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The Academic Feminist: Campus activism with Kaila Boulware and Miesha Bell

Kaila BoulwareMiesha BellWelcome back, Academic Feminists. This month we are highlighting campus activism, and specifically the recent activism that has sprung up on campuses around the country in conjunction with, and alongside, the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Inspired by the activism I saw on my campus at Rutgers University, I asked student activists Kaila Boulware  (right) and Miesha Bell (left) to share their thoughts on this particular moment in on-campus activism.

Gwendolyn Beetham: Why do you think it’s important to hold protests against racism and police brutality on university campuses?

Kaila Boulware: American institutions have systematically restricted Black people from an education. It started during slavery when we were kept from reading and writing, and continued post-slavery when we were forced to attend schools with little to no resources. Those of us with the privilege to attend school at the collegiate level have a responsibility to do whatever we can to give our brothers and sisters that same opportunity. Taking to the streets is something that you can’t ignore. That’s why it has always been done. It’s important.

Miesha Bell: As college students we have a lot on our plates. We are either working to get something done or lost in our headphones thinking about what we have to do next. Protesting forces people to focus on this important issue, even for a few minutes. And the goal is that those moments will make such a lasting effect that the person will look deeper into the issue, become conscious about its severity, and then spread the word.

GB: What is one thing that you’ve noticed that’s missing from mainstream conversations on these issues?

KB: The mission of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Alicia Gaza’s own words, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” Emphasis on “…where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” You would think that would be on the news every day. The media should feel the responsibility to report these issues. If news channels and talk shows would use these important issues and others like it as content, that would be a huge gain. I appreciate John Stewart and The Daily Show for the way they inform people. Comedy is always a great way to get the message across about race.

MB: Women. Women face issues differently. We are a vulnerable population in terms of sexual assault and pregnancy, and also in terms of how officers interact with pregnant women. Women are caretakers, so if something happens to a mother she may not be able to take care of her children, or her parents. Women are generally the ones filling those roles and a focus on women is missing in the conversation. Women are also in the forefront of this movement. We are out there organizing and protesting, yet our stories are being erased.

GB: I’m glad that you mentioned Alicia Garza and women’s centrality in this movement. Can you talk about some of the links you see between this work and your work on women’s rights more specifically?

KB: Organizing against sexual violence and organizing against racism both involve two main steps:

  1. Understand the thought process of the antagonist. People have many different explanations for what they believe to be true. Some people may think Black people are all violent and uneducated because of what they see on TV. Some people may think that a woman’s body is readily available for men because of how the men in their family treat women. There are many different explanations. But before you proceed to step two, you must understand step one on an individual and a communal basis.
  2. Introduce a new way of thinking. Once you understand the basis for their beliefs, then you can introduce a new way of thinking. The best way to do this is to ask questions and prompt the person to come to a conclusion on their own. For example, asking a person “Why should women be treated differently than men?” forces the person to think about the answer, as opposed to saying, “ Women are treated differently than men and it’s not fair!” Even if they agree with the statement, it does not prompt them to dig deeper into thought about the issue.

MB: Organizing against police brutality and organizing for the rights of pregnant mothers is similar in the fact that they both involve knowing your rights, knowing the law, understanding the law, and then changing the law. We have to familiarize ourselves with the laws in our communities on all levels. Overcoming systematic oppression involves more than just law, but knowing the law is an important foundation for the fight.

Kaila Boulware is a senior and Public Health Major at Rutgers University, and a member of Douglass Residential College. She’s an organizer against sexual violence as Chairwoman of the Transforming Cultures Initiative at Douglass Residential College, and a Committee Leader in Women Organizing Against Harassment, and she is coordinating Rutgers’ Take Back the Night events, scheduled for April. She is a regular contributor to New Brunswick Today and has a biweekly column in Rutgers’ student paper, The Daily Targum, called RU Conscious. Follow her on Twitter @kailaboulware.

Miesha Bell is a senior at Rutgers University majoring in Political Science, Africana Studies, and Women & Gender Studies. She is also a member of Douglass Residential College and an Institute for Women’s Leadership Scholar with a certificate in Women’s Leadership. Miesha is an organizer of the Black Lives Matter movement on the Rutgers Campus and the NJ Shut It Down movement. She is President of Mountain View Project Student Organization, where she is organizing to outlaw the shackling of pregnant mothers in prisons. Follow her on Twitter @Miesh_B.

Scholarly queer feminist working to bridge the academic/online divide.

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