It’s Time To Love Your Body

Author: Ashley Benedict

We’ve all had those times where we look at ourselves in the mirror and don’t like what we see. We point out our own imperfections and compare ourselves to others we see as more beautiful than we are. We stare at those jeans two sizes too small and hope that one day, we will fit into them once again. We count calories and keep track of the number on the scale, celebrating whenever it falls. We stare at our stomach rolls when we sit down, thinking that maybe if we just skip one meal, perhaps they’ll disappear. We are taught to hate the body we’re in, and to aspire to meet unrealistic and idealistic images of what beauty is. I’m here to say: no. You don’t have to feel this way. Self-love is possible.

This blog post analyzes the statistics in relation to body image and eating disorders and what causes them, as well as how to combat these negative self-images.

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National Random Acts of Kindness Day

Author: Ashley Benedict

Today is National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

Though we should engage in acts of kindness 365 days a year, the reality is that most of us don’t. We don’t buy lunch for our friends, donate blood, or donate to charity every day. Today, however, is a day we can use as an excuse to show some kindness towards the people in our life (or, even better, those who aren’t). It’s always nice to be on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness, but it also feels good to be the one giving. Here are some things you can do to brighten someone’s day and show some kindness today (and every day):

1. Smile at a stranger.

This is the simplest – and perhaps most awkward – thing you can do. But hey, you never know if they’ll smile back, or if your smile will end up making their day just a little bit better.

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2. Give a genuine compliment.

Tell someone you like their shirt, or pants, or shoes. Tell your friends how great they look. Tell your coworkers how rockin’ they look every day. Shower your significant other with compliments. I know I always feel good when people compliment me. Spread the love.

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3. Offer to buy lunch for a friend

Obviously, if you’re tight on cash, don’t feel obligated to show kindness through purchases. But if you have plans with a friend today, perhaps offer to cover them, and maybe they’ll return the favor someday. Kindness is contagious. Even better, reach out to your local homeless community and buy hot meal or two. Even a small coffee would likely be appreciated.

4. Make a donation

Most organizations love and life off of donations. Check in with some local non-profits to see what kind of items they look for and often need. Here on GVSU’s campus, Replenish is a great place to start if you find yourself wanting to donate.

Replenish hours of operation: Monday through Thursday 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. and Friday 1 p.m. -3 p.m.; Kirkhof Center room 0074-lower level

Donations are accepted on site at Replenish or at the Women’s Center during open hours. Off-campus entities can request someone pick up their donations by contacting the Women’s Center at 616-331-2748 or womenctr@gvsu.edu. Donations may be in the form of perishable and non-perishable food items, gift cards to local grocery stores, or a monetary donation. Donations are tax-deductible and the donor will be provided with a receipt from University Development reflecting their contribution. Some of the items that are most popular include laundry detergent, pasta sauce, cereal, peanut butter, canned chicken/tuna, pasta, soup, granola bars, and feminine hygiene products.

5. Donate blood

If you find you have an extra few hours today, perhaps drop by a local blood bank and offer to donate blood. There is a national need for blood donations every day (every 2 seconds, actually), and knowing that you’ll be helping someone out there and potentially saving a life is as good enough a reason as any to go out and take the time to donate. Blood banks often run out of type O and B blood. Do you have one of those blood types? Your donation would be especially appreciated. Go to http://www.miblood.org/ to find some donation centers or blood drives near you. GVSU also has multiple blood drives coming up, so be sure to check those out!

6. Hold the door or elevator open for someone

For most of us, this is a common courtesy we do subconsciously every day. However, try to do it every time you open a door or ride an elevator today. Those around you will appreciate it, and it often leads to them doing the same for other people! If the person is super far away though, things may get awkward. Hold the door open at your own risk of becoming a door stop.

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7. Pay it forward.

Like previously stated, don’t feel obligated to do this if you’re tight on money. But it’s always a nice surprise to find that someone has paid for your coffee or movie, and again, it often leads to a chain of people doing the same.

