The Love Wall: Relationship Violence Awareness Month reflection

By Sarah Edwards

Last month, I sat out by a table in Polk Place that was stationed to raise awareness for this October’s Relationship Violence Awareness Month. I and a few other students handed out flyers and encouraged the students passing back and forth between classes, to write on a poster board we called “The Love Wall.” We asked an open question: What does love mean?

True, it’s a broad question and one that most students were stumped to answer (myself included) with a Sharpie, five minutes before class. Nevertheless, it’s a question that needs to be asked; particularly on a college campus. With recent studies showing that upward of 40% of college students have experienced relationship violence, it is easy to surmise that we don’t have a clear understanding of what love looks like. Or, at the very least, we get confused about what a healthy relationship should look like and what boundaries need to be put in place. Relationship violence is never acceptable and it is unacceptable that it is actually a normative occurrence in college relationships. There are many common misconceptions about violence—both sexual and physical—and it can be easy to believe that violence occurs randomly from strangers, and it is not an extension of interpersonal relationships. More often than not, however, sexual and physical violence occurs in dating relationships.

While sitting at the table last week, a younger guy came over, lured by a promise of a free purple pen.

“So what’s all this about?” we told him, and he nodded “Oh yeah, I totally agree with that. Relationship violence is bad. Girls really need to stop dating douches!”

Of course, relationship violence can be perpetrated by both males and females, although females tend to be the primary victim. But this guy’s reaction highlights a dangerous belief about relationship violence, and one that needs to be changed: that violence is due to the poor relationship choices of the victim, rather than choosing to believe that violence doesn’t need to exist. Period! In order for UNC to change—and society, at large—the belief that “girls need to stop dating douches” needs to change to believing that guys (or any perpetrator of violence) need to stop being violent.

No matter what your definition of love is, it is never acceptable to abuse your partner. This October I hope you pursued the idea that we can all think about what real love looks like, and in doing so, become not just better romantic partners, but sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, friends. Relationship violence is real, and it’s ongoing: let’s make the cycle end here, in October and for the rest of the year.

Sarah Edwards is a junior American Studies major from Davidson, NC. She is interning this semester for the Carolina Women’s Center.

Sex & Money national film screening tour comes to UNC

I was so pleased by the great turnout at CAST’s Sex & Money screening last night.  We were proud to be cosponsors and I was honored to be asked to serve on the post-screening discussion panel.

The film is a 93-minute documentary on domestic minor sex trafficking.  The filmmaking team talked to many of the nation’s experts on human trafficking, including some of my favorite allies – Bradley Myles from Polaris Project, Dorchen Leidholdt from the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families, Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research & Education.  Others I know because of their work, such as Siddarth Kara and Benjamin Skinner (both of whom I’ve seen speak) and Mary Ann Layden (a colleague of our good friend Dr. Linnea Smith).  And the film includes conversation with my hero Lou CdeBaca, head of the federal Trafficking in Persons office, and someone who really gets the multiple and complex challenges of addressing human trafficking.

The film is extremely informative and well done.  In addition to accurate and robust coverage of the subject, we get to see some of the experiences of the filmmakers and their process of making sense of what they’re learning – and even a few welcome moments of humor.  I admit to being a little turned off at the choice to begin the film with one of the filmmakers on the brink of tears – kind of an odd decision.  But that was one “off” moment in what is otherwise an excellent production.

In addition to commentary and analysis by experts, Sex & Money includes interviews with survivors of sex trafficking, former pimps, former buyers, law enforcement, and service providers; there are also segments filming prostitution arrests.  And, there is some coverage of the volatile protest outside Craigslist’s headquarters during the advocacy to remove erotic services from their on-line postings.  Streetlight in Phoenix was highlighted as a promising practice provider.

