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Southeastern Conference for the Study of Religion

Posted by: Christine Ragusa | March 23, 2017 | No Comment |

by: Madeline Leibin

Right after I got out of class on Friday, we hit the road for Raleigh, North Carolina. Four hours later— and just in time!— we arrived at the Southeastern Conference for the Study of Religion. I quickly threw on some business clothes, and checked in to the first session. Immediately, I was immersed in a paper titled, Telling Lies on the Stump: Ethics & the Presidential Election, by scholar-lawyer Heidi Tauscher. Later, I would track this brilliant woman down in a hallway, and have an hour long conversation with her about her path between religion and law, a journey I am preparing for as an aspiring human rights lawyer. And, later than that, I would speak with another scholar of American secularism about the need for legal advocacy. These conversations with wise, well-versed professionals guided my thoughts as I hid away in my hotel room preparing for the LSAT and postgraduate opportunities later that night.

Madeline presenting at the Southeastern Conference for the Study of Religion

These moments skipped and sped by, and before I knew it, I was the one at the podium, reading my paper Spirituality & the Law, an investigation into how those who identity as “spiritual, but not religious” are understood— and subsequently prosecuted and/or protected— within the postmodern American courtroom. My paper was well-received, and provoked much discussion about what the law should do, what it means when it does so do, and where it should belong as a productive infrastructure. These topics were made all the more interesting in company with the two other papers on my panel, on Social Liberation and National Identity in the Old Testament and Poetic Expressions of Muslim and Jewish Identity in Al-Andalus. While these two other papers spread into earlier eras, together our theses were considered in the background of the contemporary socio-political context, where identities (perceived, claimed, and created) are, some may say, at large.

Overall, I considered the weekend very, very rewarding. The interactions were memorable, the discourse rich, and my subsequent thoughts (about the topics, the conference, and my future in the field) deeply reflective. I can thank The School of Humanities and Social Sciences for making this academic experience textured and nuanced in ways I wouldn’t have had otherwise. For the weekend and for the reverberations that have followed— thank you.

Madeline is a senior in the Honors College tripe majoring in religious studies, philosophy and international studies. She received funding from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Travel Award to help make her trip possible. 

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Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science

Posted by: Christine Ragusa | March 23, 2017 | No Comment |

by: Kristin Brigg

On March 16-18 at the Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science (SAHMS) 2017 conference at Coastal Carolina University, I presented my recent work on the late nineteenth-century Cape Colony medical community. Through a constructed fear of leprosy communicability via smallpox vaccination, I argued that as indigenous lay vaccinators took over medical district vaccination, British-trained district surgeons disavowed these vaccinators by claiming that the latter spread leprosy through arm-to-arm vaccination. These surgeons thus used the leprosy-vaccination link to return scientific authority to the white Cape medical community. As this argument is fundamental to my master’s thesis, presenting my work prior to my April defense benefited my project through the way in which scholars outside the College of Charleston interpreted and approached it. Thanks to a grant from the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, I was able to travel to SAHMS to gain this feedback and expertise. Both objects have helped me understand my research in new ways, forcing me to reconsider especially the deeper connections between leprosy, southern African indigenous communities, and smallpox vaccination.

At the same time, SAHMS increased my relationships with the very scholars that questioned my work. I not only connected with professional scholars who work on vaccination, such as Stephanie Gonzalez at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, but also other graduate students who will be my peers in the future. By connecting with historians outside Charleston, I firmly placed myself in a community that will only increase as I begin my doctoral studies next fall. In this way, SAHMS gave me the opportunity both to continue to develop my research, and to further connect with scholars from around the globe.

Kristin is a graduate student in the Department of History. She was awarded the School of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Travel Award to attend the SAHMS conference.

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CofC Students Participate in the Women’s March

Posted by: Christine Ragusa | February 14, 2017 Comments Off on CofC Students Participate in the Women’s March |

On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington gathered half a million people to promote inclusivity, activism and community. Those that couldn’t make it to D.C. participated in Sister Marches all around the world, including Charleston, SC. These Sister Marches gathered an estimated 4.9 million people.

Brittlebank Park the day of the Women’s March.

According to the group’s mission, “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equality for all. HEAR OUR VOICE.”

That is exactly what our students set out to do.

According to Rafael Martin Navas, a women’s and gender studies major and Spanish minor, it was important to march for his daughter. “I chose to walk in the Women’s March in Charleston for many reasons. I am passionate about social justice, immigration, environmental issues and a lack of equality in our society. But my main reason for marching is my daughter. I don’t want her to have less rights or opportunities because her gender.”

Rafael Martin Navas with his daughter at the march.

Annika Liger, an anthropology and history double major, felt hopeful. “For me, the march was a reminder that millions of people throughout the United States and the world care about and support each other regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or background, and that hateful and discriminatory words can be challenged and called out for what they are,” Annika says.

Tessa (on the left) and her roommate Anna Lollis waiting for instructions from their marshall outside of the St. Phillips Street garage.

Tessa Torgovitsky, a women’s and gender studies major, enjoyed the unity that the march represented. Tessa says: “This march was a way for everyone to see that we reject the direction our nation is taking thanks to those in power. We came together as a unified voice, and it was powerful. What’s important now is making sure the movement does not lose momentum.”

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A Trip to Oregon to Attend the Tin House Winter Workshop

Posted by: Christine Ragusa | February 6, 2017 Comments Off on A Trip to Oregon to Attend the Tin House Winter Workshop |

by: Laura Cannon

Laura is a graduate student earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. She received funding from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Travel Award to travel to Oregon for the Tin House Winter Workshop.

