On the New Resistance

by Eva Dunsky, Writing Fellow ’17

Today at the Athena Film Festival, a bunch of powerful woman sat together on stage as an all-female Acapella group performed the rallying cry that was sung earlier this month at women’s marches all over the world.  When the singing died down, these powerful woman clapped enthusiastically, adjusted their blouses, and proceeded to absolutely slay.  The audience sat enraptured, and left inspired.  In other words, a typical Athena panel.

But this Town Hall was somehow different from previous Athena Festival programing.  Instead of being solely an unabashed celebration of womanhood in its myriad forms, it was laden with references to #45, or Voldemort, or the despot in office.  His name was never spoken out loud, and yet his his presence was heavily felt.

Towards the end of the session, a Barnard student took the mic and stood to ask a question: something along the lines of “How do we organize? How do we sustain a resistance movement when we don’t have the economic means or even the time to be out protesting every day?  How can we be sure that the frenzy surrounding Voldemort’s first month in office doesn’t die down and leave a wake of world-weary young people in its path?”

Dolores Huerta (will link to her wikipedia page) was having none of this.  She scoffed a bit, covered it up as a cough, and posited the following question: “When do you think organizing will be easy? When you have a full time job? When you have children to care for?”

I thought about this all night.  Tacit in Huerta’s response is a question about priorities—what will we fight for?  And what will we give up?  I worry sometimes that as college students trying to fend for ourselves in a highly competitive and stringently focused environment, it is easy to lose track of our priorities.  How important is it to keep our nose in the books, versus put our bodies on the line?  How much will that ‘A’ in Social Psychology matter years down the line when our rights have been eroded away?

Gloria Steinem ended the event by explaining that “What should I do?” is a passive question—and now is no time for passivity.  Instead, we need to wake up each morning and decide that we will do everything in our power to fight alongside the resistance.  Each of us holds a unique compendium of knowledge, and each of us has a power to resist in ways that no one else can.  Every day, from here on out, it is up to us to stay vigilant, loud, and informed.

“This is just the beginning,” said Steinem knowingly.  “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

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Trying hard as an act of faith

by Eva Dunsky, Writing Fellow ’17

I thought I had expressed myself clearly.  I was proud of the paper and proud of my insights on Borges—as such, I expected a grade commensurate with my efforts and pride. I received a 4/10 scrawled in tiny block print at the bottom of an exam booklet riddled with red ink.  I adjusted my expectations.

I consider myself fluent in Spanish.  So when I signed up for a literature course in Barcelona, I wasn’t too worried.  Though Spanish is obviously not my first language, I didn’t think it would be a problem.  For the first exam, I did all the reading and reviewed briefly the night before—well, actually two nights before, as the night before was Carnaval, a sort of Spanish Mardis-Gras that is best spent drinking Cava on the beach.  I felt that I had done the requisite amount of preparation—the same amount I would have done at Barnard.

I came to the exam with the course texts under my arm.  I took the test, and was happy with my insights.  So when I got it back, I was, to say the least, underwhelmed.  I took it to my advisor who smiled knowingly, winked at me, and asked if I had studied.

“Yes! Of course I studied,” I replied indignantly.  

“Maybe devote some more time to review for the next exam.  Feel free to ask me for help.”

I left with a queasy feeling in my stomach that I was quick to recognize as failure.  I felt ashamed, homesick, and overall in over my head.  Walking through the narrow streets of Barcelona, I thought back to one of the first students I had in the Writing Fellows program—an nonnative english speaker, and a first-year who was extremely reluctant to meet with me.  In fact, getting her to send me her availability was like pulling teeth.  When I did get her to come see me, she was always a bit distant to the point of being rude—when I asked her about her classes (never about her grades), she responded somewhat combatively that her grades were passing and besides, she didn’t even care about her humanities classes.

I remember wondering what her problem was.  Was it something I did? Did she resent having to meet with me? Why did she always tell me that she hadn’t worked hard on the assignment and thus didn’t care about the grade if she knew that would rub me the wrong way?

Two years after fellowing this student, walking through Barcelona and wallowing in my own failure, it hit me: trying is scary.  Especially because trying is not a safeguard against failing.  Staring down the barrel of my next exam, I felt fearful.  What if I try really hard, and still fail? What if it’s not enough? Wouldn’t it be easier to not try, or to claim not to have tried, and then explain away the bad grade through my own lack of effort rather than my lack of ability?

Being a second language student is acutely terrifying.  Jhumpa Lahiri says it best in her book In Other Words—writing in a second language means following the same heavily treaded paths in order to express a thought.  It’s a restriction of freedom.  It’s scary and unpleasant but might lead to personal growth and revelation, as is the moral of this essay.

I walked away from my abroad experience with an immense appreciate for second language students.  I struggled in a one semester class with a professor who was sympathetic to my situation—I couldn’t imagine spending four years at Barnard (a writing intensive school) amongst mostly native speakers.

If you’re a second language student, know that I support you and admire you greatly. Know that you have an ally in the Writing Center.  And if you have a second, drop by for my weekly hour—I’d love to hear what you’re working on. 

On Trigger Warnings and Literature

by Eva Dunsky, Writing Fellow ’17

As I walked into the Diana last week, a few CAP (Collective Advocacy Project) members recruited me to share my thoughts on trigger warnings. What purpose do they serve? What purpose are they supposed to serve? Do they belong in literature? Why is there such a disconnect between our understanding of what they should do and what they actually do in practice? Although I was in a rush to secure a table upstairs for a writing fellows conference and wanted to grab coffee first, the topic was too good to resist. I grabbed an index card and began to write down my thoughts; which are as follows:

I think we should include trigger warnings in our syllabi. No one wants to be caught by surprise when an upsetting issue arises out of the blue in a core text. By including trigger warnings, students can be aware of what they face and prepare accordingly. The danger, however, is when we cease to read texts because they can be triggering.

Literature is meant to trigger a response. Great writers make us think, make us question, and make us peer inside ourselves and confront the uncomfortable facts that lie at the core of human existence. This can be scary and upsetting, I know—but it is not an oppressive act. Discomfort does not equal oppression. Triggering literature does not equal disrespect for difficult individual experiences. I worry that with the growing emphases on trigger warnings, the list of things that we can’t read (and say and bring up in class) will grow longer and longer. What do you guys think? Let’s discuss.