The film addresses head-on the issue of the “choice” to prostitute.  The connections between, or conflation of, prostitution and human trafficking have created large fissures in the anti-human trafficking movement.  Some consider that consensual prostitution is possible and see no problem with consenting adults agreeing to a paid sexual encounter.  Others feel that prostitution is inherently degrading and exploitative and that the idea one could “choose” to prostitute is meaningless if there are no other viable and sustainable choices one could make.  However, there is no need even to discuss the possibility of choice when we are talking about minor victims.  The federal law (and most state laws, including North Carolina’s) removes the need to prove force, fraud or coercion in a situation where minors are involved.  The law considers it impossible for minors to consent to a commercial sex act; thus, any minor involved in any kind of commercial sexual activity is a victim of sex trafficking and should be identified and treated accordingly.

The film addresses the incorrect (in my view) perception that legalizing prostitution is a useful option.  As Leidholdt so eloquently noted, legalizing prostitution turns pimps and traffickers into legitimate business people and makes invisible the harm and violence done to trafficked and prostituted people.  Additionally, the countries and regions that have legalized prostitution have seen an increase in prostitution and human trafficking.

The film discusses the Swedish approach, which many of us see as a potential best practice.  Leidholdt and Farley both find this model to have great potential.  As many of you know, the model criminalizes the buyer, decriminalizes the “seller,” and offers necessary services to people engaged in commercial sexual activity.  The evidence suggests that this has reduced both prostitution and human trafficking in Sweden, although advocates acknowledge that many traffickers have simply moved their business to other countries that are more hospitable; others question the validity of the claim of success, arguing that rather than reducing prostitution, it has been driven underground.  This debate came up in the Q&A after the screening when an audience member asked why we don’t adopt that model in the US.  I replied that I think it is a very promising approach and that many advocates are working to move us in that direction.  However, the model is predicated on an understanding that commercial sexual activity is a human rights violation and antithetical to gender equity.  That is not an understanding that is commonly shared across the United States.

There were several chilling moments in the film, including an interview with a former pimp, who noted that “anyone can control a woman’s body, but it takes a pimp to control her mind.”  This man, and other commentators, discussed the highly systematic process of grooming and controlling prostituted women and girls.  Other interviewees discussed the valorization of “pimp culture” as a very problematic aspect of our society which discourages people from seeing the harm that prostitution does to those enmeshed within it and to our communities.

The film is on a national tour, and UNC-Chapel Hill was only one of two sites in the state to host a screening.  Thanks to the CAST co-chairs Caitlin Dixon and Stephen Bishop and other CAST members who planned and managed this event.  Thanks to UNC alum Otilia Enica, who started the process last year in her final semester as CAST co-chair.  Thanks to Christie Arnold and Elyse Elder who staffed the Carolina Women’s Center table at the event.  And, a special thanks to our co-panelists – Dave Dawson and Jack Moore from the FBI and Andrew Castle from World Relief.  Earlier yesterday afternoon, Dave also presented a wonderfully comprehensive training at UNC Health Care for our local SANEs and other health care and service providers.

If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking in general, or anti-human trafficking work in North Carolina, please visit


Can you have it all?

Career panel participants - Thursday, Oct. 27

On Thursday, October 27, the Carolina Women’s Center, University Career Services and SYNC: Sophomore Year Navigating Carolina hosted Having (and balancing) it all:  a panel about achieving career goals and work/life balance.  We were honored to have with us several distinguished panelists:  Etta Pisano, Linda Butler, Channing Der, and Valerie Ashby.  We were very fortunate that Julia Sprunt Grumbles, a long-time friend of the CWC and our work and a phenomenally successful powerhouse, was willing to moderate the session.

I think it’s safe to say that most people are challenged by trying to succeed in their career and feel fully present in their life outside of work.  However, a substantial amount of research shows that this challenge disproportionately impacts women and that we feel extra pressure in this regard.

I’ll write more about this event in our Fall newsletter – watch for it in December!!

In the meantime – just a few nuggets:

  • All our panelists stressed the importance of having mentors – multiple mentors – and asking your mentors for help and strategic advice.
  •  Give back by mentoring others.
  • You can’t do everything well.  Do the best you can, don’t be a perfectionist, delegate when possible, and don’t self-flagellate – it’s a waste of time.
  • Stand up for yourself.  You can be both assertive and nice.
  • You can have it all – you just usually can’t have it all at once.

