Shelby Knox speaks at Suffolk County Community College, March 26, 2014
Susan Wood, Media & Reader Services Librarian:
Last fall term, I was invited by faculty members in Sociology and in Counseling & Advising to help plan a series of screenings of feminist documentaries on our campus in conjunction with several student organizations. I was excited to get involved with feminist programming and to have found an opportunity to promote the Libraries’ Media Collection.
Eight films were chosen from the Libraries’ Media Collection with an eye toward representing women’s issues internationally. The intention was to choose films that give voice to social problems, as well as to resistance and activism around those social problems.
We applied for a grant from our Campus Activities & Student Leadership Department, which is given for programming with interdisciplinary appeal. The grant made it possible to invite Shelby Knox to speak following our screening of the 2005, Sundance-award-winning documentary of which she is the subject, The Education of Shelby Knox.
The documentary profiles Ms. Knox, who, at the time, is a teenager in Lubbock, Texas, working with other students to convince the school district to replace the abstinence-only sex education curriculum with a comprehensive one. The numbers of unwanted pregnancies and STIs in Lubbock were, and still are, some of the highest in the nation. The documentary shows us a young woman in a socially conservative community beginning to question her inherited worldview regarding religion, sex, politics, and authority.
A decade has passed since the events set in the documentary. Ms. Knox is now a professional feminist organizer at Change.org and a talented public speaker with significant activist experience.
The combination of the back-to-back film and talk was powerful, and the seemingly instantaneous transformation of Ms. Knox from teen to adult was charming. Ms. Knox is very well informed on current issues, and students and faculty alike left the program with insights about current social problems and a clearer understanding of how activists are utilizing social media to promote positive changes.
The film series has given me plenty of opportunities to promote the Libraries’ collections, facilities and services. The series also provided me with occasions to make connections across the college with students and faculty. One of the many happy results has been requests from student organizations and from faculty and staff in several departments to help develop future film series on our campus on a variety of themes (foreign language films, sexual assault awareness and LGBTQ themes).
I’m looking forward to continued collaborations with Dr. Curreli and many others, and I’m reflecting again on the power of a good documentary.
Misty Curreli, Instructor, Sociology:
As a professor and researcher in the field of Sociology, I have always found teaching about gender inequality and feminism to be an important yet challenging aspect of the curriculum. To my dismay, it seems that many young men and women are resistant to the idea of feminism. I get the sense that, somewhere along the way, they have learned that feminism is unnecessary and “uncool.”
This is why I decided to reach out to the members of the campus organization called I Am That Girl. This student club is a local chapter of the non-profit organization that motivates girls to, “BE, LOVE, and EXPRESS who they are through education, content, and community.” From this platform, the Feminist Film Series was developed to create awareness around issues of gender-based inequities, as well as explore solutions to these social ills.
The students in my Modern Social Problems class attended the screening of The Education of Shelby Knox, as well as her presentation on what feminism looks like today. Shelby Knox informed the audience that one of the chief complications about gender inequality is that people often believe it’s an individual problem, i.e., it’s happening to me and no one else. She said, “Let’s kill that myth.” She also wished to abolish another common myth that young people are apathetic and unengaged.
Ms. Knox described “millennials” as supporters of cultural diversity. They are concerned about many social topics, some of which they advocate for in online settings, such as blogging and web-based petition-making. This is the basis of what she calls the FORTH (not Fourth) wave of feminism, a type of contemporary feminism that largely takes the form of consciousness-raising via online venues. The presenter’s last address to the audience was a call to action. She asked us to think of small things that we could do to make an impact on the world.
After the event, the class discussion that followed was quite informative and refreshing. The vast array of feminist topics that Ms. Knox covered (the representation of women’s accomplishments in textbooks, gender-specific toys, healthcare coverage of contraceptives, etc.) served to inform students about feminist gains that have been made and the work that still needs to be completed.
My students were especially appreciative of how Ms. Knox depicted their generation and of her authenticity in how she became a feminist (or how feminism found her). I was pleased to see that many of the men in my class were vocal about gender inequality. One student remarked that he was surprised to learn that men can be feminists.
Ms. Knox’s talk served to demystify feminism and make feminist pursuits real. Above all, she created excitement about activism, which I hope has effects long into the future.
Update 04/11/2014: Corrections made for grammar and further clarity. ~Melissa Cardenas-Dow, WGSS blog co-editor