Students publish essays in response to professor’s question: ‘Why are you here?’
In her feminist theory course this fall, Professor Shubhra Sharma asked students what seemed like a simple question: Why are you here?
“They replied, ‘I don’t understand. What do you mean why am I here?’ As if the answer was apparent to everyone including them, when in fact it was not apparent at all,” Sharma, the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor and chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College, wrote in a post on The Feminist Wire, an online pro-feminism news site.
The question is purposely vague, Sharma explains, and it is really many questions in one — Why are you in this class? Why are you at Connecticut College? Why are you alive?
The goal of the exercise was to help students develop a framework to understand feminist theory within the context of their own lives. Sharma asked students to interpret the question based on their own life stories and write a final paper that addressed elements of feminist theory in their own histories.
The results of what Sharma calls students’ “semester-long tussle” with the question are remarkably powerful. Earlier in the fall, Sharma, a regular contributor to The Feminist Wire, pitched the idea of publishing some of the student pieces to the editors of the site. Last week, six of the 12 students’ self-reflective essays were published in a series of posts to the publication’s College Feminisms forum, which features posts by “millennial feminists” aged 18-24.
In her piece, Isabel Hibbard ’14 describes the stories told to her by her grandmother and her changing understanding of their meaning and power as she grows.Renna Gottlieb ’15 wonders if it’s acceptable to be a feminist and still love wearing pearl earrings, while David Rojas ’14 grapples with how to merge two very different selves: a toughened kid from one of the roughest neighborhoods of Chicago and a student privileged with a world-class education.