Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For commentary on these events, see "Would you Call Your Mom a 'Femi-Nazi?'" elsewhere in this edition.]

"Beijing and Back" Class Motivates JC Students

by Stephanie Hiller

One girl even stood up on top of her desk one day to rail against corporations

It was small as rallies go, but large in spirit.

The occasion on March 29 was the last meeting of a unique class at Santa Rosa Junior College, showcasing student work and celebrating the achievements of the United Nations Fourth Conference on Women which took place in Beijing, China last August.

The class, "Beijing and Back," was created by Dr. Tamsen Stevenson to share and implement the 12-point Platform of Action developed at the Conference. As the only course of its kind -- along with a similar class Stevenson teaches at Sonoma State University -- it has captured the attention of Ms. Magazine, which will soon publish an article about it.

"The class was electrifying and magnetic," said student Josephine Penn. "It felt like we could take our power back." She told how one girl even stood up on top of her desk one day to rail against corporations. "The discussions were great."

"What I set out to do," said Stevenson in an interview, "was introduce what happened in China -- I called it the 'Women's Woodstock' -- to present the shared concerns and also an understanding of what mechanisms are already in place to address these issues. How can we be sure we're doing something about those issues? How effective are our strategies for implementation?"

"The kind of activism we haven't seen since the Sixties"

Dr. Stevenson went to Beijing to represent the American Association of University Women and the Women's Environmental Development Organization, and to present her work on the connection between breast cancer and exogenous pesticides in the environment. She is a PhD in anthropology and a member of the adjunct faculty at the Junior College.

"People worked so hard and accomplished so much. The projects were collaborative. Part of the nature of women's work is that we can work collaboratively. You know, someone watches the kids while someone else makes dinner.

"It doesn't matter who makes dinner as long as everyone gets fed."

A key issue at the rally was the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a document setting forth global rights for women which was written in l979, ratified by 151 governments, and stalled in Senate Subcommittee two years later by Jesse Helms (R-NC). Several students were in Washington, D.C. urging ratification of CEDAW.

After talks by such noted women as author Doris Earnshaw, Press Democrat columnist Susan Schwartz, and Gimbutas scholar Joan Marler, students presented their projects. There were eight presentations by different committees, with women of all ages represented in each.

In one presentation, a group working on Violence Against Women is seeking a grant for "A Special Place," a center for abused children run by the YWCA. They also plan to sponsor a children's poster contest about preventing violence against children. Said student Diane Patterson, "I feel that if we are to stop violence in this country it has to begin with children and it has to begin with women."

On the topic "How Media Portrays Women," students showed collages made by students at a local middle school to depict how women's bodies are utilized in advertisements.

The work is continuing. A new club has been formed on campus, the Women's Political Action Club, to continue the work begun in this class. And a student has created a web site to connect class members with women's activists all over the world.

"We're going to see a lot more activity nationwide in the next few months," said Stevenson. "That Platform has been an inspiration to the kind of activism we haven't seen since the Sixties."

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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

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