Blog 1: Reflections on Leadership and Building Feminist Epistemic Communities (12.10.17)
Author: Sreya Banerjea
PhD Candidate: Centre for Gender Studies
The development of feminist knowledge is one of the strongest ways to connect locally, globally and transnationally. For many of us, this knowledge production emerges during our journey to pursue higher education. However, it is often difficult for students to think and reflect critically or understand which direction to channel their thoughts and ideas. The politics around knowledge production and power struggle within education institutions calls for deconolization of the minds to improve university structures. To discuss this further and encourage a healthy dialogue to form amongst the student body, on Oct. 12th, 2017, The Centre for Gender Studies organized ‘Reflections on Leadership and Building Feminist Epistemic Communities’ to begin its seminar series for the new academic year. The seminar included Professor Olonisakin from Kings College London, Dr. Danai Mupotsa from University of Witswatersrand and Professor Hendricks from University of Johannesburg, chaired by the Centre’s very own, Dr. Awino Okech.
Although the focus of the seminar was university structures and knowledge production within the United Kingdom and certain parts of Africa, the key topics shared can be applied to any context of knowledge production. I was particularly inspired by Dr. Mupotsa’s views and experiences of unequal power relations/images and gender inequality in her university that normalizes gender-based violence and rape culture. This made me think about the campus-assault cases in my own university back in Toronto, which made many students including myself, feel insecure when walking home. Most recently, the Standford rape case has been widely publicized, especially since the accused, Brock Turner had received only a 6-month sentence for sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman near a dumpster. In the legal context, the woman’s story was sidelined especially since the accused was a wealthy white man in a prestigious university, whose parents were able to basically buy their son’s freedom.
The message I took from this seminar is that in order to create change, especially in a university setting, it is important for each one of us to recognize the position we situate ourselves in. It is also important to build network and solidarity to strengthen a collective and produce new ideas to shift existing biases in (postcolonial) institutions. Constructing a community based on similar experiences, thoughts and ideas makes challenging an existing system or power structures more effective – something Dr. Olonisakin stressed in her presentation.
Tensions and politics between law and culture will continue to emerge, however, reflecting on ideas on intersectionality, disrupting existing hegemony, and identifying cultural practices that isolate certain groups of people will help to bring in new and alternative voices in the process of transformation. We need to think critically about the concept and practice of inclusivity, mentioned by Prof. Hendricks, to talk about what it really means in culturally and racially diverse settings, and to what extent are universities (especially in the West) are actually inclusive? What roles do concepts such as intersectionality and inclusivity play in re/construction and legitimization of (alternative) knowledge?