Gender, race, religion and culture will be in the spotlight this Saturday for the Gender Equity Center’s first Gender Symposium, a meeting of students, faculty and staff to explore how gender impacts all aspects of life.
The Gender Symposium is the first event of its kind held by the recently founded Gender Equity Center as part of a refocusing of what was formerly the Women’s Center, said Nicholas Bilich, a Gender Symposium board member and Americorps member with the Gender Equity Center .
“It’s a lot of interesting and controversial topics about gender and intersection with religion, race and culture,” Bilich said.
The Gender Equity Center was looking for ways to reach out and impact the Cal Poly community with these topics when they came across the idea of a Gender Symposium, Bilich said.
“We were just researching what other centers have done in the past,” Bilich said. “We found there’s a couple colleges across the country that have been doing Gender Symposiums for the last 20 years.”
These symposiums are typically run like open discussion forums, though the Gender Equity center opted to model Cal Poly’s symposium after a conference format, Bilich said.
The Gender Equity Center invited San Jose State University Professor Jason Laker, an expert on masculinity studies, as the keynote speaker. After Laker’s address, participants will be able to break off into student-led discussion sessions ranging from topics such as “Sex in the Bible” to “The Development of Consent: A Proposal to Shift Towards Matching Expectations.” Finally, several guest speakers, Cal Poly faculty and staff will lead two panels: one on “Gender in the Christian Faith” and the other on “The Intersections of Gender, Race and Culture.”
Q-and-A sessions are scheduled between each panel and talk to maintain that open discussion-symposium atmosphere, Bilich said.
“It’s going to be a pretty wide array of topics that are going to get thrown out there,” Bilich said.
These topics need to be raised because of how often they are overlooked. Oftentimes, people don’t think about how their gender affects them differently than others because it’s a fact they’ve lived with all their lives, Bilich said.
“Gender isn’t necessarily something people might think about a lot just because it’s sort of the water we’re all swimming in,” Bilich said.
Bilich’s goal is to help people reach what he calls an “aha moment” when they realize how gender affects their own lives and the lives of others, he said.
Other Gender Symposium coordinators such as psychology senior Suzy Gore share that goal.
Gore became involved with the Gender Symposium after hearing about it in a women’s and gender studies class. She emailed the Gender Equity Center and agreed to lead one of the student sessions titled, “Gender Expectations: Breaking the Cycle for Today’s Woman.”
“We’re going to do an overview of the discrimination the women in America face today,” Gore said.
Gore’s session will focus particularly on “multiply-marginalized women,” or women who face multiple forms of discrimination, such as women of color, Gore said. This will include a discussion of how some oppressed women internalize that discrimination and (how) it affects their own decisions, Gore said.
Gore wants the session to help people better understand women’s situations, she said.
“I hope it will give people a better perspective of what women feel because of the discrimination and how it affects their choices,” Gore said.
Other sessions focus less on gender and more on culture and sexuality such as “Sex in the Bible,” led by psychology junior Caitlin Fuller.
Fuller, who works as a student assistant with Safer, first spoke with Bilich when she heard about the Gender Symposium to see how she could participate. Together, they decided to focus on how two of Fuller’s interests, sexuality and religion, intersect.
“It really fascinates me the different outlooks that different religions have, especially on campus,” Fuller said.
Fuller will be leading the session with psychology junior Blake Williams, who has read the Bible front to back, Fuller said.
The session will touch on some difficult and controversial issues, but Fuller believes it will be a good thing.
“People’s perspectives may be broadened in some ways,” Fuller said. “It’s going to be a great experience and very controversial.”
While free, the Gender Symposium only had 90 open spaces and attendees were required to register. As of yesterday, all of the spaces were filled with 80 to 90 percent of those registered being students.
“Next year, we’ll definitely be using a larger venue,” Bilich said.