Wells College is uniquely situated within the greater scope of early women’s rights history. Regionally, the college is in close proximity to Seneca Falls, NY, site to multiple critical events in the US Suffragette Movement (in particular, the first National Women’s Rights Convention held in 1848 as the Seneca Falls Convention). Culturally, the college is of significance as originally being established as an all-women’s college by Henry Wells. The latter fact of significance because despite going co-ed in 2005, the Wells College population remains predominantly female.
Our students are no strangers to the current political climate. As such, it came as no surprise when one of our work aides at the Center, Alissa Bell (junior, Art History major), announced a few days prior to International Women’s Day that she intended to participate in the Women’s March initiated A Day Without Women, and not work her regularly scheduled hours. She also inquired as to whether or not I would be, and that our other work aide may also not be present.
The announcement, made in subtle passing, gave me pause.
As both faculty and studio manager to a small and intimate student-body, I make it a primary goal that all of my students think critically about every action within a greater social, political, cultural, and historic context. In response, I drafted an email stating my awareness of ADWW, expressing my concerns with what was at the heart of their decision to participate, as well as articulating my personal history, conflicts, and why I would be working. The email closed with a request :
…if you do decide to not work, to participate, I beg of you to think critically about what your actions mean, beyond just not working (…) to situate your position within a larger body politic. (…) to think about the visibility and inclusivity of this movement compared to other movements overall. I ask that when you do come to work, or see me later, to be prepared to have a discussion with me (…).
Additionally, as a print studio, you have the option to print materials expressing your political statement during work hours—something (the Center) would support and encourage.
The email resonated with Alissa, who decided to participate and generate a printed piece in response.
Alissa says of her decision:
Originally I had intended to participate in A Day Without Women knowing that it was flawed, hoping it would send a message to the college, hoping that it would help highlight how many women really don’t have the same privileges as I do.
However, it ended up meaning more to her, after unexpectedly having to grapple with this amidst the complexities of a rather difficult situation involving a friend and member of her cohort just days preceding. This situation placed a great deal of additional emotional strain and stress on Alissa (who I will say is a very kind, generous, and empathetic person). After a series of discussions with fellow cohort about her decision participate in ADWW, in conjunction with what she was grappling with on a deeply personal level, she arrived at the following conclusion:
Sometimes the most important, radical, and productive thing that we as activists can do is take a break and take care of ourselves so that we can continue to work and not run ourselves down to the point where we are no longer effective. Self care can indeed be a part of warfare and on Wednesday that’s what I needed.
Alissa later wrote, citing articles from the Feminist Killjoys blog and BitchMedia, as sources for her broadside text, which is a summarization of an Audre Lorde quote, who in her Cancer Journals said:
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
Alissa’s broadside is simple and elegant, but pointed—true to Alissa’s personal print aesthetic.
Utility also being at the crux of all printed action, Alissa was tasked to print enough to distribute throughout campus. An edition of 40, she distributed many to personal friends, but also has left some with the student mental health trial club, HOPE; the WRC,“which is, in fact, not the Women’s Resource Center but the Wonderful Resource Center because they were told it felt alienating [as being] just for women”; and has tacked them up around campus.
While a small campus, the statement resonates with a large part of the student body, but also resonates with all of us during these times of great unrest.
Thank you, Alissa, for reminding us of that.