Hear Us Speak: A Recap

By Gaby Germanos, HCWC Intern

Warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies – devoured in 20 minutes.

Solange’s voice wafting through the kitchen, down the hall, out the door.

A dozen undergrads nestled into comfy chairs, snapping and laughing together.

This was the scene in the Women’s Center lounge last Wednesday night, when we teamed up with Speak Out Loud – Harvard’s only spoken word group – to host “Hear Us Speak,” a poetry workshop and open mic. In any given week, there’s bound to be at least one open mic somewhere on campus, be it for music, poetry, storytelling, or something else entirely. (Are there open mics for dogs who like to howl along to the radio? I hope so.) We knew that in planning our open mic, it had to be something unique, embodying a feeling, an ideal, an environment that we don’t often encounter at Harvard.

As a safe space on campus, the Women’s Center seemed like the perfect place to host an intimate open mic, replete with string lights, pillows, and delicious snacks (10/10 would recommend Cracker Barrel’s Jalapeño Cheese Slices). Since we’re an office intent on “raising awareness of women’s and gender issues” (#MissionGoals), we decided to orient our event around themes of gender and identity expression. After getting to know everyone in the room, we played YouTube videos of awesome women performing awesome spoken word on topics like race, periods, and belonging.

HCWC intern and Speak Out Loud co-president Jessica Jin, using her magic baking wisdom to prevent me from burning all the cookies

Then came the core of the event; we took some time to sit in silence and write our own poems. Having a space that actively promotes and creates time dedicated to self-reflection is such a rare thing at Harvard, and it was nice to take a few moments to think creatively and enjoy the company of friends and strangers. Once we had all written something down, we went around the room and shared our poems. There were people who had written thousands of poems in their life, and some who had never written poetry before. Every poem was vastly distinct from the next, in form, topic, and affect, but all were deeply personal. As someone who doesn’t get the opportunity to attend a lot of poetry workshops, I loved being able to sit in a circle and use writing as a way to bond with a bunch of people who, for the most part, I had just met less than an hour before.

I’m a new intern at the Women’s Center, and the power of the space never ceases to amaze me. How many other places on campus can foster such a welcoming and inclusive community in such a short period of time? If you haven’t visited the space in a while, or if you just want a midday pick-me-up, I urge you to stop by the Center sometime. Even when we’re not hosting a poetry workshop, we invite you to come in, take a load off, and engage in some relaxation and introspection. In the bustling, hyperactive world of Harvard, taking time to connect with yourself and others is a much-needed thing.

On the first day she planted the world.

And she saw that it was good.
And she saw that it didn’t have enough so she picked up her heavy body by the roots
and brought herself, swelling
to somewhere before a thing called the Universe existed, dark and unforgiving
Even had to make soil for herself from nothing, just so that she could give birth to more unshapen clay.

(Jessica Jin ’18)


#WCW 10/12/16: Pam Grier


By Gaby Germanos, HCWC Intern

When it came time to pick this week’s #WCW, I immediately thought of one woman: Blaxploitation icon and badass action heroine Pam Grier. It seemed fitting, given that she just received the 2016 Du Bois Medal from the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, an honor awarded to those who have made outstanding contributions to African American culture. As someone who loves 70s Blaxploitation films, it blew my mind that there were people on this campus who had never heard of Pam Grier, and I hope that writing about her as this week’s #WCW will inspire fans and newbies alike to check out her work!

I was first introduced to Grier’s films after watching some of the more mainstream famous Blaxploitation movies, such as Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972). These types of blaxploitation films were often set in poor urban neighborhoods and depicted a tough Black dude (the good guy) taking down a less-tough white male crime boss, police officer, etc. (the bad guy). The Good Guy was smart, deceptive, knew how to use a gun, and got all the ladies. In fact, the only women in sight were the Good Guy’s lovers, featured predominantly in sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong; as pretty much the first major films in which Black men weren’t depicted as the bad guys, Blaxploitation films were (and remain) incredibly valuable, not to mention entertaining! But I wondered where the badass Black women were in these movies.

In came Pam Grier. In movies such as Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), and Sheba Baby (1975), Grier played Black female protagonists who were everything I had hoped for: strong, smart, athletic, deceptive, and just as violent as the male protagonists in other Blaxploitation films. In my favorite of her films, Coffy, Grier plays a nurse bent on destroying the system of drug cartels and mafia bosses that led to her sister’s drug addiction. Throughout the film, she pretends to be a sex worker to take down a pimp, ditches her loser traitor boyfriend, and kills a bunch of people. Of course, she’s not perfect, and innocents suffer along the way. But that’s the beauty of it – the male protagonists in Blaxpoitation films aren’t angels, and neither is she.

Decades later, Grier still makes waves in the acting world, starring in incredibly diverse roles. In 1998, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in Quentin Tarantino’s Blaxploitation-inspired movie Jackie Brown. From 2004-2009, she starred as one of the leads in the hit Showtime series The L Word. She even worked on an animated children’s series on HBO called Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, securing an Emmy for her performance in 2000. Beyond that, she has worked on tons of TV shows and movies, far too many to name here. Of course, for much of her fan base, she remains most memorable for her work in the Blaxploitation genre, carving out a space for female action stars in all genres. When she’s not in the limelight, Grier lives on a Colorado ranch full of animals, dedicating her time to helping rescue horses and running a therapeutic horse-riding program. (As an animal lover and animal rights activist, this makes me love her even more!)

