The Role of Feminism on MC’s Campus

by Nicole Fitzsimmons & Zoe DeFazio, Asst. News/Features Editor & Staff Writer 

Manhattan College accepted its first women undergraduate students in 1973, after 120 years of being an established institution. Nearly 47 years later, the question still remains: has the college yielded a place where women and men can thrive at the same levels, inside and outside of the classroom?

Classes, faculty and programs at Manhattan College help establish an atmosphere of equality by teaching students about the importance of feminism, especially on a college campus. Being a largely male-dominated institution for decades, this is a valuable way to start the conversation of gender in the classroom.

Deidre O’Leary, associate professor of English, is currently teaching a First Year Seminar class titled “Other Women’s Voices: Intersectional Feminism and Reckoning with Authority.” In this class, students have been tackling issues of discrimination and about how many women’s voices have been left out of larger political debates over suffrage, representation, pay equality, gender discrimination and other issues.

“I think that college, ideally, especially small seminar classes in college, are about challenging some ideas you might have had before or some preconceived notions,” O’Leary said. “I hope that in my classes, students are really forced to reckon with and really interrogate some of the beliefs that they may have had, or ideas they may have had about such topics as gender, sexuality, hegemony, patriarchy.”

Such discussions promote healthy conversations about topics that are sometimes not discussed in depth outside of the classroom. Educating students about intersectionality and larger issues of gender equality is important in almost every environment. Besides classes that are centered around issues of gender equality, other classroom discussions sometimes also allow for discourse where students can begin to challenge their own ideas and learn more about the world and social structures around them.

“In different classes where someone will make a blanket statement about a personality or will say something in the class that comes from a position of privilege, that student needs to be reminded that he or she is the beneficiary of certain privileges related to race, gender, sexuality, economic class, etc,” O’Leary said. “And sometimes, they’re very receptive to that, sometimes not. But those moments can be sometimes tense, but necessary.”

Christina Trichilo, junior psychology major and intern at the Lasallian Women Gender Resource Center has observed that inside the classroom, feminism has been growing during the few years she has been at the college through classes in many different departments teaching about the intersectionality of feminism. Many of these classes are offered through the women and gender studies minor (WAGS) under the coordination of assistant professor of history, Nefertiti Takla.

“Professors like Stephanie Day-Powell, Natalia Imperatori-Lee and Jordan Pascoe are a few examples of professor who have taught me to expand my feminist thought throughout different subjects” said Trichilo. “Their classes have taught me to view feminism through an intersectional frame, this means including one’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and other social or political identities to observe how they operate together and heighten each other.”

Outside of the classroom, issues surrounding gender seem to be less talked about on a daily basis. However, students and faculty at Manhattan College have been working to change this and place the topic of feminism on a greater scale in the lives of students. 

            Ashley Cross, an English professor, has played an influential role in making sure feminism is present on campus, and is the faculty co-Director of the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center on campus. Cross works with students to discuss issues of gender equality on campus, and provide resources to help establish an inclusive atmosphere for all identities.

Cross plans to use her role as a faculty member to impact the way the college community views and discusses gender. Many of the classes she teaches emphasize the importance of education about these issues. Her classroom, along with other faculty members who teach about these issues, encourage open discussion and education about gender and issues like toxic masculinity, even in circumstances where different ideas are being challenged.

“I tend to think of toxic masculinity, when it expresses itself, is primarily when someone feels threatened,” Cross said. “That is not the only time, but it manifests itself in really dangerous ways when one feels threatened. And, I think the way I would address it in the classroom would be to try to talk about different alternative masculinities and to not let a male student dominate other women, or to assert the kind of angry, aggressive self that that toxic masculinity requires.”

However, Cross also recognizes that although there are numerous areas of campus where these issues are largely ignored and rarely tackled, change is not immediate. Through programs like the Women and Gender Studies minor, the presence of feminism on campus is placed in the minds of students, and in the community itself.

“One of the things that is really great about the women and gender studies minor is that there is a real cohort, it’s very visible now that there is a group of faculty, women and men, who are working on gender and sexuality issues and that we do it not only in our classrooms, but our research is about that.” Cross said. “Right, that our professional work is about those issues, gender and sexuality issues as well. I think it helps to create an environment in which feminism is seen as a viable and valuable way of being and acting, and a political project that is on-going.”

Groups like the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center provide a place for students to learn and be active in these issues. This inclusive environment showcases the true Lasallian values that Manhattan College holds highest: faith in the presence of God, respect for all people, quality education, inclusive community and concern for the poor and social justice.

Christina Trichilo emphasizes the value that the center has had on helping to grow the presence of feminism at Manhattan in the lives of students.

“For the presence of feminism outside of the classroom, I also think it’s strengthening,” Trichilo said. “With the creation of the Lasallian Women and Gender Center two years ago, students and professors have been working together to create various events committed to educating students on intersectional feminism.” 

The role of feminism on the Manhattan College campus is still growing. Students and faculty have been working together to enhance an atmosphere of equality and inclusivity, whether that be during class or outside the classroom. Despite originating as a patriarchal structure — only providing education to men, like so many other collegiate institutions — the work of the students and faculty at Manhattan has already begun to shift sexist ideas in the minds of people on campus. The work, however, is definitely not done.

“Maybe I’m old school in this way but I do believe that you have to start first with people’s thinking about things,” said Cross. “Right? Get people to see things differently, then look at them differently, and then they can begin to change.”