2011 Feminists of the Year

A time-honored tradition, the Feminists of the Year Awards took place during the Women’s and Gender Studies picnic in the Chellis House backyard on May 7, 2011. Once again this year, the jury was spoilt for choice. In the end, Catharine Wright garnered the faculty award; Tiffany Sargent and Peggy Burns the staff award; and Lark Mulligan, Elizabeth King and Vi Ray-Mazumder the student award.

From left, Peggy Burns, Vi Ray-Mazumder, Lark Mulligan, Catharine Wright, Elizabeth King, Tiffany Sargent.

Catharine Wright (Lecturer and Assistant Director of the Writing Program) was hailed for bringing an in-depth and nuanced perspective to Feminism in her “Writing for Social Change” class. One of her nominators wrote that “Catharine critically examines identities as inextricably linked, and talks at length about power and privilege. She has also gone way beyond the hackneyed conception of feminism being about women as a monolithic category, to a deconstruction of feminism that incorporates social justice pedagogy. Catharine is a wonderful resource and a wonderful advocate, both within her office and inside the classroom.  She’s also always willing to learn and develop her own understandings of feminism, which rightfully reminds all of us that that social justice is a dynamic project that we are constantly engaging with.”

Tiffany Sargent and Peggy Burns, Director and Associate Director of the Alliance for Civic Engagement, are normally the ones to give out prizes for civic leadership and public service during the college’s annual award ceremony in May. This time, it was their turn to be honored. One of their nominators noted that “Peggy and Tiffany tirelessly see to it that internships focusing on gender work and its various intersections are given funding. Throughout the years, they have helped students work on such diverse projects as alleviating the trauma of gender violence and empowering women and girls both domestically and abroad. Tiffany and Peggy also seem to run the ACE Office as a feminist collective: non-hierarchical and respecting each others’ opinions, while caring for the common good.”

The topic of working as a feminist collective was also surfaced when the student award-recipients, Elizabeth King, Lark Mulligan, and Vi Ray-Mazumder, were honored. The three of them were instrumental in establishing the People’s Gender Council at Middlebury (PGCOM), a non-institutional, grassroots, social justice-oriented policy change group composed of faculty, staff, and students. Designed to be attentive to gender as an intersectional concept, the PGCOM practices issue-based coalitional politics under a horizontal power structure. Most of the work occurs in smaller subcommittees devoted to issues such as education, affirming health care, and employment discrimination. Lark and Vi were also praised for bringing the discussion of trans issues in conjunction with prison and immigration reform to campus and conducting various workshops on the subject. Elizabeth was also hailed for her efforts in designing an all-gender housing concept for Middlebury College, a significant change to the College’s rooming policy, which enables students to share rooms regardless of their gender. The policy does not yet apply to first-year students, a topic the PGCOM is addressing in a subcommittee.

Together, the Feminists of the Year have invested countless hours into making gender equity a reality. For this, they deserve our wholehearted thanks.

— Karin Hanta
Women’s and Gender Studies
Director, Chellis House