Consider the opportunity to discuss syntax and subordinate sentences, or the meaning of place in writing, or how to navigate the world of submissions, led by accomplished novelists. Imagine hearing these conversations with a group of twenty writers from across the country while overlooking the Pacific Ocean from a forty-five-foot bluff. This was part of the experience the Tin House Winter Workshop offered in my recent January weekend on the Oregon coast.

Nye Beach

The literary-themed Sylvia Beach Hotel hosted our group. It was the place we dined and traded our favorite books with each other the night before we separated into manuscript workshops. Workshopping is a standard practice in writing groups; a daunting experience to silently listen while colleagues discuss what is – but mostly what isn’t – working in our writing pieces. A month prior to the trip, each group member shared their work electronically and we individually read the manuscripts and noted feedback to improve the pieces. Then, during our weekend at the hotel, each participant was given an hour to receive constructive criticism from the group.

During the conversation about my piece, our discussion led back to the concept of the “through-line” which asks, what is the primary tension throughout the novel? What is the one theme (so to speak) that all the smaller tensions can be hung? We also discussed flashbacks versus progression of the now, and how to keep characters in conflict with one another. Another workshop discussion asked how to create multidimensional characters. Here we noted that each time a character is revisited, something new must be revealed to the reader. This deepens the character and keeps the story’s momentum moving forward. Our group had six workshops, and each one held valuable conversations about the craft of writing.

After workshops the group broke for lunch. This was an opportunity to get to know our fellow writers. Over tacos or clam chowder, we discussed what drives us to write, and what paths we hope to see our careers take. Establishing relationships with authors across the country was an invaluable part of the trip. Maintaining connection with at least a handful of these people will contribute to my own writing community post-graduation. With any luck, some of these people might be lifelong workshop partners from whom I can seek writing advice for years to come.

Being an author means publishing work. We heard from Tin House editor Michelle Wildgen about the interplay between editing and writing. Here, the concept is to constantly whittle the work until the true story is discovered. Do more in fewer pages. Michelle encouraged us to edit our work judiciously and willingly, in order to find the best version of our stories. Kevin Barry, an Irish author, then warned us against polishing a piece too much. He confided that there have been times he reverts back to his eighteenth draft from the twentieth, in order to “rough it up” a bit again. T. Geronimo Johnson challenged us to look at language on the sentence composition level, and consider whether we’re constructing our sentences with reasons of “and, and, and” or “because, because, because.” Write with intention-ality. Each author who spoke, spoke with the urgency that writing must intrigue its readers. As Michelle said, the words are always whispering “come here, come here – don’t make dinner, don’t do this or that, read instead.”

The weekend was a flourish of discussion and overwhelming activity. Nye Beach was the perfect setting for its intensity; Pacific waves crashing from just beyond the windows, the combination of rain and sunshine making rainbows each day, and the sheer expanse of the landscape humbling us as we learned.

I am so thankful to the office of the graduate school, the English department, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences who contributed funds to make this trip a possibility. Without their generosity, I would not have been able to attend. So, to everyone involved in financial aid for this weekend – Thank You!

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First Recipient of the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship Shares Experience Knowing the Well-Loved Activist and Scholar

Posted by: Christine Ragusa | January 31, 2017 Comments Off on First Recipient of the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship Shares Experience Knowing the Well-Loved Activist and Scholar |

Leigh Friar

Last August, to honor the memory of Dr. Alison Piepmeier, the College of Charleston’s Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program established a scholarship in her name.  Alison was known for her social activism, scholarship, and dedication to students.  As the Charleston City Paper put it, “Alison was a force of nature.”

This spring, Leigh Friar was chosen as the first recipient of the scholarship. Leigh is uniquely deserving of this award. In addition to her commitment to social activism, Alison was Leigh’s professor, mentor, and role model.

“Dr. Piepmeier had a significant influence on me – not only on my academic career but on my personal growth,” Leigh says.

Before leaving their family’s small farm on Johns Island, Leigh already committed to studying biology. “I wanted to go into the hard sciences because I believed that objectivity was the answer to every question,” Leigh says. After meeting Alison during their freshman seminar class, however, Leigh was intrigued. “When I asked her what it meant to study in women’s and gender studies she told me it was about questioning and challenging the perceived objectivity of academia and creating space for activism.”

Leigh declared a WGS major the following day.

Since freshman year, Leigh, now a senior, has worked with many organizations to help make a difference in the Charleston community. Leigh has worked with People Against Rape as a sexual assault survivor advocate, My Sister’s House as a crisis line advocate, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to raise funds for survivors of partner violence. Most recently, Leigh started volunteering as an organizer with Girls Rock Charleston, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering girls and transgender youth. Leigh also started working with We Are Family, an organization that provides opportunities to LGBTQI youth and straight ally youth, to start a support group for the parents of trans and gender non-conforming children. “These organizations have not only allowed me to see the practical application of my academic studies but to give back to my community,” Leigh says.

After graduation in May, Leigh plans to continue gender and sexuality studies at the graduate level and aspires to get a Ph.D. in social work in order to teach and inspire others, just like Alison did. “I watched as Dr. Piepmeier inspired students to unapologetically carve out space for themselves. I want to focus my teaching career on ethics in social work and intersectionality in academia.”

We’re certain that Alison would be proud to have Leigh as the first recipient of the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship.

Thank you to those who have donated to the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship in order to help students like Leigh. To learn about and donate to the fund, click here

Left to right: Women’s and Gender Studies Director Cara Delay, Leigh Frair, Provost Brian McGee

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