September 22, 2019 | 77° F

Rutgers course ends semester with student showcase

Photo by Susmita Paruchuri |

Students rated different public figures on whether they believed them to be feminists or not based on their public remarks and past actions. This was part of a course discussing women’s rights, where students also visited the United Nations.

Poster boards decorated with magazine clippings, testimonials from New Brunswick women scrawled on napkins and Douglass women sharing findings with their peers crowded the Douglass Student Center on Monday as the students showcased their semester’s worth of work.

Feminist Advocacy for Women’s Rights through the United Nations, an upper-level class taught by Elmira Nazombe, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, spent the spring discussing women’s rights in a variety of contexts.

“The main idea of the class is that they spend some time going to the UN, attending the Commission on the Status of Women, and learn what the U.N. is doing,” Nazombe said. “The students try to learn what feminist advocacy is really about.”

From reproductive rights to media representation, each student presented her research, explaining them in both global and local contexts. Topics also included the definition of feminism, sustainable development within New Jersey, child brides and coerced abortion as violence against women.

The front table included a pile of magazine clippings and a blank poster board, enabling students to tell their own stories by using the clippings. Next to it, another board featured faces of celebrities and politicians with stickers surrounding their photos.

“Our group is doing media representation and empowerment, so we ask this question of, ‘do we think all these celebrities and politicians are feminists?’” said Swati Dontamsetti, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “So far, Mindy Kaling, Donald Trump and Chris Christie are the only ones who are unanimous.”

The other faces, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Emma Watson, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Beyonce and Rihanna were swayed one way or the other. The only personality with an almost equal number of stickers on both the “yes” and “no” sides was Kim Kardashian.

But the issues covered ran deeper than media representation. Chante Dyson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, covered abortion as violence against women in her research.

“Economics and debt play a big role in this,” she said, describing the situation for women living in China. “This woman, for example, owed 40,000 won … because of that, she had to get a forced abortion because she did not pay her debt. If she had paid her debt, she would have been allowed to have a second child, through the policy.”

Race and culture also play a part, she said. In Israel, Jewish people from Ethiopia are forcibly injected with sterilizing drugs to keep them in the minority. In Lima, Peru, feminist activists are working to ban a dictator’s daughter from becoming the next president, because she never addressed that when her father was in power, he advocated for forced sterilization.

But these injustices also hit close to home. Pregnant women in New Jersey detention centers are routinely shackled during labor, said Claire Linegar, explaining her locally focused project.

In January, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) was asked to sign a bill stopping this practice, but he refused to sign it. His assistants claimed Christie wanted time to consider it, the School of Arts and Sciences senior said.

“We just think it’s really important to bring a global perspective … because most people don’t think that human trafficking is a local problem,” said Jessica Echeverry, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. 

Echeverry and Linegar also included real stories from women in New Brunswick experiencing this very issue.

The students flipped through a stack of napkins with these stories written on them. One woman wrote about how she had been put on methadone when she was pregnant and was handcuffed to other pregnant women as she was transported to the methadone clinic on Suydam Street in New Brunswick.

While many perceive human trafficking to be an international problem that overwhelmingly affects those in poverty, this is not necessarily true, Echeverry said. In 2015, 543 people in New Jersey were trafficked.

“This happens all the time,” Linegar said. “This is happening right here, and we’re talking about how these injustices are happening very close to home.”

Susmita Paruchuri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in mathematics and journalism and media studies. She is the design editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @susmitapar for more.

Susmita Paruchuri

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