In the weeks before this event, one of my colleagues noted her displeasure with the term work-life balance, as it implies that life happens outside of work and work is not part of life.  I don’t disagree with this critique.  But/and, I am the poster child for the inability to prioritize my own needs and my multiple other interests with the joys and challenges of my job and with what I find is the significant amount of time required to do my job the way I think it needs to be done.   This panel gave me a lot to think about.


Thanks to Ashley Fogle, Elissa Zellinger, and Leah Josephson, who each helped make this panel a success.


Speak Out: Efforts against sexual assault at UNC

By Alison Grady

As we begrudgingly return to campus after fall break – perhaps one filled with visits with family and deep fried Krispy Kreme burgers – we return knowing that we have just two months left of fall semester.  This, presumably, will mean lots of studying for exams, lots of time spent with friends before winter break and, hopefully, two months of safety for everyone here at UNC.  As we saw at Project Dinah’s Speak Out event on Wednesday, October 12, unfortunately, this last part is often not the case for many of our fellow students.

At the event, we heard members of Project Dinah, Men@Carolina and UNITAS read anonymous stories of UNC students’ experiences with interpersonal violence that had been posted to the blog,  Some of these stories were reflections of abuse that had occurred years prior, some were about abusive relationships that they had dealt with while at Carolina, others about assaults by so-called friends, and one included words of hope to survivors, letting them know that things will get better.  While listening to these incredible stories, I looked around at my friends, acquaintances, and strangers; many sat crying, others comforted crying friends, and others seemed almost shocked – how could these attacks happen at UNC, they seemed to wonder.

How does sexual violence continue to happen with minimal discussion surrounding it in most circles at UNC?  Why are there still people who claim that they do not know anyone who is a survivor of interpersonal violence?  Earlier this year, The Daily Tar Heel reported that the number of reported assault cases had nearly tripled in 2010 compared to 2009, rising from 6 to 17.  While this news may seem frightening, those who work in sexual violence prevention know that the vast majority of sexual assault cases are never reported, so it is likely that the total number of assaults at UNC did not rise; instead, more people may have reported that year. Sadly, as one of those people who lives in the world of sexual violence prevention, I feel as if I personally could name 17 people who were assaulted in 2010, and many of them never reported their attacks.  The total number of assaults, then, is most likely significantly higher than the 17 that were reported.

My hope is that, through events like Speak Out, people will become more aware of the prevalence of interpersonal violence as well as the effects that it can have on victims and survivors.  Through an increase in education, perhaps survivors will see in these people someone that they can trust to talk to about their own experiences.  When people recognize just how huge a problem sexual violence is, then — through their increased education surrounding the topic and recognizing that they have friends who are survivors — it becomes difficult not to join the efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our university – and our community, state, nation, and finally, our world.

I encourage everyone to become HAVEN and One Act trained.  You will learn an incredible amount through the Haven training about what sexual violence is and how to be an ally to a survivor of interpersonal violence.  Through One Act, you will learn how to be an active bystander and prevent interpersonal violence from occurring in the first place.  With more and more Haven allies and more and more members of the UNC community who are both able to recognize dangerous situations and willing to act, perhaps soon we will be proud of being part of a university that is safe for everyone.

More coverage of Relationship Violence Awareness Month events to come!

Alison Grady is a senior peace, war & defense major with minors in philosophy, politics & economics and women’s studies. She is a blogger for the Carolina Women’s Center.

Breast Cancer Awareness: “pinkwashing” a devastating disease?

By Leah Josephson

Pumpkins and pop-up Halloween shops aren’t the only symbols of October. In addition to seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks, pink ribbons, those ubiquitous symbols of one of the leading killers of women, have cropped up in stores, online and across campus in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink ribbons are meant to raise awareness, symbolize “survivorship” and help raise money meant to help find a cure for breast cancer. But what does simplifying a complex and damaging disease into a symbol of femininity really mean for women who have experienced breast cancer? Why are women who have battled breast cancer encouraged to embrace their ordeals as growth experiences? Should they really be considered “survivors” or victims?

Critique of the breast cancer awareness movement and its iconic pink ribbon has been growing steadily. The documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc., which examines the use of pink ribbons to sell products, arguably commercializing breast cancer (sometimes without any direct benefit to breast cancer research), is due out in theaters in 2012.

