2020 Gender, Sexuality, and Race Studies Capstones

Message from Seth Dowland, WMGS Chair:

We are delighted to present the abstracts of our 2020 Women’s and Gender Studies capstone students. The WMGS capstone offers students the opportunity to draw on theoretical tools they have learned in their courses in order to think critically about work they are doing in a practicum. This combination of theory and praxis is a hallmark of women’s and gender studies, and it posed a particular challenge to our students as both their capstone class and their practicums moved online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As you’ll see by reading the abstracts below, they rose to meet this challenge, with the help of their superb capstone instructor, Professor Nancy Simpson-Younger. These students developed fascinating projects on a wide range of topics–many of them relevant to the careers they will pursue after graduation. We are exceptionally proud of these students and the fascinating work they have done. Congratulations to all of you! 

Message from Nancy Simpson-Younger

It’s been a pleasure to teach this cohort of senior WMGS majors. Together, they’ve weathered a very distinctive semester through dialogue, mutual support, and an ongoing commitment to feminist praxis. Back in January, when I decided to frame the semester in terms of praxis–the combination of theory and action–I had no idea that we would end up discussing the role of praxis under pandemic conditions. But I have been particularly moved by the way these students have put their principles into action at this time. Some of them have taken their internships online, continuing to deliver services to folks who have been incarcerated and folks who have experienced sexual assault. Some students delivered groceries to the elderly, while others volunteered with new community organizations or compiled online lists of available food pantries. All of these experiences have led to thoughtful and vital research on topics from mutual aid and trans* identities to the portrayal of gender in children’s books and the implications of museum design for identity work. In the words of Sara Ahmed, by merging this research with these modes of public engagement, our capstone cohort has truly been “doing feminist theory” during a time when the world really needs it. I’m very proud of all of them!

Maggie Cannon-Match

Dating Apps: Adding Tinder to the Flame of Weight and Race Based Discrimination Online

As discussed by Lisa Marie Cacho in Social Death, the assignment of value to others is contingent on the identities one holds. When examining interactions between users on dating apps, the ascription of value is often based on visible identity characteristics users may deem to be attractive or valuable. However, this process of assigning value is indicative of larger structural inequalities in power and domination. In order to analyze said interactions, I aim to discuss the culturally established biases against weight and race as case studies to identify how online dating encourages the process of assigning value based on the characteristics of one’s physical self on a web-based platform. Without the complexity of in-person social exchanges, dating apps allow users to navigate the sexual marketplace in a way that dismisses accountability. Thus, when using dating apps, the seemingly insignificant interactions among users contribute to creating a larger narrative of discrimination.

Sam Hoskins

Structuring a Story: The Architecture of Identity Narratives in Museums

Given their ability to control, solidify, and create narratives of cultural identity, museums have increasingly become contested spaces. Museum studies and curatorial practices have recently begun to (re)contextualize their place and meaning in postcolonial and decolonial contexts. Their contents and exhibits, often disputed examples of material culture themselves, anchor these narratives, but the physical context of the museum building itself is a central yet under-studied component to the stories elevated in museum spaces. By drawing on space-place theory, literature on identity work in museum spaces, and personal experience interning at the Northwest African American Museum, I explore the reciprocal relationship between the physical context of a museum and the stories it houses. Reflecting the shift from narratives of normative colonialism to those of postcolonial structures, the physical construction of museum entryways aid how narratives are confirmed and refined within the building’s walls.

Ri Knouse

Exploring Systems: Why is Our Carceral State Like This?

When examining populations affected by the United States carceral system, lines are blurred as to where punishment ends; does it end with the fulfillment of the sentenced time of incarceration, or does it bleed into life post-release? This paper addresses the question of whether or not the carceral system built in the United States capitalistic society is set up to disadvantage incarcerated individuals from reentry to and success in American society. Through the exploration of Lisa Cacho’s Social Death, Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, and research surrounding the effect of incarceration on incarcerated individuals, this paper addresses the role the carceral system plays in creating and perpetuating marginalized identities post-incarceration. I have concluded that the carceral system disadvantages not only individuals post incarceration, but also extends social punishment to the children of incarcerated individuals through ensured poverty and generational social death.

Hannah Novak

Queering Philanthropy: Analyzing Feminist Philanthropic Strategy Through Identity

The majority of philanthropic careers are occupied by women; however, white, cis males tend to be in managerial positions within these foundations. The lack of diversity within many philanthropic foundations does not represent the organizations they are oftentimes supporting. By analyzing the diverse practices of the Third Wave Fund, a philanthropic foundation supporting the LGBTQ+ community, women of color, and gender non-conforming youth, their feminist styles of philanthropic giving can become the model for other foundations to follow. As identity remains a major aspect of this foundation and philanthropy as a whole in terms of the hiring process and grant giving, the introduction of feminist deconstructionist ideas in relation to identity, such as race, gender and class, could improve the philanthropic sector’s understanding of the systemic disadvantage certain marginalized groups remain in due to lack of funding for programs that would greatly benefit these communities. If other philanthropic foundations were to follow the steps of the Third Wave Fund while incorporating ideas of deconstruction, they would be able to reach a wider audience and better understand the communities they are trying to uplift through funding.

