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Carleton’s Fem Film Fest: Celebrating diversity in cinema

By Meral Jamal

From Oct. 16-20, the Womyn’s Centre at Carleton University in collaboration with the Carleton University Students’ Association hosted its first Fem Film Fest.

The daily lineup of movies was based on categories such as queer and trans women in film, women of colour in film, women in action and women in comedy. The movies consisted of classics and fan favourites such as Mean Girls and Clueless, but also more recent ones such as Hidden Figures, He Named Me Malala and Margarita with a Straw. Harar Hall, the organizer for the event, said that “Movies are a really great way of connecting people with ideas that they may have never encountered before in a very entertaining way. Beyond that, I think that it’s important to celebrate the talents of women and feminists as they break down barriers in representation and ideology.”

The four-day event also had a “Fem(me) Talk” in its schedule. It began with an introduction by  two Carleton students – who identified themselves as Ellie and Danielle – and took place in the cozy purple office of the Womyn’s Centre. The talk took a New York Times article called “Look Who’s Still Talking the Most in Movies: White Men” as its starting point, which was based on  research recently conducted by the University of Southern California. Analyzing the scripts of 1,000 popular films, this research found that 4900 out of 7000 characters were men, while only a little more than 2,000 characters were women. In addition, men were involved in over twice as many on-screen dialogues as women – 37,000 to 15,000.

Other topics highlighted  in the Fem(me) Talk included the representation of people of colour in films and the lack of representation of people with disabilities. Why are Middle Eastern characters consistently typecast as terrorists or taxi drivers? Why are Asian characters always shopkeepers? Why are Black women depicted as “angry”? Why are Black men portrayed as thugs or thieves? And why are people with disabilities regularly victimized? Most importantly, why are the roles of different people with different stories still being written by cisgender, white men? And why is much of the film industry still owned by them?

The talk ended on a positive and hopeful note. Attendees were asked to share what their hopes are for the future of women in film. Reflecting the diverse audience, responses ranged from wanting to see more women cast as villains, more butch lesbians, and more women shown to be inherently strong and not just survivors and victims, to seeing people with disabilities as leading characters and not simply victims or confined to living in hospitals.

The Fem Film Fest made an explicit effort to make sure their own offerings were diverse and accessible. “We partnered with both the Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre, and the Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Hall to show the movies from queer and trans women and women of colour,” Hall explained. “But we’ve also made sure to use venues that are accessible and consistently have folks that are trained in peer support on hand.”

Hall believes that this kind of diversity represents a bright future for film. “In many ways representation is improving; more female directors are being recognized for their brilliance, there are more women being highlighted in comedy. Genres that have historically been terrible to women like horror have started putting [different] spins on the ideas of female fragility.”

Even the revelation of multiple sexual assault allegations against famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein represent a certain kind of progress – while also showing how far we have to go. Hall explained, “the reaction to Weinstein is a lot better than the reaction to Woody Allen, but it took years of film companies and others in the industry covering for Weinstein before his crimes came to light. We can’t allow perpetrators to continue to have influence and receive accolades at the expense of survivors’ health, safety and well-being. The movies that these men make should not be more important than the lives they have harmed.”

The four days of fem film ended on a positive note, popcorn, and two hours of Mean Girls.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2017).

Students Demand Runte Address Carleton’s Rape Culture

By Espoir Manirambona

A Carleton University Senate meeting on March 18 was unfolding in the usual dry administrative manner.

A disproportionately white and male crowd of suited professors and students listened as the university dictated its plan to celebrate Carleton’s 75th anniversary.

One could almost hear the snores until a handful of students marched into the room. A beautifully diverse group of young leaders came with determination and banners reading “Prevention Mechanisms,” “Community Oversight” and “Universal Policy” demanding with their silent presence that Carleton’s administration address rape culture on campus.

After being ignored for several minutes, a senator asked President Roseann Runte to do the right thing and acknowledge the presence of the students, which she did reluctantly.

One of the students, Lauren Montgomery, doctoral student and Women’s Caucus Chair of CUPE 4600, eloquently spoke about how student activists have been asking the university administration for a survivor-centred policy that recognizes rape culture.

Runte responded by saying the university is developing a policy regarding sexual assault but admitted that she is not up to date on how the process is unfolding.

In recent months, the Carleton administration has organized a series of meetings and consultations around the process of creating a sexual assault policy that Carleton is now mandated to implement following a new law passed by the provincial government.

Montgomery and other stakeholders involved in the consultation process feel that they have been disrespected during the meetings and that their feedback has thus far not been incorporated, although they are hopeful that this will change.

“They are refusing to implement what we are asking them for,” Montgomery told the Leveller. “They do not acknowledge rape culture.”

