By Christine Burke and Emily Parisi
Niagara University has seen a lot of change over the past few years; from the Black Lives Matter protest to the recent Muslim Student Alliance rally. There are several people behind such movements, but they often go unrecognized. Dr. Hope Russell of the Women’s Studies department is one of these leaders, dedicated to making the campus a better place for all.
By now, most people are aware of the surge of social justice movements that began in the 1990s and has reached a peak with the rise of third-wave feminism in the last few years. However, many are still unaware of what feminism and other social movements actually are.
“Feminism is the belief in, as well as the theory and practice of, equality for women and girls,” Russell, said. “To me, feminism is not solely a set of beliefs or theories. It is also a way of thinking, moving and existing in the world that is consistent with those beliefs and theories.”
An adjunct professor of the interdisciplinary women’s studies minor, Russell said that the objective of the minor is to “raise students’ awareness of sexism, racism, homophobia” and to “provide solutions to make social change.” She focuses her curriculum on educating people about what these social movements stand for and can accomplish, especially within the focus of how they relate to women and gender issues.
“Feminism is praxis (practice); it is a blueprint for how I live my life and teach my courses,” Russell said. “I always try to teach my courses and interact with others in ways that are consistent with my beliefs and values about respect, equality, integrity and human dignity.”
Russell, however, made sure to point out that feminism and women’s studies are not only for or about women and gender issues.
“Women’s studies is the interdisciplinary and intersectional study of women, girls, and other marginalized groups,” she explained. “It includes not only women and girls, but also people of color, religious and ethnic minorities, poor and working class people, LGBTQ+ individuals, and so forth. It’s about women, men, students, families, children, communities, societal institutions, and the environment.”
Russell has been instrumental in many different ways in enacting positive change on campus, including within her own classes.
“To be a feminist means that I live, teach and model feminist-inspired integrity and ethics on a daily basis,” she said about the courses she teaches, which include Introduction to Women’s Studies, Women and Film, Women and Music, Feminist Nonfiction, Pop Culture in America, and Gender, Race and Social Media.
She also works for the NU Beginnings (NUB) program as a Diversity Consultant, meaning she trains peer mentors and faculty on the diversity curriculum she develops for the program. She said these efforts were “designed to make positive change on campus through giving freshmen important knowledge and skills that they can use in their daily lives.”
Russell has helped plan, promote and enact campus-wide events like Take Back the Night, and the Fostering Racial and Social Justice Conference in tandem with campus groups like the NU Alliance and Feminism Today, both of which she is an advisor for. She has also participated in several panels and conferences on campus about sexual assault, gender, and race.
For students wanting to learn more about gender issues and social movements, Russell suggested attending events on campus or taking a women’s studies course.
“There’s such good stuff that happens on this campus,” she said. “Go to events like speakers, film screenings, and panels. You will learn so much about yourself and other people and make important connections that you can use later on.”
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