In Class News

October 13, 2016 at 8:24 am

Students Partner with WOUB, Call Attention to LGBTQ Issues

From left, Mae Yen Yap, Julia Cook, and Nkuli Shongwe

From left, Mae Yen Yap, Julia Cook, and Nkuli Shongwe

by Kristin M. Distel

“We want our broadcasts to give a voice to communities that are being overlooked,” says Julia Cook, a first-year student in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at OHIO.

This fall, students in Dr. Loran Marsan’s LGBTQ Media Action course are creating WOUB radio broadcasts that examine how queer-identifying people of color experience life in Athens. The students recently released their first broadcast, an analysis of homophobia and racism on Ohio University’s campus.

All members of the class collaborate on the various aspects of media production, including choosing topics for their stories and engaging in hands-on tasks like recording and editing. In addition to learning about the lack of media coverage regarding LGBTQ issues, the students are also enrolled in media skills lab. The result is a well-rounded, in-depth education in the ways that LGBTQ persons have been ignored in the media and denied access to information—and how to remedy this problem.

Informing the Public, Giving a Voice

Marsan’s students are applying the concepts and ideas they have learned in this and other WGSS classes to their work with WOUB. Part of those lessons, the students explain, is the importance of inclusive language. “We are paying attention to intersectionality and making sure that our language doesn’t leave anyone out,” says Cook. “For example, a lot of people don’t know what ‘non-binary’ means, or they’ve never heard the term ‘heteronormativity.’ Sometimes we have to define words like these in our broadcasts,” she adds.

Mae Yen Yap, a junior WGSS student who is applying to OHIO’s Scripps College of Communication, concurs with Cook. “It’s all about intersectionality. Sometimes feminism tends to focus only on white feminists’ needs. LGBTQ people, minorities, queer people of color, they don’t often get attention in a sense. People brush them off to the side.”

Nkuli Shongwe, a senior WGSS major, agrees, noting that it is essential to feature “black queer students of color and their experiences.” She adds, “In a class last summer on black women’s lives, I read some work by Patricia Hill Collins. She said that being gay is often thought of as ‘a white thing.’ In Dr. Marsan’s class, we want to help queer-identified people of color find their voices.”

‘These Interviews Reminded Me that Racism is Real’

The students are working hard to ensure that their broadcasts are appealing and useful to all potential listeners.

“We have to make it accessible and digestible for the general population, not only for LGTBQ listeners,” Cook explains.

The other hurdle they are encountering is the importance of protecting interviewees’ privacy and safety. “We don’t want to put anyone in a dangerous spot,” Shongwe emphasizes. “The problem is you don’t want to ‘out’ someone,” Yap adds. “The topics we talk about in our broadcasts are sensitive, especially right now, considering the election. It’s hard to talk about something important without making the people you are focusing on feel endangered.”

The WOUB broadcasts and the fieldwork that accompanies their stories help the students realize their own level of social advantage.

“Our work in Dr. Marsan’s class has made me aware of so many privileges I have as a cis woman,” Shongwe notes. “No one can ‘out’ me.”

Cook notes that one interviewee pointed out something she refers to as the three strikes and you’re out rule. “The student said that because she is black, queer, and a woman, she is ‘out.’ She has ‘three strikes,’ so she is discriminated against and disregarded,” Cook explains. This is precisely the type of oppression that the students want to combat.

For their first broadcast, Marsan’s students interviewed three queer-identified students of color. These interviews reminded me that racism is real,” Yap explains. “I guess we don’t really talk about it.” Given the upcoming presidential election, as well as current incidents regarding police brutality and debates about OHIO’s graffiti wall, the students’ WOUB broadcasts are particularly timely.

“We want to focus on LGBTQ voices to remind WOUB listeners that these are people, too. We’re all just people,” Yap notes. “But we’re definitely not speaking for others,” Shongwe adds. “We’re making sure that their voices are amplified through any means we have.”

‘Just Like that, Boom! I’m Double-Majoring!’

WGSS courses like LGBTQ Media Action like have been a highlight of the students’ experiences at OHIO, especially in helping them understand the struggles that women, people of color, and non-binary people deal with every day. “The WGSS intro class made me realize that these are real issues. It’s not just me—it’s real, and the more you learn, the easier it is to talk about it,” Yap explains.

Yap adds that as an international student, she was very excited to learn that she could study gender issues in an official capacity here at OHIO. “WGSS doesn’t exist in Malaysia. As I was choosing a university, OHIO stood out because WGSS exists here. I thought, ‘Just like that, boom! I’m double-majoring!’”

Like Yap, students who take WGSS courses often realize personal, professional, and academic benefits. “WGSS provides a space where I can learn more about myself as black immigrant woman,” Shongwe notes. “I’m so glad there is an intelligent focus on international perspectives in WGSS. We are reading literature by everyone from bell hooks to Audre Lorde. We’re learning what other classes sometimes skim over.”

‘This Is What I’m Going To Do with My Life’

For many WGSS students, their interest in special topics lectures like Marsan’s LGBTQ Media Action course generally sprang from their introductory classes.

“When I took Intro to WGSS last year at OHIO Lancaster as a dual enrollment student, I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do with my life.’ I learned things about women’s history that we never talked about in high school. It’s so nice to have a space where we learn about and understand women’s problems with other people who care. The more you learn, the more you can make things happen,” Cook says.

Julie White and Kim Little seated at table

Drs. Julie White (L) and Kim Little are the director and associate director of the WGSS program.

The students explain that the enthusiasm of the WGSS faculty has made their courses even more meaningful and interesting.

“We’ve taken classes with Dr. [Kim] Little, Dr. [Patty] Stokes, and lots of other faculty. They’re so great,” Shongwe explains. “Dr. Risa Whitson is the reason I’m so engaged in feminism now,” says Yap. “The way she presents topics really made me think. Plus, she showed me that being a feminist doesn’t mean you’re angry all the time.”

Preparing for the Future through WGSS

The students’ work with WGSS and WOUB will be invaluable to their future careers and academic endeavours, the students note.

“I want to be a journalist who focuses on these types of gender issues,” says Yap. “Especially since I’m female and cisgender, I should use what I have. I should use my privilege to help people who experience discrimination.”

Shongwe, too, is certain that her WGSS coursework and experience with WOUB will give her a competitive edge in her graduate school applications. As an international student, she feels especially fortunate, she notes, to have access to courses like these. “I’m looking at grad schools that have an emphasis on public policy. I was born in South Africa, and I want to use my identity to help others. I want to work with people like me.”

Cook notes the change her career path took when she first learned about Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. “My whole life I thought I was going to go to art school, but now I want to travel to places that don’t have WGSS and teach people about feminism. When it comes to discrimination, ignorance is one of the biggest problems. I want to show that feminism is not this big, scary thing.”

The students’ next broadcast will commemorate National Coming Out Day. More information about their work can be found on WOUB’s student media website.

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