclusiveness on campus—a human chain linking more than 500 students, faculty members, administrators, alumnae, and trustees—Gilmore’s focus on race and social justice found an especially receptive audience. As history professor Sharon Ullman, who brought Gilmore to campus, put it: “The world feels very violent right now, and scary. As an intellectual institution, our job is to make sense—to the degree that we can, to the degree that anyone can—of this world.”

As an American historian, Ullman takes seriously her responsibility to connect students to important issues on campus and in the country. She’s part of an engaged, activist faculty including English professor Anne Dalke and education professor Jody Cohen, who put theory into practice with courses such as their team-taught Women in Walled Communities. What began as a field placement for a 360° course they offered three years ago has evolved into a weekly reading and writing group at North Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility, where thoughtful discussion on themes of agency and constraint benefits women at both institutions. (“Conversation establishes our willingness to hear each other,” Cohen reflected later, saying that students’ capacity to see and connect with women who are incarcerated informed a lively dinner discussion with Gilmore about individual differences among correctional officers within the larger prison system.)

Gilmore, an author and director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, argued, “Criminalization is class war, and class war has always been a race war.” Following an abridged screening of Slavery by Another Name, she warned that we risk “misrecognizing the antagonist” unless we differentiate between the immorality of slavery and the amoral profit motive that drives today’s “prison industrial complex.” To clarify her point, she contrasted the convict leasing system described in the film (which in effect replaced slavery after the Civil War until World War II) with aspects of the U.S. prison system today.

As durable institutions, Gilmore said, prisons constantly innovate to prevent their own irrelevance: consolidating the power of social service agencies, responding to various reform movements by (for example) creating boutique humanitarian prisons that emphasize care and concern, and externalizing the cost of restriction to the prisoner through the use of ankle bracelets. Unlike the old convict leasing system that created revenue through enforced labor, modern prisons create revenue by filling space; money flows to and from vendors, builders, utilities, employees, debt services, etc., to support enforced inactivity. In other words, she said, prisons aren’t part of the continuum of stealing labor. They steal lives instead.

Gilmore concluded with an image of a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera, Frozen Assets, depicting Depression-era New York: familiar skyscrapers atop a warehouse full of homeless men asleep atop a bank vault. The picture of lost potential encapsulated an idea first expressed by sociologist Johan Galtung as “structural violence”: the systematic and covert forces, such as institutionalized racism and sexism, which a regime deploys to oppress its own people.

Revolution in the Empirical World

“Conflict is far broader than how many bombs you hear go off or how many times you’re beaten,” said the series’ third speaker, Brian Barber, founding director of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee. Critiquing the empirical literature on youth and political conflict, he noted: “Of course there’s a correlation between adversity and stress, but with few exceptions, including [Bryn Mawr professor] Cindy Sousa, there is an unwillingness among scholars to take youth seriously, as active agents and not just passive victims; as people who try to make sense of things; who have histories, personalities, dreams, ideologies, and drives—all of which shape how they process. The empirical world needs its own revolution before we can offer something of value about how growing up in zones of political conflict impacts young people as they move forward.”

After conducting a 1993 survey of families living in refugee camps in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, Barber emerged with great data, but little understanding of the people he was studying. He regrouped and returned to Gaza, where he lived with a family in the Khan Younis Refugee Camp. His second survey focused on adults who were teenagers during the first intifada (1987–1993), a sociologically unique population with 80–90 percent of youth actively and continually involved in the political movement (an unusually high level compared to more typical youth participation of 25 percent). “Political conflict is rough stuff, and there was lots of violence,” Barber reported. “I went prepared with some crude generalizations that I would find in Gaza a population of young people who were pretty well destroyed. I didn’t find that.”

