Interdisciplinary Humanities Groups: Narratives of Sexual Violence

Narratives of Sexual Violence

Group LeadersSusan Freeman (Gender & Women’s Studies) and Christopher Nagle (English and Gender & Women’s Studies)

This interdisciplinary humanities group focuses on narratives of sexual violence —local and global, historical and contemporary — not merely our ways of talking about violence or of its different modes of representation, but also ways of responding productively and intervening to prevent it. Our goal is to bring together interdisciplinary and critical perspectives that can inform dialogue and policy change on college campuses and beyond. Some of the urgent questions we will consider: How do survivor and consent discourses, as well as feminist and queer readings of sexuality and power, trauma studies, critical race theory (as it emerged out of legal studies), and cross-cultural comparisons guide us to shape current discussions on college campuses of the role of reporting, investigating and adjudicating sexual violence institutionally? How do we bring our scholarship and advocacy into alignment as we work to fulfill the ultimate aim of Title IX: education free from gender and sexual harassment and abuse? We might also consider the multiple unintended consequences and complications related to Title IX implementation, such as: backlash against faculty, questions of free speech, loopholes for faculty predators, the infantilization of students, in loco parentis relationships, racialized gender and sexual stereotypes, overlap with “trigger warnings” and related conversations about student sensitivities, etc.  We see the group as providing a forum for substantive discussion of these timely, difficult issues, informed by challenging readings agreed upon by the participants.  Ultimately, we wish for the group’s discussions to inform and inspire action and advocacy here at WMU and beyond.

Members of our group supported and participated in events with visiting writer, scholar, and activist Sarah Schulman (Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, CUNY), which included a public lecture, staged reading, and documentary screening with discussion (events co-sponsored by the Departments of English, Gender & Women’s Studies, and Theater) as well as visiting scholar Priya Jha (Chair of English, U Redlands), which included a public lecture, classroom visit, and several meals with discussion (events co-sponsored by the Departments of English and Gender & Women’s Studies).  We also collaborated on a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the proposed changes to Title IX during the Notice and Comment Period.  Several members have created new courses foregrounding material from the group’s readings, including a co-taught upper-level English and Gender and Women’s Studies interdisciplinary seminar, “Reading & Resisting Sexual Violence,” and a first-year English course for the Honors College, “Literature in the Age of #MeToo.”  Some group members began collaborating with Giavanna Munafo (Dartmouth), who is leading a grant-funded effort to link a nationwide group of faculty teaching #MeToo-themed courses, beginning with contributions to a collaborative blog project and online resources for educators. Most recently, two members attended the keynote presentation by Lilia Cortina (U Michigan) at the Grand Valley State University Title IX Investigators Conference; were invited to present at Faculty and Staff Sexual Misconduct: An International Conference to Identify Barriers, Develop Resources and Recommendations, and Build Community, a grant-funded conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and are planning multiple sessions for the upcoming National Women’s Studies Association conference in San Francisco.

Group Bibliography