RGSS ‘Feminist Night School’

The feminist night school was a virtual, three-day seminar. Graphic courtesy of the Race Gender and Sexuality Studies program

ALLIE MCKIBBEN | NEW CO-EDITOR | amckibben@butler.edu 

“If you don’t want to speak up, or you don’t want to boycott, the least that you can do is be educated and know what’s happening,” Nanichi Signore-Flores, a first-year philosophy-religious studies and anthropology double major, said. 

Signore-Flores has been involved in several social justice movements in recent years, including protesting for Black Lives Matter in 2020 and for reproductive rights when Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. Despite becoming involved in these domestic activist causes, Signore-Flores — like many others — was not aware of the violence in Palestine prior to Oct. 7. Since then, she has begun following journalists who report from the ground, writing to congressional officials and boycotting companies that fund the war in Gaza. Signore-Flores said that although she cannot know or do everything to support Palestinians, she strives to try to do the most she can. 

This is what drew Signore-Flores to the Race Gender and Sexuality Studies (RGSS) program’s feminist night school, “Feminisms at the Border: History, Solidarity and Palestine”. 

Dr. Teigha VanHester, assistant professor of RGSS, said they wanted to create an event that demystified misinformation online while also providing context to the violence in Palestine. They said they hope that students and the Indianapolis community alike will be able to sympathize with Palestinians as well as admonish their oppressors. 

“Most people who see [violence towards Palestinians] understand that it’s complicated, that the violence isn’t warranted or the level of violence or human sacrifice and genocide that’s taking place is egregious and a definite international human rights violation,” VanHester said. “We wanted to focus on something that was [timely] that people were trying to figure out as well as focusing on something that could get our students into the streets and kind of cultivating that agency that they have, but don’t maybe know how to use, in a critical way. 

VanHester said they wanted to model this event after the Black Feminist Night School that Dr. Treva B. Lindsey, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University, discussed as a guest speaker for the Visiting Black Intellectual Series in spring 2023. VanHester said she texted Dr. Charlene Fletcher, assistant professor of history and affiliate faculty of RGSS, and Dr. Mira Assaf Kafantaris, an assistant professor of English and RGSS, asking if they would be interested in creating a similar event to educate on Palestine. That same day, both scholars agreed to combine perspectives for the three-day webinar series from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, covering conversations on the active oppression of Palestinians, the importance of local organizing as well as the history of Palestine. 

The first night they invited Bayan Abusneineh, the provost fellow for the women’s, gender and sexuality studies department at Ohio State University, to talk about her homeland, Gaza. Abusneineh described Gazans as “some of the most prideful people in the world” — proud of their trade of spices and citrus, and proud of being home to many farmers and fishers. However, Abusneineh explained that Palestinians are under strict authoritarian rule and are subject to aerial bombardment by the Israeli government, which has drastically increased since October 2023. 

Nikki Foster, a junior English and RGSS double major, found Abusneineh’s night the most impactful of the three. 

“I really, really love her debriefs and how she covered a lot of territory and explained exactly what’s going on,” Foster said. “I already knew some of the information, but I definitely think it enhanced the severity of the situation for me to hear everything that [Abusneineh] said. It was even worse than I had originally thought the situation was in Palestine. It definitely changed my view.” 

Following Abusneineh, the next night was guest speaker Malkah Bird, an organizer for the Indiana chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish anti-Zionist organization that supports the liberation of Palestinian people. Bird, who is Jewish, spoke about her experience growing up with casual Zionism, and how she sought not only to become empathetic toward the Palestinian cause but also deconflate common terminologies used. She said the actions of the Israeli government are not those of the Israeli people and that not all Israelis are even Jewish. By untangling these terms, Bird emphasized that Americans may gain more understanding and empathy for the people afflicted by the violence in Gaza. 

VanHester said she sought out Bird in order to demonstrate that solidarity for Palestine should not know any religious bounds. 

“We were asked to have a perspective from you know, ‘the other side,’ when seeking approval and protections for the night school,” VanHester said. “ … I thought it was important to amplify and show gratitude for Jewish people who are still in solidarity with Palestine to kind of unearth that dichotomy that you either support Israel or you support Palestine, or you’re either Jewish or Palestinian when it’s really more of a nuanced situation than that.” 

The final night concluded the series with a slideshow presented by Fletcher about how history works with memory to represent how events of the past can be interpreted by scholars and passed to future generations. Fletcher also emphasized the importance of self-care in the field of activism, quoting Audre Lorde, saying that seizing the time to unwind “is an act of warfare” in itself. The webinar concluded with an additional Q&A and a poem reading — in English and in Arabic — from Kafantaris of “Jerusalem” by Naomi Shihab Nye. 

VanHester said she and the RGSS faculty tried to post a statement in support of the Palestinian cause on the RGSS website back in the fall, but it was denied by university administration. VanHester is hoping the statement will be discussed further in the upcoming faculty senate meetings. She believes students would become more attracted to the RGSS department by seeing the potential impact they could make by taking a stand against injustice, one of the department’s defining values. 

“There is a very valid concern that this could affect donor funding and programs that we all care about and utilize here by taking a very decisive position,” VanHester said. “However … those statements are really important to our recruitment, to living with our mission as a department.” 

Signore-Flores agreed and said she wishes that the university would show its allegiance to Palestine. 

“I know that Butler as a school, as a university wants to keep a very neutral stance,” Signore-Flores said. “But I wish that we weren’t neutral … There are Palestinians here at Butler and, to not share alliance with them when their families may be dying, it’s kind of heartbreaking.” 

Fletcher and VanHester both said they are currently discussing the possibility of another night school in the future with RGSS staff. 

“It’s activism — amplifying voices, taking space,” VanHester said. “To promote these things is really important … It gives us a sense of legitimacy to be content experts … to disperse this information in a way that’s not alphabetic or written text. Everybody who hosted night school is a woman of color, so we all come from oral traditions rather than written traditions. Being able to speak that truth and provide context, narrative and counter-narratives is how our activism takes shape most of the time.” 


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