NPR recently featured the books Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich, who is in remission from breast cancer, and Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health by Gayle Sulik on its show Talk of the Nation.

I happened to catch the program in my car and was struck by Ehrenreich’s impassioned interview.

Ehrenreich said that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was bombarded with optimistic and inspirational words (and, of course, products emblazoned with pink ribbons). But these things didn’t make her feel any better about her life-threatening condition. Ehrenreich felt that they were gimmicks that “pinkwashed” the truth – that breast cancer could kill her, and there still isn’t a cure.

Ehrenreich critiqued the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s framing of breast cancer as a “journey” and a normal part of womanhood, something women experience together, running around a high school track at fundraising events. But breast cancer isn’t normal. Why doesn’t Komen encourage women to get angry and demand a cure?

This aspect of the pink ribbon movement to me is typical of society’s feminization of women. Even their big, scary diseases are reduced to a strip of pink satin and some Estée Lauder Wrinkle-Lifting Serum. “Celebrating” women’s experiences rather than inspiring them to protest a society that devalues women’s health facilitates complacency rather than a sense of urgency for finding a cure.

Some breast cancer awareness campaigns are even outright sexist. Slogans like “Save the Tatas” and “Don’t Let Cancer Steal Second Base” commodify women’s bodies and misrepresent the only important reason to fight breast cancer (in case we’ve forgotten, that’s saving women’s lives), especially when in reality many women lose their breasts in treatment.

UNC English professor Dr. Jennifer Ho, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, started the blog “No F****** Pink Ribbons” to reflect on her experiences without the “rhetoric and marketing and branding that the pink ribbon symbolizes.”

“I will be fairly blunt about what I’m going through and will not be invoking the standard narrative tropes of other breast cancer supposedly-inspirational rhetoric (the whole “journey” metaphor for example will NOT be used here),” Ho wrote in her blog’s introduction.

She spoke at an event on campus last year, using humor and straightforward, decidedly non-rosy language to encourage women to resist the darker side of the pink ribbon and become their own informed, empowered advocates.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has invested over $2 billion for breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services and social support programs since it was founded in 1982, an incredible accomplishment. But it has also undoubtedly engaged in “pinkwashed” rhetoric that may be harmful to women in some ways.

How do you feel about “pink ribbon culture”? Is it possible to raise awareness without commercializing breast cancer and reinforcing sexist stereotypes? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Leah Josephson is a senior journalism and French double major and women’s studies minor. She is communications assistant at the Carolina Women’s Center.

Mean Girls, “fat talk” and Love Your Body Day

By Cara Arizmendi

In honor of  Love Your Body Day on October 19, Carolina Women’s Center volunteer team leader Cara Arizmendi contributed this post about women and “fat talk.”


“I thought there was only fat and skinny, but apparently there are a lot of things that can be wrong with your body.”

This humorous scene from the movie Mean Girls is a shockingly accurate portrayal of the dynamics of what has been called “fat talk.”   In this scene, the members of the “Plastics,” the most popular girls in high school, and Cady, the new girl, stand around a mirror putting themselves down, criticizing everything from their pores to their hips.

The girls who are considered the most popular, most attractive girls in high school feel the need to self-degrade as a group.  After everyone but Cady finishes criticizing their body, they turn to her, waiting for her negative body statement, because without one she is not conforming to the standards of girlhood and womanhood.  These are the dynamics of the pressure to engage in fat talk.

Sociologists and psychologists have studied fat talk as the tendency for girls and women to engage in negative body talk.  While fat talk most often includes statements about weight, such as, “I missed my workout and ate too many desserts” or “I hate that my jeans don’t fit me anymore,” it can include any number of body putdowns, such as the ones from Mean Girls.

In addition to the tendency to engage in negative body talk, psychologists have found that despite the frequency with which it occurs in groups of women, women do not actually gain enjoyment from fat talk.  So why do it?  While psychologists cannot pinpoint what causes fat talk, they do know that there is actually a perceived pressure by girls and women to engage in fat talk once one person in the group has initiated negative body talk as a conversation, despite the fact that girls and women do not actually enjoy it (Britton 2006).