As a member of the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, I had the honor of singing at the Du Bois Medal Ceremony last week, standing less than 10 feet from her on stage. It truly made my day (*cough* life) to help honor such a groundbreaking performer that has meant so much to me and so many other fans over the years. I’m excited to name her as this week’s #WCW, and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

On Inclusivity at Harvard

In just over a week, I’ll be graduating from this place. My friends and I are beginning to pack boxes and open up new parts of our lives, but this week has been a time of reflection. After thinking a lot about the people and things that have transformed me and given me meaning, I’ve realized how important the Harvard College Women’s Center has been for me.

Some history:

Harvard has long been a space for men only (women weren’t allowed full access to Lamont Library until 1967). As Radcliffe and Harvard began to co-educationalize over the years, several iterations of the Women’s Center rose and fell, but only the current iteration of the Women’s Center has received substantial administrative support.

Here’s why this matters:

As an institution that has historically centered masculinity, we need to keep talking about gender and how it plays out in our academic, social, and political experiences. Who gets representation in the Undergraduate Council? Who feels comfortable in STEM classes? Who dominates social spaces on weekends? Why?

I’m not one for “safe spaces” rhetoric, primarily because one person can never guarantee to everyone in a room that the room will remain safe–we all have different triggers and needs, and we can’t all know the triggers and needs of others in a room. However, I am the biggest advocate for safer spaces, spaces where everyone is consciously and actively prioritizing the safety and comfort of others.

For the past four years, the Harvard College Women’s Center has been my safer space on campus. In my first year, I wanted to attend events that focused on identity–it was weird for me as a queer woman of color to feel at home on campus, but the Women’s Center gave me a place where I could go to study or hang out with friends,  and programming where I could meet people who felt similarly confused and anxious about being at Harvard, regardless of their identity or background.

Since then, the Women’s Center has become a second home to me. As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to plan events that I’m interested in attending, always considering what I would have wanted as a newcomer to this often-overwhelming, often-impersonal campus.

Diverse spaces make a huge difference in student life. To see myself represented, to know that my presence won’t be doubted or questioned, to bond with others who experience marginalization–this space is essential in facilitating those connections. Quoting Sara Ahmed,

The brick wall is what you come against when you are involved in the practical project of opening worlds to bodies that have historically been excluded from those worlds. An organisation can be a world; a neighbourhood; a street; a home; a nation.

The way that universities organize themselves is not conducive to finding community, especially as a marginalized person. This is why I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled upon one of the few physical spaces on campus where all genders are explicitly welcomed, where programming considers intersectional identities, and where staff are eager to support me in all of my academic and extracurricular identities. The Women’s Center allows me to exist as a whole self, as a full person instead of a diversity metric or a GPA.

As Harvard has recently grappled with exclusive social spaces, I want to emphasize the importance of the already-existing inclusive social spaces such as the Women’s Center. During my four years here, I have not encountered any other space filled with as much conscious love and care. Exclusion is not a part of the HCWC’s mission. All genders are encouraged to enter and participate in the space, allowing students to drive programming and build community. I’m grateful to have been welcomed into a place where I can feel at home with coffee, tea, condoms and cookies.

As I leave Harvard, I wonder how I will find another safer space to inhabit. I know, however, that my years as an HCWC intern leave me well-equipped to build my own.

#WCW: Our Senior Interns!

From left to right: Brianna, Sofia, Megan, and Jasmine

We can’t believe that it’s the last week of classes- the last day, actually- this year, and we really can’t stand to see our seniors go. Brianna, Sofia, Megan, and Jasmine- you are all our woman crushes everyday, not just this Wednesday!

Here’s a little bit about why we’ll miss you (sorry that it’s so cheesy

Brianna (sorry for the rudimentary photoshop job), thanks for being the best social media & communications co-intern I could’ve asked for! There would be no tumblr without you– you’re much funnier than I am (I just supply the gifs). You’re going to be the coolest social worker ever, and I’m going to miss your presence around the women’s center. At least I’ll be able to keep up with your shenanigans with your Facebook statuses, which give me life (hearing someone speak so candidly about classism, racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression is honestly inspiring).

Sofia, your presence always brings a sense of serenity/calm. You’re never afraid to speak your mind to stand up for what’s right, and you were an amazing Gender 101 facilitator because you’re so down-to-earth and relatable. Your empathy and compassion will be missed when you leave campus!!!

Megan, you are going to be the best teacher ever! Thank you for all the work that you’ve done on campus to raise awareness about and help survivors of sexual assault. You somehow are both so composed/serious yet so hilarious at the same time, and your singing and other antics will be missed dearly!

