By Angel Mindanao
“In my home growing up, there were stereotypes as to how men and women should act. Feminism is about helping us learn to not think like that.”
— Lehman chemistry professor Grant Akalonu
On Wednesday, Aug. 30, the Intersectional Feminist Club (IFC) made its first appearance at Lehman’s annual Fall Semester Kick-Off!, hosted by the Office of Community Engagement. Pink pins and stickers from Planned Parenthood were laid out on its table as President Rebecca Bialostozky, Vice President Amna Azeem, and Secretary Gabriella Walrath reached out to recruit students. By the end of the event, the first feminist club at Lehman had acquired over two pages of signatures---including that of the author of this article.
The club is overdue considering that as of the 2016-2017 school year, female students comprised 69 percent of Lehman’s population, according to Forbes. Bialostozky, a senior and biochemistry major who transferred to Lehman after deciding to pursue the pre-medical track, said, “I was surprised to learn that Lehman student life was very active, but there was no feminist club.” This lack prompted Bialostozky to start the IFC. She was first inspired in March 2016 after attending the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in the District of Columbia, which was sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Everyone needs feminism,” she said, noting that intersectionality, or the overlapping of social categorizations, “should encompass all social justice because in almost every group, women are oppressed. When we see it from a feminist standpoint, we can really see the intersectionality.”
Walrath, a junior and computer generated imaging major, originally joined as a logo designer. When asked to serve as secretary, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to express her passion for promoting feminism. She has identified as a feminist since age 16, she said, when she was catcalled by a group of men. “Women shouldn't be seen as pieces of meat for men's sexual gratification. We are their equals and deserve to have our bodies respected.”
Grant Akalonu, who is an adjunct professor of chemistry at Lehman, hopes to help out as the club’s unofficial faculty advisor. Although he has not experienced the same forms of discrimination the female members of the club have, he wants to support the club as much as possible. He said, “Whenever the club needs a male perspective, I’m always around to give it.” Akalonu was moved after watching “The Mask You Live In,” a documentary about patriarchy and how it affects men and women. “Even though I’m not a woman and it is perceived as a woman’s movement,” he said, “men can benefit just as much as women from feminism. In my home growing up, there were stereotypes as to how men and women should act. Feminism is about helping us learn to not think like that.”
Both Bialostozky and Walrath also stated that they grew up in cultures where gender roles were strictly defined. They want to use their education to spread social justice awareness and create a safe space for feminists in the IFC. Open to all students, the club will meet twice a month and host several events including movie screenings, TED Talks and monthly discussions. “Acknowledgement is the first, and often most difficult step, to combating sexism,” said Bialostozky. “I encourage students at Lehman to become aware of sexism and if they feel safe, speak out when they see it. Once you acknowledge feminism, you no longer have a passive role. It’s a choice.”