Engaging in important conversations

The Grand Valley State University Women’s Commission is hosting a new event called “Conscious Conversations – Race & Gender in Orange is the New Black” at noon today in Room 1104 in the Kirkhof Center. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff, and participants are encouraged to bring a lunch.

Kristen Evans, GVSU housing interim assignments and occupancy manager, said the Women’s Commission executive board met during the summer to discuss ways to be more active in the community rather than only sponsoring events and award ceremonies.

“The commission is looking to increase awareness and communication around issues pertinent to women,” Evans said. “We hope to increase overall participation in the commission and ultimately return the commission to its former role as a source of advocacy for women on campus.”

Evans said attendance at the Women’s Commission meetings is normally low, but attendance is high at their events. Conscious Conversations is a monthly series that emerged as a solution to these problems.

“The invitation to discuss a particular topic is more inviting than attending a meeting,” she said. “An individual can come just once and never again, or they can participate every month. The topics are, we hope, of a compelling nature that will peak the interest of many individuals across campus.”

She added that these events will raise awareness about the topics to people even if they do not attend the conversation. The Women’s Commission will do this through email reminders, which will include links to videos or articles related to the topic of the next Conscious Conversation.

Amanda Grant, a GVSU senior and executive board member of Out ‘N’ About, said she cannot attend the event, but she watches “Orange is the New Black.” Grant said she thinks one of the most interesting elements of the Netflix show is its direct confrontation of real issues, such as sexual assault, racism, relationships and the abuse of authority.

“I feel that it has done wonders in terms of representation for women, people of color and LGBT folk, especially those whose identities encompass more than one of those traits,” she said. “’Orange is the New Black’ shows us a lot more about women than most mainstream media that would rather have them as props for male fantasies.”

Overall, Grant approves of the show because it brings racially and sexually diverse women with different life experiences together into the prison system and into the homes of countless viewers.

“Diversity is one of the most critical components of a liberal education,” Grant said. “Shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’ can make it more accessible for people, especially younger people, to start conversations about social issues because it gives realistic examples of how people’s privileges, or lack thereof, can affect their lives.”

For future seasons of the show, Grant said she hopes they acknowledge the main character’s bisexuality and include even more diversity in the racial, ethnic and sexual groups represented.

For more information about the GVSU Women’s Commission, visit www.gvsu.edu/wcommission/.

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