8. Call a loved one

A lot of students live on campus, and may not be able to see their loved ones as often as they would like. If you’re one of those students, try to set aside some time today to call up some family members and let them know how much you care about and appreciate them. They won’t be expecting it, and I guarantee it’ll make their day to hear from you.

9. Ask if you can help

If you see someone on or off campus struggling with something, it can never hurt to ask whether or not they would like some help. Most people will probably appreciate the extended offer, and if they take it, it’ll feel nice to know that you’ve done something for another person with no external reward.

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10. Volunteer

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, if you have the time, is volunteer. Come to the Women’s Center and ask about organizations we work with, and how/when you can help. Call up some local non-profits and see when they need volunteers and the kinds of duties they complete. A lot of organizations tend to rely on volunteers, and it’s always nice for them to see people taking an interest in their work.

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The great thing about all of these ideas are that they are small things you can do any day of the year. Make a habit out of extending kindness to others and engaging in random acts of kindness. If we all tried to focus on those around us a bit more, I think our society could be a lot more empathetic and compassionate. Find more information on the website: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

What kind of random acts of kindness do you do on the daily? Which ones do you plan to do in the future? How do you feel when you do something kind for others? Or when others do something kind for you? Let us know! Submit personal stories, essays, and more to gvsufeministvoices@gmail.com.

 

Say Her Name: Kimberlé Crenshaw

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

“We are in a battle for the future.”

If you haven’t heard the name Kimberlé Crenshaw, there are two things you need to know: she coined the term Intersectionality and helped create the Critical Race Theory. This past Wednesday, January 18, Crenshaw graced Grand Valley’s campus to deliver a keynote presentation entitled, “American Democracy: Revolutionizing Our American Myths.” The central focus of this keynote was looking towards the future while examining the past. How do we move forward in this post-election America? What led to such an unexpected outcome? How has our past influenced the current situation in our country?

Crenshaw examined the effects of post-racialism and colorblindness and how these two phenomena are “perfectly consistent with white supremacy.” She emphasized to the audience how these racial tensions are not new and highlighted the history of Civil Rights and the true legacy of Martin Luther King Jr – not the glossed over version advertised to us. She explained how these phenomena have given rise to discourse of blame surrounding minority populations.  At the same time, many people use the post racial card and the idea of exceptionalism (e.g., the historical election of our first black president), to deny the fact that racial issues continue to exist within this country. Post racialism, specifically, has a particularly nasty “underbelly” that many don’t recognize:

Racial difference + Inequality + Racial Power = Individual/cultural intervention

Another point she touched on was the role of higher education in politics, and how law “really helps create race” instead of being a neutral force that stays in the middle; law backs up exclusion and helps facilitate primary power relations.Too often, the law is a catalyst in perpetuating systems of oppression; this can be problematic, since many people look to the law to fix these existing systems. In short, this means that, historically, lawmakers have passed laws that are exclusionary in nature, e.g., segregation laws. Higher education has always prided itself on being “neutral” in politics, but Crenshaw explained how, in her experience during the time where African American students were just being allowed to enter white-dominated colleges, even liberal-centered institutions refused to acknowledge the issues. She spoke about unfulfilled promises from lawmakers, and the fact that “inequalities represent unfulfilled promises.”

On a separate note, Crenshaw touched on the concept of intersectionality and what exactly this term means. She discussed the Say Her Name movement, which brings attention to the black women killed by police in our country. She discussed the fact that these women often aren’t talked about, mostly because their deaths don’t receive any media attention – not like names such as Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin. The idea of intersectionality works to explain this. Many people look at racist acts and sexist acts as separate issues; they aren’t able to identify the fact that for many African American women, these two issues are realities with which they are forced to deal with every day. She explained that you can experience both racism and sexism simultaneously – or any other -ism and -phobia. The intermingling of these ongoing issues is what Crenshaw termed as “intersectionality.”