Barber wondered: Was there something peculiar about Gaza, or about that particular moment in history? The narratives he elicited in Gaza contrasted startlingly with his survey of youth in Bosnia following the siege of Sarajevo. “In Bosnia, I saw every bit of what the trauma theories would have predicted,” he said. “I’d never encountered a group of young people who were still so deeply distressed five years after their war had ended. Their narratives were full of confusion, despair, and distrust.” Gazans fared better, despite a quantitatively higher level of violence; understanding their harsh lives in terms of a heartfelt, ideologically infused narrative of sacrifice—or what Barber terms “explanatory or identity-enriching meaning systems”—seemed to help them cope. “Context can be extremely powerful, but the degree to which we’re able to interpret it, make sense out of it, goes a long way towards determining how we respond to it,” he said.

Although many studies highlight the resilience of young people, war takes its toll. Barber’s ongoing research on the youth of the first intifada employs a life event calendar approach to identify how conflict—“even conflict full of passionate meaning”—derails or interferes with development into adulthood. As he conducts interviews to create a model for measuring wellbeing in the study’s grounding phase, Barber’s most important research tool is listening. “I’m not a Muslim, I’m not a Jew, I’m not an Arab or an Israeli—I’m just a guy from Los Angeles who was challenged to understand young people in circumstances foreign to me,” he said. “Everything valuable I’ve learned comes from stopping my own engines of constructing the world and just listening to what people are saying.”

Pathways to More Socially Just Societies

Well before we arrive at the final event for this semester, the faculty panel in Thomas Great Hall, the theme of structural violence has begun to coalesce. Psychology professor and panel moderator Marc Schulz opens the conversation by saying: “The world has gotten smaller in recent years. Social media and cameras in people’s pockets make violence harder to hide than it once was. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we’ve become quite good at going about our normal lives in the midst of tragedies and acts of violence. Tonight, we’re going to pause and let our panelists shine a light on structural violence in many forms.”

This is Bryn Mawr at its cross-disciplinary, multi-departmental, collaborative best. Social work professor Cindy Sousa (praised by Brian Barber for her research on political violence, health, and resilience among Palestinian women) stresses the importance of seeing the big picture beyond the individual: what structural violence does to destroy a community’s self-sufficiency. Wherever political violence occurs, it creates material loss (money, land, daily necessities) and conceptual loss (structure, freedom of access, privacy, dignity, connection, social support) by working within the structures of inequality.

In Nigeria, reports Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies Kalala Ngalamulume, government corruption and extreme economic disparities between the north and the oil-rich south have fueled Islamist extremism and fed recruits to Boko Haram. The Islamist militant group preys on the country’s most vulnerable, including more than 200 girls kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Chibok last spring. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape is a weapon in the ongoing conflict over gold, copper, diamonds, and coltan (a mineral used in cellphones) in the mineral-rich country whose citizens are among the poorest in the world.

Sociology professor Robert Washington, whose interests include the scapegoating function of labeling blacks in American society as deviant, brings the conversation back home, to Ferguson. Two weeks before a grand jury decides not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Washington tells the audience, “Police aren’t operating in a vacuum—they’re operating within a political system that is accountable to a predominantly white, middle-class electorate. There’s almost no evidence of whites going to jail or suffering severe sanctions for depriving blacks of their rights. I make this point to bring us all back to reality: Black Americans cannot take any rights that the white majority is unwilling to grant. So whatever abuses are occurring, abuses that are imposed by police, the white majority in this country has to be accountable for police misconduct.”

The panelists agree: Talking about violence means talking about power. Power determines who has the right to name mass killings “genocide” or to express genocide’s trauma as public testimony. Lecturer in French Agnès Peysson-Zeiss, a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century Francophone literature, cites a range of graphic memoirs—including Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust memoir, Maus; Cambodian cartoonist Chan Keu Tian’s L’année du lièvre (The Year of the Hare); and Rupert Bazambanza’s Smile Through the Tears: The Story of the Rwandan Genocide—that speak in the language of images to reclaim and tell the truth about events.