While Mean Girls pokes fun at fat talk as a form of commentary, other movies seem to be promoting fat talk as a form of normalcy.  For example, Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids, a film considered female-friendly, expresses concerns about not being as skinny as one of her “frenemies.”  Movies with these scenarios are creating a form of cultural fat talk.  Film creators make movies featuring women who self-degrade their bodies as an attempt to create relevant characters for women.  However, because Hollywood favors skinny actresses, most of the women self-degrading their bodies are also conventionally attractive, thin women.  When these celebrities complain about their bodies on screen, it sends the message that even celebrities’ slender bodies are not good enough, increasing the pressure on average women to engage in fat talk.

What do we do about fat talk? 

First, try not to self-degrade your body in conversations.  From personal experience, I know that sometimes I think it will make me feel better, but it never does.  And while I do think we should talk about our insecurities, fat talk is not a productive way to do so.  Fat talk does not make anyone, the speaker or the listener, positive or happy about themselves.

Second, whenever someone begins to self-degrade, try to turn it into a positive conversation by talking about positively about your friend or yourself, or by starting a conversation about the negative effects of fat talk.

Third, whenever you see examples of fat talk in movies, TV, or magazines, have a conversation about the negative aspects of it with whomever you’re viewing it with.  Write to filmmakers or magazine editors who include fat talk in their media and explain the harmful effects of self-degradation.

While these techniques may not end fat talk all together, it is sure to create healthy, positive conversations.

Source: Britton L, Martz D, Bazzini D, Curtin L, LeaShomb A. (2006).  Fat talk and self presentation of body image: Is there a social norm for women to self degrade?.  Body Image, 3(3), 247-254.

Cara Arizmendi is a senior Women’s Studies and Psychology major from Chapel Hill.  She is an intern at the Carolina Women’s Center.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

By Christie Arnold

I recently watched a documentary about the trafficking of women and girls around the world for commercial sexual exploitation into forced prostitution. This film, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, caused me to question the disconnect that our society makes between prostitution and sex trafficking. Although many people cry out against the enslavement of women in sex trafficking, there is often a failure to recognize that an existing structure of exploitation, which includes tolerated prostitution within the sex industry, is enabling and facilitating the crime of sex trafficking.

Many anti-trafficking and women’s rights advocates view prostitution as an inherently exploitative form of violence against women.[1] By its very existence, the sex industry is promoting the idea that women are commodities. This line of thinking extends to human traffickers who participate in the sex industry by targeting vulnerable women and girls and forcing them into sexual slavery. The UN estimates that up to 4 million women and children are trafficked into the global sex trade each year.[2] The key point: the prostitution in the commercial sex industry itself contributes to the trafficking of women into the sex industry. This illegal trade of women’s bodies exists because (primarily) men believe they are entitled to buy (primarily) women and girls. To meet this demand, women are trafficked into existing structures of commercialized prostitution. As the demand for commercial sex thrives and continually increases, traffickers find ways to increase supply into the commercial sex industry through force, fraud and coercion.

In the United States, elements of the sex industry, such as pornography, strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors, exist mostly uninhibited in cities and towns across the nation. The prostitution that accompanies these entertainment venues is seen as a victimless crime, and so is rarely restricted and often tolerated. Men who are caught soliciting sex from prostitutes, whether in the back room of a strip club or on the streets, are rarely arrested. Through this system, our culture seems to imply that it is natural or acceptable to pay for sex and, therefore, that it is tolerable for men to purchase a woman for sex. Many men believe that it is their right to do this, and our culture supports this thinking by allowing them to do so with few, if any, consequences. Thus, a market for the sale of commercial sex, an avenue for women to be bought and sold as sexual objects, has been created in the United States. And each year, hundreds of thousands of women and children from other nations are trafficked into the U.S. sex trade, into venues of prostitution, pornography and/or stripping.[3]

From this film, I learned that is critical for our society to recognize the links between prostitution and sex trafficking so we can begin to take a stand against the human rights violations that occur in the commercial sex industry. Both prostitution and sex trafficking are violence against women and are severe detriments to gender equality.

Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and advocate for women’s rights, stated in Nefarious that a society can never be truly equal when half of its population is being sexually exploited. This speaks to the harms created when prostitution is allowed or tolerated by a culture. To prevent this exploitation, it is important to speak out against the commercial sex industry and against the underlying beliefs that enable it. For sex trafficking to be eradicated, prostitution must also end. A change in the way our society views commercial sex is needed for the demand that drives both prostitution and sex trafficking to decrease. As more and more people begin to understand the connections between prostitution and sex trafficking, they will be better able to advocate for women’s rights and equality, and to aid in the movement to end commercial sexual exploitation.

[1] O’Connor, Maria. Healy, Grainne. The Links Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Briefing Handbook. 2006. <>.

[2] United States Department of State. 2002. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2002: Trafficking in Persons Report. Washington, D.C.: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, United States Department of State; and Arlacchi, Pino. 2000. “Against All the Godfathers: The Revolt of the Decent People.” The World Against Crime, Special Issue of the Giornale di Sicilia: 7

[3] U.S. Department of State, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report, July 2004. 23.<>.

Christie Arnold is a UNC senior and international studies major. She is a human trafficking intern at the Carolina Women’s Center.

Cargo film screening: A fundraiser for the Carolina Women’s Center

Cargo womanMonday, October 24
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main Street
Carrboro, NC

Speakers: Dr. Donna Bickford, director of the Carolina Women’s Center, and a welcome from state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird

6-6:45 p.m. – Registration
7-8:30 p.m. – Welcome from Sen. Kinnaird and Cargo film screening
8:30-9 p.m. – Q&A with Dr. Donna Bickford and networking

Every day millions of human beings are bought, sold, and traded. Many of them end up in America, invisible to the public. Women and children make up 70% of those trafficked into the United States for sexual slavery. Cargo: Innocence Lost tells their stories with interviews with the nation’s top officials, two victims trafficked into Texas through Mexico, and a harrowing narrative that tells the story of a young Eastern European girl trafficked into San Francisco to work in a brothel. Award-winning director Michael Cory Davis presents a thorough and heart-wrenching look at slavery in America.

As a state, North Carolina is particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Come and learn more about the global and local resonances of human trafficking.

RSVP on Facebook!

This screening is free. Donations will be accepted at the event–the CWC has lost more than 60% of its funding in the past three years. Checks may be made payable to the Carolina Women’s Center.

This event is sponsored by 1000 Cranes, LLC as part of 1000 Cranes Week, Oct. 24-30, 2011.

Mathematics, politics, and equity

Rochelle Gutierrez © 2011 by María DeGuzmán

Who would expect a talk on teaching mathematics to invoke Gloria Anzaldúa, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler?  Not me!  But that is what I was fortunate to experience at a talk given by Rochelle Gutiérrez on Monday, October 3, 2011.

The talk, entitled Cultivando Nepantler@s: Rethinking the Knowledge Needed to Teach Mathematics, dealt with the ways math is conceptualized and taught and how our limited understandings of math perpetuate inequality and discrimination.  Gutiérrez, instead, talked of teaching math as a subversive activity, of challenging the status quo and creating an environment of equity and inclusivity where all students can be visible and supported.

Gutiérrez problematized some very basic societal assumptions – we see math as something done in the head, something that only deals with symbols, rather than recognizing it as a social activity.  We are immersed in cultural understandings that being able to “do” math equates to a higher degree of intelligence and that those of us who “aren’t good at” math are inferior somehow.  We believe that if you use symbols, that’s math.  If you use your body, that’s not.  And yet, Gutiérrez points out, making baskets involves pattern recognition, symmetry, measurement – all mathematical concepts.  Why is that activity, as just one example, excluded from conventional knowledge about mathematics?  Who gets to police the language around what counts as math and how “we” are going to count it?

Different kinds of knowledges are necessary to teach math:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, knowledge about students and their communities, and political knowledge.  Political knowledge, in particular, is made invisible.  Everything about teaching is political – from curricular decisions to classroom practices to the location and population of schools.  We must recognize this.  The question becomes:  whose politics are being accepted or followed?  Some of these tensions are being played out in current discussions in Wake County about which students are placed in Algebra 1 classes and which aren’t.  Test scores matter but, in addition, the “professional judgment” of teachers seems to be functioning in a racialized, gatekeeping way.