You may be asking yourself: what? That’s a lot of complex issues to cram into an entire keynote, and it’s even harder to relay back to people as a secondhand source. To truly appreciate and understand the content that Crenshaw touched on, it’s preferable to simply do your research on her writings and listen to her speeches. I promise you, it’s worth it.

If you are interested in being more socially aware within your community, Crenshaw provided Four Commitments to the audience for those motivated to actively engage in social justice:

  1. Resist normalization
  2. Engage in local struggle
  3. Creative conflict at home
  4. Practice intersectional fusion politics

“In this age it’s safe for us to assume that time is not on our side.”

 

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Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (born 1959) is an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of the field known as critical race theory. She is a full professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, where she specializes in race and gender issues. She is known for the introduction and development of intersectional theory, the study of how overlapping or intersecting social identities, particularly minority identities, relate to systems and structures of oppression, domination, or discrimination.

Source: Wikipedia

 

 

Watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED Talk.

Check out this book on Critical Race Theory.

Crenshaw also has a handful of scholarly works!

Women’s March: What Comes Next?

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

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Yesterday was a truly phenomenal occurrence. All over the world, across countries and continents, people marched as one for a worldwide Women’s March. This march was an effort to show solidarity and unity between people of all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, religions, classes, abilities, and backgrounds. It celebrated the power of women and the role that we have had throughout history. It called to action the disparities that still exist in women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, racial rights, education, and so much more. It is the largest recorded inaugural protest in U.S. history.

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Source: Common Dreams (hyperlink attached to picture)

Yesterday made me proud to be an activist. It made me hopeful for the future. But at the same time, I have this nagging question in the back of my mind: what happens now? For most of us every day activists, the fight continues. We go on with our lives and try to make a difference through our words and actions. We try to educate and advocate. We do what we have always done. But then there are the people who attended these marches, who are unused to organized protests and every day activism. What will they do? Will they continue on in this everlasting battle? Or will they go on with their lives today as though nothing ever happened?

This question haunts me. And I do believe that if we are to truly effect change in this country – in this world – we need to see everyone who participated take a stand, not just for a day, but every day.

So what comes next?

I found this handy dandy list from this source, and I thought that they were some great ideas for those who are unsure what to do now.

  • What will you commit to doing after the marches?
  • Which organizations get funded and which ones don’t? Why?
  • When you donate, how is the money being spent?
  • Can you identify the body of work being produced?
  • What types of people are given opportunities to speak? People from that community or people OUTSIDE of that community? (I will discuss what “privilege” means in another post.)
  • How and why do certain issues become top priorities for who and why?
  • Which strategies worked and didn’t work in the past?

These are just a few questions that all activists should ask themselves. It is important that we have these conversations, not only with ourselves, but with other people as well. “Activism is not about how many panel discussions you can do. It’s about centering the stories and voices of people who are MOST affected.

After you ask yourself these questions, it’s important to focus on both REACTION and then ACTION. Allow yourself to sort through your emotions on these issues, as well as your own personal beliefs. But don’t allow yourself to remain focused on the negatives, because in the end, it will make you feel hopeless. Instead, turn your initial feelings into ACTION. Don’t simply think to yourself, “Wow, this is a horrible thing that needs to change.” If you take initiative to become an active part of your community, you can be apart of the effort to create change. Join a grassroots organization – put in the work. Use your voice to speak up against injustice. Direct the spotlight onto the people who are most affected by these oppressive institutions. And more than anything: organize.

Marching is a tool, not a goal. If you have no plan before and after the march, it will not be sustainable. It will merely just be a memory and that won’t be powerful enough to overcome ANY racist administration.

I really do hope that the massive turnout across the world yesterday will be a sign that people are ready to fight for the rights of not only themselves, but for everyone else as well. Preaching equal rights is one thing, but actively fighting for equal rights across the board is another. If we are to hope for any sort of change at all, these conversations have to continue, and so do these massive events. However, we cannot organize with no true goals in mind. Otherwise, we are filling the streets with nothing more than dreams – and dreams are fine and all, but fulfilling those dreams would taste even sweeter, I imagine.