The panel comes to a close, leaving many impressions and a clear idea: A revolution in the empirical world requires what social scientists call a “horizontal, relational process” of scholarly inquiry into political violence, one that emphasizes the equality of all persons involved. Inside and outside the academy, we need to be careful with meaning-making—because the stories we tell ourselves to survive or progress might be constructed at others’ expense.

The Dissent, Violence, Justice series is co-sponsored by The President’s Office, The Provost’s Office, The Pensby Center, the departments of History, Psychology and Sociology, Library & Information Technology Services, The Middle Eastern Studies Program, The Center for International Studies, The Africana Studies Program, The Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, The Arts Program, The Bryn Mawr-Haverford Education Program, The Center for Social Sciences, and The Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.

 

The Art of Dissent

Throughout the Arab world, artists have responded to the political unrest commonly known as the Arab Spring. Employing a range of art-making strategies, including cartoons, puppetry, and street art, they presented politicized messages in the public space, both in the streets and online. This gallery of images comes from Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings, a traveling exhibition on view in the Canaday Library Class of 1912 Rare Book Room Gallery through March 6. Produced by the Arab American National Museum, it was co-curated by Christiane Gruber, associate professor of the history of art at the University of Michigan, and University of Michigan doctoral student in anthropology Nama Khalil. Eric Pumroy, Seymour Adelman Director of Special Collections, led this initiative, and BMC Curator Brian Wallace played a key role in mounting the exhibition. Key sponsors were the Friends of the Library and its chair Teresa Wallace ’79. All images courtesy of the Arab American National Museum.

Vivre Libre ou Mourir

Live Free or Die, from the Willis from Tunis cartoon series, Tunis, Tunisia, 2013. Cartoon by Nadia Khiari. Tunisia has witnessed assassinations of politicians who played a key role in the 2011 revolution and later opposed the Islamist Al-Nahda governing party. The most recent casualties, Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaïd, members of Tunisia’s left-wing coalition, were gunned down in 2013. Both murders have been linked to hardline Salafists. Here, a revolutionary cat representing a young left-wing secularist holds a banner that reads “Live Free or Die,” while he is beaten to death by a bearded Salafi screaming “Die!”

Sprouting of Revolutionary Fists

The Sprouting of Revolutionary Fists, mural by Zoo Project, Tunis, Tunisia, March–April 2011. Photograph courtesy of Elissa Jobson. In this mural by Zoo Project, a man plants seeds that grow into a row of revolutionary fists. The farmer symbolizes the populace and workforce of Tunisia, which joined together to oust the autocratic ruler Ben Ali in January 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finger puppet of Asad

Finger puppet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, photographic still from Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator. Image courtesy of Masasit Mati, 2013. The Syrian theater group Masasit Mati’s puppet-show series, Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator, mock Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and depict him as a man-child and an oppressive ruler with a god complex. Here, his inflated cult of self is captured as he pontificates while standing before his own self-portrait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garlands of Ammunition

Garlands of Ammunitions, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 2011. Photograph by Mosa‘ab Elshamy. The 2011 revolutions began as peaceful gatherings to demand political and social change. However, police and security forces were unleashed to violently quell the demonstrations. In Egypt’s Tahrir Square, the ammunition they used was collected by protesters and photographed. The photographs were circulated online as documentary evidence that refuted the state-controlled news broadcasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Events 2015

February 25

Performance*: Distant Voices Touring Theater’s docudrama based on the diary of Hiroaki Nishimura, an internee in the Japanese-American camps during WWII. With piano selections., 7 p.m., Thomas Great Hall.

February 26

Screening: The 2014 Academy Award–winning documentary The Square, introduced by Eric Pumroy, Bryn Mawr’s head of special collections, 7 p.m., Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

March 27

Performing Arts Series: Emel Mathlouthi, the Tunisian singer-songwriter whose Kelmti Horra (My World is Free) became an anthem of the Arab Spring, 8 p.m., McPherson Auditorium, Goodhart Hall.

