Whitman club organizes student activist-art

Liz Sieng

Photo Credit : Jacobson

When students show up at a typical Coffeehouse show, they might expect a concert featuring campus bands, an a cappella performance or perhaps even slam poetry: but usually not a political message. This is exactly what students got when they  gathered in Reid last Friday, April 9, for a night of socially- and politically-minded artistic performances.

Based on the theme “Equality is Sexy,” the event was organized by Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment, Coalition Against Homophobia, WEB and ASWC.

“My hope for this event is that people see this as a coffeehouse that steps outside the box, the possibility of this space as a venue that can be used in untraditional ways,” said junior McKenna Milici, president of FACE.

Coffeehouse, which is run by WEB, typically features visiting musical performers. However, this event was organized by several Whitman student organizations, and featured student volunteer performers and visiting poet-activist Andrea Gibson. Leading this event was FACE, whose members wanted to arrange an event based on spoken word and musical performances.

“If we said ‘Feminist Coffeehouse’ people might not be so interested in it. I’m hoping this will appeal to a broader audience because of diversity issues,” said Milici, prior to the event.

In addition to their annual V-Day production of the “Vagina Monologues” or “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer,” FACE is continuing to pursue entertainment as a way of promoting awareness.

Milici said that after advertising the event on campus, she received many responses from students willing to perform. She also said that the event would allow impromptu performances, although several students prepared beforehand and even wrote songs specifically for the occasion. Performances consisted of monologues, poetry and musical performances relating to issues of gender, politics, religion and race.

“The crowd’s great. I’m continuously surprised by the warm reception of the student body on the whole,” said sophomore Dujie Tahat, who performed his poem “Filipino-Jordanian-American.”

Sophomore Dorian Zimmerman and first-year David McGaughey explained that the Slam Poetry Club signed up after learning about the event from a member who is also involved in FACE. They said that they were excited to perform and hear each others’ material.

“You’re talking to three guys at this event. We have things to say,” said McGaughey, whose poem “Disciple” highlighted issues in Christianity.

FACE sought out Andrea Gibson as its featured performer, whose activist approach to spoken word fit the club agenda. In particular, FACE chose Gibson after hearing “Blue Blanket,” a poem arguing for rape awareness as an issue for young males. Gibson’s performance consisted of pieces highlighting queer issues, gender and politics.

Photo Credit : Jacobson

“I believe that art has two responsibilities,” said Gibson, during her performance. “One is to tell truth; the other is to create hope.”

Overall, the student performers and Gibson were  well-received by the Whitman audience. Audience members enthusiastically supported students, and at the end of her performance, Gibson received a standing ovation.

“We’d like to bring [feminism] up because it’s not on the radar,” said sophomore Ellie Newell, a member of FACE. “Though she’s talk about everything, and that’s exactly indicative of what we’re doing.”

Sophomores Meghan Bill and Carissa Wagner, also members of FACE, expressed satisfaction with the turnout of audience members and performers.

“We weren’t exactly sure how the turnout was going to be. I’m really happy that we could integrate the various talents. It brought people to the event, and it brought up a sense of Whitman community,” said Bill.

“We didn’t want somebody to hear our views, but someone who brings up feminism,” said Wagner, who described the event as a discussion on “equality” and “rights for all.”

Bill and Wagner agreed that FACE wants to expand its presence on campus. They mentioned that in the past year, the club has received negative reactions from students on their “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer” production, and people have vandalized their club posters.

“Of course the negative feedback stands out the most. Though I think the feedback is very important,” said Bill. “We’re still pretty unknown. Unfortunately, there’s still an indifference to having a feminist club on campus.”

“It’s almost like the club actually exists this year,” said Milici. “We have members that got on the same wavelength and brought a lot of energy and ideas. We felt like we had a strong enough base this semester to put events like this on, enough people with the ideas and man/womanpower to do them.”