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Faculty members discuss research focusing on women of color

Several faculty members are engaged in research and other work that sheds new light on the experiences of women of color in a variety of cultures.

U-M Profs. Lilia Cortina, Janet Hart and Wang Zheng, along with scholar in residence and University of Colorado at Boulder Prof. Haiping Yan, recently discussed these issues during a panel discussion about "Global and Cultural Issues for Women: Research By and About Women of Color." The Women of Color in the Academy Project (WOCAP) of the Center for the Education of Women (CEW) sponsored the event.

Cortina—assistant professor in the Psychology and Women's Studies departments, and an assistant professor and assistant research scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG)has conducted a survey of nearly 500 Latinas working in southern California. The surveys addressed a range of issues, including sexual harassment experiences, characteristics of the respondents' workplaces, and occupational and psychological well-being.

The surveys asked such questions as whether men in the women's workplaces referred to them with pet names or insulting names based on their gender and ethnicity, or made comments about Latina women being "hot-blooded" or "loose." It also asked if men made sexual glances, remarks or overtures.

She found that Latinas experiencing more severe sexual harassment reported lower job satisfaction, greater depression and anxiety, more turnover intentions, and greater absenteeism, tardiness and other behaviors.

"Being harassed was more stressful and upsetting for these women when the behaviors were frequent, intense and perpetrated by a harasser who had considerable power over the women's jobs. It was also worse when the woman was more acculturated to mainstream Anglo society," Cortina said. "Latinas appraised harassment as more severe when they worked in organizations if they perceived management to tolerate or permit sexual harassment, and in organizations where racial harassment was also pervasive."

Hart, associate professor of anthropology, talked about her work on women partisans in the Greek Resistance movement against Nazi occupation and her current project on the Parisian Black middle class.

During her study of Greek women, she traded on her "otherness" as an African American woman whose antecedents struggled over civil rights in the 1960s "to gain access and a quasi familiarity with my informants," she said.

In her current work, she wants to conduct an ethnographic study of Parisians originating primarily from the Antilles islands, the Caribbean overseas territories or Departments d'Outre Mer.

"Because of their unique position among immigrants of color in the French context, I am focusing on the Antillais and am intrigued by the many possible narratives of citizenship, class, race, belonging, identity and consciousness, to name a few, that I might hear," she said.

Wang, associate professor of women's studies and associate research scientist at the IRWG, discussed the emergence of Chinese feminists as "a critical force negotiating social, political and intellectual spaces." She talked about the emergence of women's studies in China and the observation that Chinese women activists have been able to make gender a legitimate category in public discourse.

The establishment of a joint graduate program in women's studies in Chinaa collaboration that includes faculty from U-Mwas inspired by feminist practices in the West, she said.

"Global feminism involves diversified and innovative local practices," she said. "Although establishing women's studies is not seen by the authority [in China] as a subversive action at this point, there are still a lot of serious barriers."

The obstacles include: an academy that is male-dominated and "paralyzed by political pressures and corrupt lures of state power and the market"; limited resources for training; and the fact that the West remains the site of knowledge production, she said.

Yan, professor of drama and performance s tudies in the Department of Theatre and Dance and the Ph.D. Program of Comparative Literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder, presented a paper taken from her current book project about "transnational performance and intellectual praxis."

Yan, also a scholar-in-residence at the Center for World Performance Studies at the International Institute, discussed the urgent need for women from different geopolitical locations and with different sociocultural histories to make transnational coalitions in what she referred to as the rapidly unfolding and crisis-ridden era of globalization. She also spoke of the need to reframe some of the questions central to the theoretical debates on modern politics of visibility and disappearance.

Through a comparative reading of major works by Ama Ata Aidoo and Caryl Churchill, Yan set up a critical encounter between a much-ignored Ghanaian woman playwright and an English woman playwright who has been embraced in Euro-American feminist drama and theater studies. She focused on their distinct stagings of female figures moving across the intertwined modern world histories, thereby bringing forth invisible and uncanny resonations in those otherwise seperate movements.

She said scholars and intellectuals who work in transnational and crosscultural contexts must find new ways to come to terms with the epistemological, pedagogical, political and ethical implications of today's globally manufactured scenes of visibility and disappearance.

WOCAP grew out of discussions with U-M women of color faculty, who were seeking extended, focused attention to issues pertaining to faculty and students who are women of color.

The main charges of WOCAP are: to highlight the contributions that women of color make to the University community and to society at large, both academically and culturally; and to build a network of women of color faculty that serves as a support system for their research undertakings, academic career development and enhanced career satisfaction, thus supporting their retention.

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