April 2

2015 Kevin J. Robinson Forum on Social Justice*: Resilience in the Face of Childhood Trauma: People and Places. Keynote speaker: William Bell, CEO of Seattle’s Casey Family Programs. Panelists: Rufus Sylvester Lynch, MSW, DSW; Monica McGoldrick, LCSW, PhD; and Henri Parens, MD, FACPsa. Moderator: GSSWSR Dean Darlyne Bailey, 4:30 p.m., Thomas Great Hall.

April 7

Lecture: Georgetown Professor of Anthropology Denise Brennan on Separation Stories: Lives After Migration, Trafficking, and Deportation.

April 22

Screening**: Freedom Summer with commentary by journalist, professor, author, and Civil Rights movement veteran Charles E. Cobb, Jr., 4:30 p.m., Carpenter 21.

* In conjunction with the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research’s 100th Anniversary Celebration.
** In conjunction with the Created Equal series, organized by the Library & Information Technology Services department, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To check out events in the DVJ series, visit www.brynmawr.edu/provost/bmcdissent.

 

Making the Case

SIdebar_Hodges

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It is a peculiar part of racism that we expect people of color to lead white people out of it,” says Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges ’91. Compelled to public service by the brutal beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles police, Hodges credits the Bryn Mawr sociology department with setting her on the path to seeking social justice. “The first class I took was The Sociology of Poverty,” she says. “Judy Porter named what I had always instinctively understood, but couldn’t yet articulate, about the connection between poverty and inequity. That course changed my life.”

Citing research that calculates the economic costs of racial inequities in education, income, health, and incarceration, Hodges says: “Even if you’re not persuaded by the moral argument against racism, the economic argument is powerful. Our country’s GDP is $1.2 trillion down from where it could be because of racial gaps in income. If we were to allow everyone to participate equally in our prosperity, we’d be way more prosperous, but the culture of racism obscures that fact for white people. Making that case is part of my job as a leader.”

Running for mayor, Hodges earned an endorsement from the Star-Tribune as a “strong steward of city resources and taxpayer dollars” during her eight years on City Council. The editors referenced her work “reforming fiscally irresponsible pension funds in the face of a fierce counterattack by the powerful police and firefighter unions” as evidence that she’s not afraid to take on special interest groups.

But it’s her current focus on improving police culture, community policing, and police-community relationships that Hodges believes provoked the union representing the city’s police officers to manufacture a news story that came to be known as “Pointergate.”

Days before the 2014 election, while working to get out the vote, Hodges was photographed with a volunteer. The image of the white mayor and the African-American man pointing at each other was picked up by ABC-affiliate KSTP, which cited police sources in reporting the gesture as a known gang sign. Minneapolis Police Federation head John Delmonico supplied the caption, commenting, “She should know better.”

“The story was basically a red herring, put out there by law enforcement to test me,” says Hodges. “It was a warning shot and an attempt to damage my credibility with rank-and-file officers.” The story went viral and provoked Hodges’s well-reasoned rebuttal—and comedian Jon Stewart’s gleeful treatment on The Daily Show. In a segment titled “Signs of Anarchy,” Stewart mocked KSTP reporters for their credulity and satirized the union’s attempt to spin grass-roots democracy as gang activity. Pulling a yard-long printout from his anchor desk, Stewart amended his list of “Innocent Things Black People Do That Look Suspicious” to include a new rule: “Don’t point.”
Beneath the headlines and hyperbole lies the true problem. The ACLU recently released data that shows dramatic racial disparities in the Minneapolis Police Department’s arrest rates for a number of low-level, non-violent offenses from 2004–2012. “The story’s not really about pointing, or I would have been called out a long time ago,” says Hodges. “What it really comes down to is the racist assumption that I shouldn’t be standing next to an African-American man.”

Weeks after the faux controversy, Hodges reflects, “They picked the wrong mayor to mess with. As a white leader, it’s important for me not just to take a stand against racist behavior, but to do the work to end it.”

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