Tess O.

The Praxis of Achieving Trans*: Comparing the Efficacy of Mutual Aid and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex in Enabling Trans* Ways of Being

In the field of gender studies, the term ‘trans*’ as both an identity and as a way to interpret and approach the world has gained popularity in the past decade. Trans* is prepositionally and prefixally oriented and invokes movement across, through, or beyond binarized ways of thinking and being. Through its asterisk, trans* has the ability to reach out and attach itself to other ways of being, thereby creating opportunities to build solidarity between previously siloed groups. While interning at a trans-centric community health center, I observed two strategies used to enable trans* ways of being: non-profits and mutual aid. This observation has led me to wonder whether non-profits or mutual aid systems offer the most comprehensive ways of encouraging trans* ways of being. In exploring this question, I have examined theoretical texts, the majority of which utilize gender, sexuality, and race studies lenses, and moments of praxis, including examining the functioning of individual non-profits and mutual aid groups. While non-profits are arguably the more prevalent option, many articles written by activists, such as Dean Spade and INCITE!, have argued that non-profits actually do more harm than good in most cases. In large part, this is due to the tendency for non-profits to rely heavily on the harmful system of capitalism in order to do their work and provide resources. Given this, I propose mutual aid, which ensures basic needs are met through utilizing community connections to distribute resources, as a primary method through which trans* lives are made possible. This finding suggests that there should be a turn away from non-profits and a turn towards mutual aid when attempting to enable trans* ways of being.

Brianna Papish

Feminist Pedagogy in the K-12 Curriculum

My capstone research intends to answer the question of how Women’s and Gender Studies work or feminist theory can be implemented into K-12 curriculum to give young students the tools it has given to those in higher education. This question arose from my participation in both the WMGS department and the Education department here at PLU in which I experienced little explicit connection between the two. My paper consists of current and past feminist pedagogical work, it’s importance and implementation. This paper proposes that feminist pedagogy consists of three major themes, naming/self actualization, personal transformation, and then community transformation. Many of my sources argue that feminist pedagogy begins first with teachers who are unapologetically feminist and allow that to guide their curriculum which means valuing each and every student but also encouraging and empowering all aspects of their identities and cultures. My research emphasized reflection as a crucial aspect of curriculum that allows students to give language to their contexts. Reflection can be keeping journals or participating in group discussions but the key is that they are able to talk about their experiences together and then be given the opportunity to change it or resist. They should be given the space to talk about and name racism, sexism, classism and any other form of discrimination they are experiencing at home but also within the educational institution. Feminist pedagogy is necessary because it allows students to name their reality, find their own voice and then become informed people who are passionate about social justice.

Jay Price

The Possibility of Imagining Otherwise: Deconstructing Value Through Love for the Gendered Other in Childrens' Picture Books

Where do children learn the “right” ways of being: of inhabiting a body or expressing their gender? And why is it that upon reaching adulthood, after a lifetime of learning these “right” ways, we have an overwhelming amount of unlearning to do in order to value our own differences? Early childhood education takes place in many spaces, be it within the home, preschool, daycare or other childcare, with peers, relatives, and even strangers. A common thread found in many of these learning situations is children’s books. This paper uses feminist theorists Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life and Lisa Marie Cacho’s Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected to analyze the presentation of gender in
three childrens’ books, in order to reveal the messages they contain about gender, bodies, and value. The texts chosen for this project were Pink is for Boys, Neither, and It Feels Good to Be Yourself. These books present varied depictions of gender and identity, ranging from recognizing exclusively binary and cisgender categories to celebrating nonbinary and transgender spectrums. When put into conversation with each other, these presentations reflect existing gender systems and reveal the first steps of dismantling them. Children’s books that explicitly show that all people are worthy of love threaten the current value system and invite the possibility of imagining otherwise, not only in terms of gender but for all categories that prescribe being and assign value according to norms. Showing children this potential from the beginning is integral to ending the cycle of learning and unlearning, devaluing and revaluing, and to achieving a world in which all lives, life choices, and lifestyles are equally recognized, legitimized, and valued.

Katelyn Smitley

Bystander Intervention Programs: Impacts and Effectiveness

Bystander intervention programs, as a strategy to help prevent sexual violence, are becoming more common on college and university campuses across the united states. However, despite the popularity of these interventions, the curriculums and target audiences can vary based on the program. A literature review of 10 studies from 2007 to 2019, showed that while audience and content varied, the programs showed measurable progress in their goal of decreasing rape myth acceptance, increasing bystander efficacy, and increasing participants’ intention to help others at risk. These three themes are what helped participants feel agency in potentially dangerous scenarios. Based on their demonstrated success in those three areas, bystander intervention programs should remain an important aspect of decreasing sexual violence on college campuses and increasing the ability of survivors to access resources and receive support.