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Sigma Nu hosts speaker series with Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Sigma Nu is hosting a series of four speaker events in partnership with the Stanford Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) to encourage fraternity engagement with gender issues.

Sigma Nu has collaborated with Stanford's program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies to host a series of four speaker events in their fraternity house.
Sigma Nu has collaborated with Stanford’s program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies to host a series of four speaker events in their fraternity house. (Courtesy of Mana Nakagawa)

The first of the four events, titled Gender 101, took place on Tuesday night in the Sigma Nu living room. Approximately forty people attended, a mix of men and women.

According to Cecilia Lang-Ree ’17, a member of Alpha Phi sorority, many of the people in attendance were involved in Greek life.

“I think that [Sigma Nu] stepping up is really impressive, and having this discussion in the place that is literally the center of the debate is important and really impressive of them,” said Lang-ree.

“Changing the culture” of fraternities

According to Patrick Cirenza ’15, one of the event organizers  and the former president of Sigma Nu, Provost John Etchemendy met with the leaders of campus Greek organizations at the beginning of the academic year and asked them to “change the culture” of their groups.

Cirenza said that following this directive, the idea to host a gender-focused speaker series came about when the fraternity discovered that not a single member had taken a class in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

With this in mind, Sigma Nu reached out to FGSS to cosponsor the event.  The program was then organized by Cirenza, Mana Nakagawa, a Ph.D. candidate in education, and Christine Min Wotipka, professor in the Graduate School of Education and faculty director of FGSS.

Wotipka began the event by explaining the differences between sex, a biologically descriptive term, and gender, a culturally descriptive term.

Throughout the lecture, the speakers focused on similar aspects of gender and socialization, including Sociology Ph.D. candidate Alec Watts’ “BuzzFeed-style Top Three Things to Know About Masculinity.”

Annie Atura, a Ph.D. student in English minoring in FGSS, addressed cultural phenomena such as “manspreading,” or the practice of men taking up disproportionately more space than women in public spaces. This led to many of the men in the room looking down at their own sitting position, and a spread of quiet laughter throughout the room.

Other topics of the night included the lose-lose dichotomies faced by women such as prude/slut, pushover/bitch, bimbo/know-it-all and rude/tease.

Susan Fisk, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, presented statistics on the gender wage gap and underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.

Future of the program and continuous change

According to Nakagawa, the speaker events have been months in the making.

“When Sigma Nu leadership approached us, there was never any question about the fact that we wanted to do this,” Nakagawa said.

Echoing the well-known He For She campaign led by Emma Watson and the United Nations, Nakagawa says that many people at FGSS “really believe the next big thing in gender equality that needs to happen is to realize that gender equality is not just about women but about men as well.”

According to Nakagawa, from the 1970s to the 1990s many things got better for women in the labor force, statistically speaking. From the 1990s to today, however, researchers have identified stalled progress. Nakagawa says that change in women’s participation was responsible for the first burst of progress, but to get the rest of the way will require both genders’ cooperation.

FGSS and Sigma Nu leadership both saw the choice of location for the panel as an important symbol of this cooperation and effort.

“Holding it [at a fraternity house] is really important to us,” Nakagawa said. “This is a space that is usually held for parties, even associated with sexual assault. To use that space to educate about gender issues is really important to us and something we want to keep going in the future.”

The speaker series is open to the public. Speakers will examine unconscious bias on Feb. 10, gender cultures on Feb. 24 and defining manhood on March 10. Each event begins at 7 p.m.; doors will open at 6:45.

President John Hennessy and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam are among the speakers slotted for the final event of the speaker series.

In the future, Sigma Nu hopes to turn the lecture series into a one-unit class that will be held in the fraternity house.

Contact Ada Throckmorton at adastat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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