Freedom of speech: Feminist lit club fosters open discussions


Freshman Kyra Samuda attends a recent Feminist Reading Group meeting. Pitt's Feminist Reading Group meets every other Thursday to discuss trending topics and literature concerning feminism. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Meghan Bray / Staff Writer

Not all advocacy groups make a difference by causing a stir.

For the past two years, members of the Feminist Theory Reading Group have built a community by meeting every other Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Cathedral of Learning in room 402E to discuss classic and contemporary literature concerning feminist theory. Each meeting explores a separate text, with titles ranging from “Violence Against Women on College Campuses” to “The Dark Side of the Virtual World: Towards a Digital Sexual Ethics.”

Every year the group chooses a different subject matter or literature topic, such as this year’s theme of “campus sexual assault” to guide and shape their readings.

According to Pitt English professor and the club’s founder, William Scott, the club allows its members to discuss their thoughts and feelings on that week’s assigned article or excerpt openly without fear of discomfort or disapproval of other students. 

“The classroom is a different situation,” said Scott , “because some are okay [discussing feminism openly] and others, for whatever reason, feel threatened or don’t understand. Not everyone is on the same page, while everyone in the group for the most part is.” 

Scott said the reading group was born out of a “lack of discussion about feminism at Pitt.” The group, which is open to anyone in the community, aims to facilitate gender equality and feminist discussions on campus. 

Kyra Samuda, an undeclared freshman that frequents group meetings, said the general public stigmatizes the term “feminism” less today, but she sometimes is still “afraid of reactions because of the negative connotation [to being labeled a feminist].”

Through discussion and support, and the club attempts to dispel this negativity.

“I don’t think [feminism] should be [socially stigmatized],” Scott said, “[but] unfortunately that is sometimes the way that it is.”

Samuda found out about the group through Pitt Campus Women’s Organization, a student feminist group. The reading group sends out emails to academic departments and hangs posters around campus, but sometimes meetings host as few as three members. 

“There’s no way to know who’s going to be there,” Scott said. “It all depends on people’s individual schedules. We’ve met with as few as two people and as many as 15.”

Last year, the group read specific authors like Julia Kristeva, bell hooks and Luce Irigaray, which brought new themes to every meeting. This year, the club adopted sexual assault as its lone topic, reading and discussing its presence in contemporary society. 

At one September meeting, the group discussed the implications of the term “feminazi,” which conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh coined in his 1992 book “The Way Things Ought to Be.” In an excerpt, he wrote, “I prefer to call the most obnoxious feminists what they really are: feminazis.”

In its corps, members are a variety of different majors, undergraduate students, graduate students and even non-students from the greater Pittsburgh community.   

One of the regular non-student members, Sandie Turner, is a former Carlow professor of organized leadership, adult learning, organizational politics and communication. Like the term feminism for many people, “feminazi” provokes a strong reaction. 

“So many terms carry so much baggage — that includes feminism. It’s hard when that comes up, like why, or how, do I explain? How far back do I go? It’s a courageous and hard thing to do.”

Turner is a volunteer at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and a founding member of the Sexual Assault Help Center in Wheeling, West Virginia, where she is from.   

As part of this year’s theme, the group also discusses Pitt’s campus resources for dealing with sexual assault — like RAVE, Raise Awareness, Victim Empowerment; Take Back the Night, an annual event meant to bring sexual assault awareness to campus; and how administrators and fellow classmates can help assault victims.

Scott said there isn’t one singular reason for choosing the topic, but the documentary film “The Hunting Ground” had caught their attention because it “takes a powerful look at sexual assault on college campuses today.”

Echoing the reading group’s initiative and community, Turner said he personally selects people and reading materials from a feminist perspective.

“It’s just sensibility. And don’t take for granted that the woman’s perspective is being taught and discussed,” Turner said.

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