The First Year Program's teach-in series started last night, with a real teach-in - brief presentations by students, activists, faculty, etc. on gender studies at The New School. A, my colleague, and the director of the gender studies program, planned the evening with a powerful emotional arc. First two sophomores described various organizing efforts, difficult in a school with so little sense of shared community, also because our seminar pedagogy so divides us up that it's hard to notice larger trends in student experience. Then an eloquent but jaded senior spoke of the pervasiveness of sexual assault and stalking even here (college students are at much greater risk than the general population) and chronicled several years of trying without success to mobilize sustained response among students: "will you do something about it," she almost pleaded with the assembled students. From this nadir of dejection and exhaustion, the remaining speakers - a professor and two graduate students - offered ways of responding, taking their class concerns into the larger community, "reallocating resources" and "reclaiming public spaces," understanding that "feminism is not about content but about how you approach something," and - last but not least "research as a form of activism." This last was the motto of the graduate students, who had conducted a survey and study around the school's absence of a maternity leave policy. By the end, it seemed there were many things one might do, starting right here, both academic and activist; one ended up empowered and energized.
The first-year events were given the name "teach-in" by last year's dean, who liked the ethos of the 1960s. I was skeptical: teach-ins should be spontaneous responses to current events, not planned in advance. But this one managed to be both. Pretty strong medicine for the second week of classes, no doubt, but a reminder that what we do isn't "just academic" - even the academic stuff.