Students have been demanding a universal policy that applies to workers as well as students, a strategy that focuses on prevention and independent community oversight.

“The university purports to be doing their best and they’re not,” said Montgomery. “[Runte] doesn’t know who the stakeholders are or what their demands are.”

Carleton is known as a rape campus, according to Montgomery, and the administration’s response to high profile incidents over the years has been “appalling.”

“If administrators really cared, they would put this [policy] at the top of their list,” she said.

According to Carleton University Equity Services, 15-25 per cent of female students will experience some form of sexual violence throughout their academic career. Incidences of sexual assaults on campuses across North America have been more frequently reported in recent years.

The following consultation meeting is scheduled for March 23. Once the policy has been developed, it will be up to the board of governors to adopt it, the same body that has refused to hold open meetings and is largely unaccountable to students.

Montgomery says students need to keep pushing for the demands of the Carleton community to be implemented by the university administration.

“While it was a silent protest of respect for the processes of the Senate, the silence also represents something many survivors face in their difficulties of navigating the systems around sexual assault.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 8 No. 6 (March 2016).

Carleton’s BOG Cements Gag Order in Proposed Bylaw Changes: GSA continues to challenge Carleton and defend muzzled prof

By Leveller Staff

The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) at Carleton University is accusing its board of governors of doubling down on a gag order on board members, according to a statement released on March 16.

The statement was in response to the board revealing its proposed bylaws on March 14 and rejecting 10 of the 12 recommendations submitted by six campus organizations that would, “make the board more accountable and representative of the university community.”

“What is most troubling is that the board has rejected our proposal to allow and encourage board members to freely communicate with the Carleton community about non-confidential board business,” GSA President Michael Bueckert told the Leveller via email.

“This undermines the ability of both elected and non-elected representatives to engage with the community, gather feedback and even explain the consequences of the board’s decisions.”

Controversy enshrouded Carleton’s board of governors after it recently imposed a code of conduct on members in what was viewed as an attempt to muzzle biology professor Root Gorelick after he blogged about board meetings.

“The proposed bylaws are horrendous and embarrassing,” said Gorelick in an email to the Leveller. “If passed, they will certainly damage the reputation of the university, making Carleton’s governance one of the most repressive in the country.”

At least two board members along with Carleton’s administration maintain that Gorelick and others do not have the right to publicly discuss board business.

University spokesperson Steven Reid quoted a passage from the Supreme Court of Canada in the Ottawa Citizen on March 18 describing the duty of board members to “serve the corporation selflessly, honestly, and loyally.”

“While possibly an accurate description of fiduciary duty, Mr. Reid seems to have used the terms ‘selflessly’, ‘honestly’, and ‘loyally’ out of context,” Gorelick told the Leveller.

“My loyalty is to Carleton University, not to its president nor (the) chair of its board…My honesty means committing no lies of omission, which would otherwise be imposed by the draconian new gag order. My selflessness means putting my job on the line for defending academic freedom and trying to improve the university by being willing to voice even a modicum of dissent.”

Gorelick refused to sign the code of conduct and his future on the board remains uncertain.

The GSA further accused the board of governors of solidifying its power by assuming full control and oversight over student elections of board representatives.

“The GSA believes that these elections should be held by the student unions that represent students, without any interference from the university,” according to the statement.

“This ensures that elections are fair, transparent, and subject to the bylaws established by students themselves.”

Gorelick agrees with the GSA’s assertion that the board has doubled down on the gag order and its negative implications for student representation.

“The new ‘Code of Conduct’ was draconian, while the proposed new bylaws aim to codify those draconian rules within a misguided constitutional framework,” he said.

“Not only will governors be required to sign that gag order, students running for open seats on the Board must now sign a promise that they will sign the code of conduct before officially becoming a governor. Without that promise, the university secretary will deem those students ineligible to run for an open seat.”

While the GSA is disappointed that the bylaws fail to address board membership imbalance, which is comprised of a majority of “appointed ‘community members’ vastly outnumbering the elected internal stakeholders (students, faculty, and staff),” the two accepted proposals will modestly improve campus representation.

“We are very pleased to see that the board has backed off from its previous attempts to exclude the executives of labour and student unions from being eligible to serve on the board, which means that the bylaws preserve the right of students and workers to freely elect their own representatives,” said Bueckert.

“This is a major victory for Carleton’s labour student unions, as we have been pushing against these proposals for a couple of years now.”

Carleton’s contract instructors are now also eligible to sit on the board, although they are to be elected by senators and not their peers. Postdoctoral scholars remain ineligible.

“The board has no taste for making structural changes unless the changes centralize power,” said Gorelick, “thereby rendering the board increasingly more corporate and less collegial.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 8 No. 6 (March 2016).

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