In some schools, Gutiérrez observed, a number of strategies are being implemented to engage marginalized youth in math.  These include developing professional learning communities, improving and enhancing mathematical knowledge in teachers, and practicing culturally competent/relevant pedagogies.  There is nothing inherently wrong with these efforts, Gutiérrez asserts, except that they are often enacted in unhelpful ways.  For example, when teachers say “I want to empower students,” on whose definitions of empowerment are they relying?  Too often what this means, Gutiérrez says, is teaching them how to succeed in the current system, a definition she wants to challenge.  And, I would add, I don’t think you can empower another person.  You can only help provide the tools and create an environment wherein they can empower themselves.

Other problems exist.  Most of the available research focuses on elementary schools, not secondary schools.  The ways in which we choose to measure and describe the achievement gap are socially constructed and impacted by the structural racism in our society and the ways it operates.  True equity is more than just access to a rigorous curriculum.  We must recognize that teaching is a negotiated process which includes not only teachers and students, but families, colleagues, administrators and (I would add) legislators.

Gutiérrez demonstrates a profound recognition that one cannot be successful by rejecting the system.  We have to teach students how to play the game AND how to change the game, she says.  We can’t ignore the societal and systematic expectations that are currently constructed and reinforced, but we can work to change them.  And – even beyond the politics of social justice and equity – Gutiérrez insists – we have to rediscover how to play through mathematics.

Should you be a teacher of math or a teacher of students?  Yes.


Note:  This lecture was part of the UNC Latina/o Cultures Speakers Series.



If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Sara Laschever, author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide," spoke at UNC on Thursday, Sept. 22.

On Thursday, September 22, the Association of Women Faculty and Professionals hosted a visit from Sara Laschever, who presented a talk entitled “Ask for it! Women and the Power of Negotiation.”   This talk was cosponsored by the Association of Professional Women in Medicine, the Carolina Women’s Center, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and the Center for Faculty Excellence.

What I particularly appreciate about the work of Laschever and her co-author Linda Babcock is that in addition to acknowledging that many women are uncomfortable negotiating and that we need to improve our skills at negotiation, they recognize that women who are negotiating are often perceived very differently than men who negotiate, and often more negatively.  I agree that we must understand the need to ask for what we want/deserve, but it’s not enough just to teach negotiating techniques and ideas without a sense of the context and consequences.  Babcock and Laschever address this issue in their books.

Laschever’s talk was lively, interesting, and at times very funny.  She began by demonstrating the consequences of not negotiating at the beginning of our careers.  Small differences in starting salaries, even if the percentage of raises and rates of return on savings are identical, have huge consequences.  This gendered accumulation of advantage has significant implications for financial stability and prosperity for women.

Laschever noted that women don’t ask as often as men, although we demonstrate great negotiating skills when we’re advocating for other people – our kids, our students, our employees, etc.  The result of studies done by Linda Babcock consistently show that men ask for things for themselves – on their own behalf – FOUR TIMES as often as women.  They ask, not just for money, but for new assignments and projects, important committee assignments, promotions, and more.  Women, Laschever asserted, tend to think that if we do a great job and work hard, we’ll be recognized and rewarded appropriately.  The culture of the workplace just doesn’t work that way, which means that women need to initiate conversations about what they want in the same ways that men do.

Some quick tips from Laschever:

  • Don’t accept the status quo; assume that everything is negotiable or on the table.
  • Identify what you want now and figure out what it will take for you to get it – do you need specific experience or extra credentials before you make the ask?
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities and collect as many mentors as you can.
  • Ask for more than you want, so you have room to negotiate.
  • Combat anxiety by role-playing prior to the negotiation meeting.

Laschever noted that women base their ideas of their potential on what they have done; men base theirs on what they think they can do.  Let’s change our paradigms and practices so we get what we need, what we want, and what we deserve!

Watch for more details about the talk – and more pictures — in our Fall Newsletter!