A Zoom Dance Party for the 2020 Feminists of the Year

When the Feminist of the Year Award was established 30 years ago, nobody would have been able to imagine how we would celebrate in 2020. Known for its inspiring laudatory remarks, warm embraces, artistic contributions, and loads of chocolate covered strawberries, the celebration seemed like straight out of an episode of The Jetsons this year. The virtual setting did not diminish the good mood, however. Celebrants smiled at each other across their computer screens and eagerly joined a virtual dance party. The celebration started with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” our rally song for the foreseeable future. We first honored the faculty Feminists of the year. This year, the jury decided to distinguish two professors: Hemangini Gupta and Amy Morsman. Just within a short time, Professor Hemangini Gupta has become a huge presence in the GSFS program, one of her nominators note. Her courses are incredibly engaged with the major issues of Feminist Studies, but at the same time they reach out and connect to other fields such as Labor Studies and Science and Technology Studies and thereby bring in a wider group of students. In her free time, Professor Gupta is always ready to lend a hand to make feminism happen at Middlebury, whether it is organizing the pedagogy workshop for faculty during j-term, meeting with students over dinner to discuss various issues on campus, or volunteering to facilitate a feminist reading group in Womxn of Color.

The second winner, Professor Amy Morsman has taught cross-listed History and GSFS classes for close to two decades and has been nominated throughout the years for inspiring students in her “Women in American History” class. In 2015, Professor Morsman provided the scholarly foundations for the “Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution” online project developed by the Vermont-based “Clio Visualizing History” organization. “Click” highlights the achievements of women from the 1940s to the present and explores the complexity of gender consciousness in modern American life. In 2017, Richard Saunders, director of the Middlebury Museum,

asked Professor Morsman whether she was interested in designing an exhibition on the centennial on U.S. women’s suffrage. She followed suit and structured her following first-year seminar around this theme. The outcome was an amazing exhibition that opened in early September 2019 and can now be viewed online. The exhibit highlighted the challenges inherent in the suffrage movement—the racism and classism. Amy had designed and mounted the exhibit during her free time in the summer and continued to graciously donate her time in public lectures throughout Vermont, and—particularly heart-warming—for the middle school members of the Sister-to-Sister group.

Jason Vrooman, director of engagement and curator at the Middlebury Museum of Art, was nominated in the staff category. A 2004 graduate of Middlebury College and PhD in art history from New York University, Jason immediately connected with the Feminist Resource Center at Chellis House upon his return to Middlebury to see how we could collaborate. We have since collaborated on activities for World AIDS Day. Last December, for example, we had a panel of AIDS activists at the museum and then Jason brought out an original artwork by Keith Haring and gave a presentation. The day culminated in a screening of videos in the series “A Day Without Art.” Over the past 1.5 years, Jason has also shown his support by joining the Chellis House Advisory Board and initiated a few improvements, such as the redesign of the Feminist of the Year nomination website. Dr. Vrooman also was instrumental in facilitating museum presentations for younger audiences. In particular, he made his museum docents available to welcoming the Sister-to-Sister group to the “Votes…for Women?” exhibition in December. He has been an invaluable resource to faculty in the classroom, where he has come to talk about feminist art such as Guerrilla Girls agitprop.

The jury decided to award the prize to five students this year. Elissa Asch ’23.5 is a director of the SGA Sexual & Relationship Respect Committee. As part of her work with SRR, she has organized Sex in the Dark events aimed at answering students’ questions about sex and relationships, and in the time of covid—during sexual assault awareness month—she put together multiple comprehensive resource guides for the student body. In these guides she provides many resources related to self-care, support for survivors of sexual assault, support for those suffering from domestic abuse, positive sex ed, and much more. When on campus, Elissa continually promotes sexual health and healthy relationships in her daily interactions with her peers. Most remarkably, she has achieved what other students and staff couldn’t do in previous years: she has pushed for anchoring consent workshops as an integral part of orientation and has succeeded!   

Annie Blalock ’20.5, has been indefatigable as FAM leader for the past three years. Initially attracted by the group’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood, she cast FAM’s focus more widely, organizing activism outside of the Middlebury bubble and providing space for our community to respond to national events. FAM members and their allies called government representatives about DACA, gun regulations, and fair housing legislation, wrote to the Department of Justice about proposed changes to Title IX, and tabled for Planned Parenthood’s #Fight4BirthControl campaign. Most recently, Annie and her team went to Town Meeting Day to educate Middlebury residents about Proposition 5, a proposed amendment to the Vermont constitution that would anchor the right to personal reproductive autonomy in the constitution. As a lasting legacy to Middlebury, Annie and her team created Go/SexySources, a website to provide Middlebury students of all identities a comprehensive guide to sexual and reproductive health care on and around campus.

Mikayla Hyman ’20,  a human being with limitless energy, developed a particular passion for Feminist Science Studies during her four years at Middlebury. She led science projects at Sister-to-Sister events; went into elementary and middle schools to teach female-identified students about sciencethrough the STEAM Girls Vermont Program; organized and curated the first Feminist Science Art Show in BiHall, and together with Mika Morton ’19, designed a curriculum to teach a winter term workshop on how toincorporate feminist perspectives into science classes at Middlebury College. She also  she logged an astounding 600 hours of volunteer time as an advocate for WomenSafe and 275 hours at the Addison County Teen Center.

Even in his first year as a first-year senator and member of the SGA Relationship and Respect Committee, Christian Kummer ’22 showcased a passion for working through student government to make Middlebury a more inclusive, equitable, and compassionate space. He also served on the Institutional Diversity, the Health & Wellness, and the First Year Committees, advocating for the hiring of an assistant director of the AFC and the new Title IX coordinator. His work helping to organize the Panther Day Protest in 2018, which insisted that survivors of sexual assault be believed, not silenced. Besides working on feminist programming at Chellis House, Christian has also been involved in a variety of student organizations: he is a sex-positive peer educator in SPECs, he serves on the Community Judicial Board, he has been responsible for Q&A’s social media outreach, and he is a member of the Provost’s Student Advisory Committee. What is most congenial about Christian, however, is that he cares deeply of amplifying other people’s voices. As the head coach of Oratory Now, Christian has taught public speaking skills to dozens of people. It was very endearing to see him teach class of rather shy middle school girls at the Sister-to-Sister summit in November. By the end of the 45-minute session, he had gently led them towards giving a confident, powerful mini-speech. He has also served on the judicial board and now has been voted the Community Council co-chair.

As co-presidents of Womxn of Color, Ariana Rios ’21  and Izzy Rivera ’21  put a substantial amount of work this year into building community and keeping the club running.They have organized many different sustained initiatives, including Gal-ery, an art show featuring artwork, music and poetry by POC, particularly female-identified. They single-handedly put on a smashing Black Pearl Ball and hosted a lunch with visiting author Emily Bernard. They also changed the name of the organization, which made it even more inclusive group. Ariana and Izzi wanted to be a part of WOC’s organizing team because, as upper-class students, they wanted to fostercommunity and create space for folks just as it had been done for them when they were in their firstyear.

Please congratulate all the winners if you have a chance!