I have learned a lot about activism in the years I’ve been an activist, and I’m still learning. I know there’s more that I could do, and that’s my own personal goal: to do more. Get more involved in my community. Research grassroots organizations and ask them what I can do to help. Use my own privilege to bolster the voices of those less privileged. Move into action.

What will you do?

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I Have A Dream

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

This coming Monday, January 16, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here on GVSU’s campus, we are taking an entire week to commemorate MLK – both his memory and legacy. The theme of the week is “Engaging and Empowering Community,” and will include social justice workshops, the annual campus lunch and silent march, two keynote presentations, and the MLK Jr. Day of Service and Solidarity. For the second time, this year’s commemoration will also include GVSU’s fourth annual Teach-In entitled Power, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues. This is a day-long event in which students and staff come together to speak about issues that are important and pertinent to social justice issues today. Some events include, “Understanding the Significance of Stereotype Threat,” “Survivor Behavior: Navigating a Culture of Blame,” “Difficult Conversations: Examining the Systemic Discrimination in the US Criminal Justice System,” “Power, Privilege, and Allyship in the LGBTQIA+ Community,” and so many more.

I feel rather lucky to go to a university where these kinds of events even exist. I feel even luckier that the faculty across campus are so willing to engage in these difficult conversations with their students.

Martin Luther King Jr. spent his life working towards justice and peace. He dreamed of a world where it doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is (or, presumably, any other factor that you can be discriminated against for), but the content of your character. I think that including events that bring awareness to the still-existing social injustices that occur within our society is the first step to reaching true equality for all. In order to accept and be accepted, we must first educate ourselves and others. It is our job to finish what he started all those years ago.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream. I dream that one day, we will move beyond the imaginary lines that divide us and we will work together towards a better tomorrow. Let us not keep this as a pipedream. Let us make this our reality.

I highly recommend attending at least one of these events. You may find that your worldview changes – or, if you’re already aware of these issues, you may just learn something about the world you hadn’t known before.

 

To learn more about GVSU’s MLK Commemoration Week, click here.

For more information on GVSU’s annual Teach-In, click here.

A New Year, A New Era

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

2017. 

A year that we all put so much hope into, so much faith in the future. And for some of us, we may still have that hope; for others, all hope may seem lost. For those who feel downhearted, or afraid, or angry, I give you one piece of advice: use these emotions to drive you forward. Push yourself to keep fighting, to keep raising your voice against injustice, because now is when we need it more than ever.

An era is ending. An era filled with progress, unity, and above all, hope.

A new era is beginning. One where the future remains uncertain, where the scales are being tipped, where tensions are rising across the nation. Nobody likes change. For some, this change is seen positively, and for others, it’s devastating. But one thing remains certain: we must all stick together. We have spent the past 8 years getting comfortable, knowing that POTUS had our backs when it came to situations of injustice. Now, our futures are uncertain. Will the marriage equality act be rescinded? Will abortion be made illegal? What is the fate of our Muslim brothers and sisters? Our immigrant families? How will the election of an accused sexual predator affect the already existing rape culture in our country?

These questions are but a few that entered my mind after the election, and continue to as the inauguration inches closer. Uncertainty is, above all else, absolutely terrifying to me. However, I do believe that some good can come from this. We have the ability to salvage at least a small amount of positivity from an otherwise unsavory situation.

For the next 4 years, I advise us all to work four times faster, to speak up four times louder, and to fight back four times harder. What is the point of being an activist if you don’t persevere under the most extreme of circumstances? Injustice is injustice, and we must pull ourselves together to push back against it.

Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I suggest we all make resolutions for this New Era. We will not be intimidated. We will not be disheartened. We will not be silenced.

Think about it.