‘Talk Back’ Series Explores Gender-Related Topics

The Women’s and Gender Center (WGC) has just implemented its “Talk Back” program after a pilot last year.

The program is an informal and student-run series of dialogues focusing on contemporary topics in pop culture and current events that are related to gender. WGC staff host one Talk Back each semester and can co-lead the program with another WGC staffer or with someone from another resource center.

The most recent talk, titled “Trans Identity and Recent Events,” was held last Thursday Nov. 2 in the WGC in Keefe Campus Center.

The WGC is a resource center under the auspices of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that creates a space for learning about and exploring gender personally and through community, according to its website.

The Talk Back series aims to address prevalent topics pertaining to the needs of the WGC community, again according to the WGC website.

The focus of each talk varies — from President Donald Trump’s recent ban of transgender people from the military to the “#MeToo” social media campaign.

Director of the WGC Jesse Beal said the Talk Backs serve “to provide a space for students to engage with what is happening in the world.” The WGC, Beal added, hopes to create an open place in which students can “process their own thoughts or feelings with other students.”

During Talk Back events, facilitators ask questions and foster dialogue among students.

The structure of the Talk Back changes depending on which staff member is facilitating, according to WGC Program Coordinator SabriAnan Micha ’19.

Last week’s dialogue was led by Micha and Theo Peierls ’20E, another program coordinator. Micha and Peierls chose to structure the conversation by handing out two articles that speak about transgender issues and then asking questions based on the articles.

Students discussed Trump’s military ban on transgender soldiers serving in the armed forces as well as revisions to Title VII, a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, and job discrimination against trans and non-binary people in the workplace.

The first article handed out was “Trans Liberation, Not U.S. Militarism: Selective Outrage Over Trans Military Ban Obscures Larger Failures to Support Trans Communities,” which was published on Medium. Regarding this article, students discussed the job discrimination revision and its effects on trans and non-binary people.

The second article, titled “In Shift, Justice Dept. Says Law Doesn’t Bar Transgender Discrimination” and published in The New York Times, sparked conversation on the transgender military ban, the “common sense” or logic which facilitates these policies, trans health care and access to healthcare and the value of trans bodies in the eyes of the state.

One particular focus of the discussion concerned comments by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said Title VII protects against sexual discrimination in the workplace but does not include discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Conversations also centered around topics such as laws targeting transgender individuals and the unique experiences and issues pertaining to the treatment and worth of transgender lives in the current society.

Through the series, Micha added, the WGC hopes to foster “critical conversations about gender and intersectionality.” The WGC website described the talks as “dialogue-based programs that support critical community conversations.” More broadly, the talks serve to help analyze, in a group setting, the broader forces which work to constrain lives based on gender or gender identity, Beal said.

The title of the series also serves as a play on words: in the talks, the students and facilitators often “talk back” — at once telling their truth while simultaneously “talking back to” or critiquing systems of oppression, said Beal.

Another goal, Beal added, is to provide “an opportunity for student leaders to develop their facilitation skills by leading dialogue-based programs.”