Jasmine, you brought so many people at the Women’s Leadership Awards to tears last night; your passion for the first-gen movement on campus is so inspiring. Thanks for making Harvard feel like home, and for your smile and laugh!

And for all of the seniors- thank you for being unapologetic about your beliefs and not toning down your feminism for anyone!! Please, please, please come visit us back in Canaday whenever you are around!


#HCWC #WCW: Dr. Genevieve Clutario


I had a very interesting discussion with a lot of my friends the other day about how many of them have never had a female-identified professor at Harvard. I began to wonder why that may be the case; do departments consciously think about gender when giving professors tenure and undergraduate classes? And what about the gender gap in many fields, particularly mathematics and computer science?

I realized that I’ve been particularly blessed to have had so many wonderful, strong women as role models at Harvard, and one of the ones that I admire most is Professor Genevieve Clutario. As an Asian American, I have never really had many role models, academic or cultural, that look like me or can identify with my lived experiences. Professor Clutario was my first Asian American female teacher in any capacity, and I’m thrilled to have taken two classes with her: Gender and Empire this semester, as well as Colonization, Globalization, and Cultures of Asian Diaspora[s].

Professor Clutario is amazing for many reasons, but the one that I’m really thankful for is the fact that she takes it upon herself to educate her students about vocabulary that is often tossed around without much thought. For instance, in both classes she took a lot of time to explain what intersectionality is, a word that I haven’t learned about in an academic setting, what gender is, and how to use gender and intersectionality as lenses to view history (and events today). She also makes sure to explain a lot of references because she does not assume that everyone will know what she is talking about– for instance, when discussing Christian imagery in ads for adoption, she described the image of Madonna and Child and why it is significant in our culture.

However, what stood out to me is the fact that Professor Clutario made sure that everyone, regardless of gender, knew what exactly a tampon is and what each type of birth control does. I’ve never had a professor or teacher talk so explicitly about birth control or even tampons in my classes, and that is after nearly fifteen years of school and four years of health class.

Even if Professor Clutario talks about some really heavy subjects, such as sexual assault in history (ex. spending a great deal of time going over the plight of Korean comfort women, a chapter of history that is often erased or forgotten), she does so while being relatable and lovable. Every person I know who has taken one of her classes gushes about them because she is approachable, funny, and passionate.

Outside of the classroom, Professor Clutario continues to engage with undergraduates, working as an advisor to the Asian American Studies working group. She’s truly one of the biggest role models I’ve found on campus and my #WCW every day!

#WCW 4/13/16: Dr. Sabeti

Picture from Wikipedia

Our #HCWC #WCW this week is Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a professor in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department. Dr. Sabeti was featured in TIME 2015’s 100 Most Influential People for her work in identifying that the ebola virus was being transmitted from human to human and not through animal vectors or other sources. She and her lab constantly do significant global health related science research for malaria, ebola, and lassa fever. Pretty awesome!!

Dr. Sabeti is also a musician. In her free time she is also the lead singer of the band Thousand Days, a female-fronted alternative rock band that performs in Boston. Their songs are available for streaming on Soundcloud!

In summary, Pardis Sabeti is a rockstar–both literally and figuratively- who challenges, motivates, and inspires us at the women’s center not only to break  barriers in academia, and to help people around the world, but also to have fun and do what we love, whatever it may be!

#HCWC #WCW: The Members of Pussy Riot

Picture taken from Amnesty International’s Flickr Page here.

Our first Woman Crush Wednesday this month is dedicated to the women in the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot. Last year, I got to see two of its members, Nadezhda and Maria, speak at the Harvard Institute of Politics and I can attest that they are just as amazing and awe-inspiring in person as they are with their online presence.

The group was founded five years ago and became famous for its guerilla performances of music in public that was in opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot’s music champions feminism, refugee rights, and rights for the LGBTQ* community as well as acts as a form of protest against the human rights abuses against Russian civilians by its government. One of the coolest videos you can see of the group is”Punk Prayer” (where the group performs inside of Christ the Savior Cathedral), in which the group protests the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Putin back in 2012.

As a result of the performance, two of its members, Nadezha Andreyevna Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were famously imprisoned (they were released after one year after immense public pressure from human rights organizations). At the time, the two women were in their early twenties and each had a four-year-old child that they had to leave behind. Both have been outspoken about the treatment they received while incarcerated, particularly because Maria collapsed from hunger because her nutritional needs (veganism) were not acknowledged. Though they were released in 2013, they were imprisoned in Sochi in 2014 and footage has been revealed of the two women being whipped by Cossacks in the area.

Aside from its activism in Russia, Pussy Riot members have also called to attention injustices in the United States. For example, they protestedpolice brutality with its song “I Can’t Breathe” and are campaigning for Bernie Sanders in this presidential election (at the same time, the group opposes Donald Trump and his racist/misogynistic ideologies, and have protested against him around the United States and spoken out about his views on their Twitter). While at Harvard, Maria and Nadezha even went to the Cambridge Police Department to learn more about an audience attendee who was arrested for entering the University.

Thank you Pussy Riot for challenging, motivating, and inspiring us at the Women’s Center to fight for human rights every day!