Black Trans Lives Matter

Cece McDonald

“Don’t ever feel like what someone else says you are trumps who you are” – Cece McDonald.

On Tuesday, March 17, I had the opportunity to attend Cece McDonald’s presentation “Black Trans Lives Matter” in the Harriet Johnson Auditorium. Cece McDonald is a black trans woman and social activist from Minneapolis, MN. She came into the public eye after an incident in June 2012 where she was a victim of a violent hate crime while walking to the grocery store with some of her friends. She was verbally and physically abused and, while defending herself, ended up killing her attacker.

She accepted a plea bargain of 41 months for second-degree manslaughter. Even though she is a trans woman, she was housed in male prisons against her gender identity. This attracted the attention of many advocate groups and individuals, including actress and activist Laverne Cox who is currently producing a documentary called “Free Cece.” Today, Cece works towards education and equality for all people.

Cece discussed a plethora of information in her presentation, from the very real issue of violence towards women to the issues with the prison industrial complex and the goals of the prison abolition movement. One of the biggest things that stuck out to me from the discussions was the quote that acts as the title to this post. “Don’t ever feel like what someone says you are, trumps who you are.” I think that this is such a powerful message. Absolutely no one can tell you who you are other than yourself. You define your truth and no one has the right to change that. As Cece said, “You’re here. You’re existing. And you can’t let anyone take that away from you [even though] they will try.”

To share everything I learned would result in a blog post that kept scrolling forever, so I will share what I believe to be the main points that really stuck out to me:

  • There is a lack of people actually getting involved. Many people want to say that they are allies to the LGBT– specifically trans– community, but they don’t actually do anything. To be an ally means to be actively fighting for equality. You can’t just throw the “ally” label on yourself to seem progressive.
  • Violence towards women is a serious issue. Physical, verbal and sexual violence all occur in greater numbers against women, and this includes trans* women. This fact is something people often forget when they are fighting against this violence.
  • Racism exists in every community. This includes the LGBTQIA community. Too often people have the idea that because they are a marginalized group that they cannot be oppressive of other marginalized groups, and quite frankly that is an idiotic notion. Failure to recognize this will result in no real change.
  • The community of people of color isn’t just black people. To ignore all the other communities of color creates a divide, which will only make the struggle towards equality harder.
  • GET INVOLVED. In the words of CeCe McDonald: “If you claim to be an ally, be a true ally. If you stand in solidarity, stand with us longer and stronger.” Enough said.
  • We need to take a critical look at the prison industry. The prison ideal was built upon inequality, and it is too corrupt and broken to be fixed. It needs to be abolished and evaluated.
  • You exist as a whole and not as parts of yourself. “People either see me as Black or as Trans, and people never really see me as both…I am a Trans Woman of Color and I can’t separate those things.” – Cece McDonald.

Inequality, racism, transphobia and marginalization: these are all very real realities and it is our job as communities of people to work towards eradicating these ideals. Cece noted, “I’m always seen as the angry black woman and you know what? I have the right to be angry.” We all do. We shouldn’t be bystanders in this struggle. We all need to get angry and use that anger to work towards true equality for everyone in all aspects of who they are. Just because I’m am able-bodied cisgender white man doesn’t mean I can’t fight for the rights of my fellow people who don’t receive the privileges I do from being of that status. We all need to work together to make sure that people can go about their lives being true to themselves and not receive any discrimination for doing so.

–Garrett Bowling

The MBLGTA College Conference and A New Normal

logo for the 2015 Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference

MLBCTACC is a mouthful of an acronym, but it is also a life changing experience!

I’ve done a lot in my journey toward being the best social justice activist I can be and I strive to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of their identity. This past weekend, this journey took me once again with Full Spectrum: Winona State University’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance as we ventured to Normal, Illinois for yet another year at The Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC).

This year, the conference was titled “Narrating a New Normal.” Throughout the weekend attendees went to a variety of workshops, keynote speakers and networking events to expand their knowledge, professional circles and viewpoints on many issues surrounding the LGBTQIA community from intersectionalities (referring to social categorizations such as race, class, and gender that overlap for an individual or group and can lead to interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage) to acceptance in the dominant culture. There was also a discussion about how to navigate the workplace as a LGBTQIA person or as someone who stands in solidarity with the LGBTQIA community. If you are interested in learning more about the LGBTQIA community and their issues, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual is an excellent resource that is fun and engaging without being preachy.

The weekend started on Friday evening with a welcome and keynote speaker who was none other than Laverne Cox, a black transgender woman, whom you probably recognize from her role on the Netflix Original series, Orange is the New Black. She spoke about her experiences growing up and how they shaped the women she is today. Being able to see a person who continues to inspire me so much in my work speak was a life-changing experience.

Other speakers I got to see throughout the weekend included the self-identified “deliciously disabled” Andrew Morrison-Gurza, a Disability Awareness Consultant who works to highlight the lived experiences of people with disabilities to show that it is a universal experience that we should all embrace, and J Mase III, a black/trans/queer spoken word poet and educator, as well as many other people who work toward improving the world for all people no matter their differences. Each brought something to the conference and lent their expertise and stories to help those of us in attendance better understand intersectionality and the lives that are different from our own.

Trying to summarize everything I learned this past weekend is near impossible. So I’ve decided to pull together some of the main points:

  • You can’t talk about one marginalized group without talking about the others. Intersectionalities are important to address, because only together do they give you a picture of a person’s identity and therefore a picture of the lived experiences of those individuals.
  • To those who like to refer to themselves as “allies” – know that you can’t just be present at the protest. “Ally” isn’t a label you hang around yourself; it’s a verb, as in “I am being an ally”. Being an ally means actually working towards equality for all people, and it’s is something that you have to constantly be doing as you stand in solidarity with minority groups.
  • Education is the key to change – and we should always be open to that education.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes. As social justice advocates, we aren’t always going to know everything and we are definitely going to make mistakes. The way to deal with those mistakes is to be open to being corrected!

These points merely scratch the surface of what my second MBLGTACC taught me and the experiences and memories it left me with. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible it feels to learn so much and be surrounded by people who genuinely want the world to be a better place. Imagine if everyone took the time to get active and take a stance against structural and social inequalities in our society – the positive impact it would have would be absolutely incredible.

If you would like to hear more about my experiences at MBLGTACC or get involved with Full Spectrum, please contact me! My email is

–Garrett Bowling

Become a PACTivist and Make a Difference

a flyer saying "You can make a difference"

Whether you want to be a PACTivist, a peer advocate or a peer educator, you can make a huge difference in preventing gender-based violence.

Have you ever had a time when you’re really pumped to talk about something, but no one even knows what you’re talking about? For you, it might be your favorite TV show or a good book you’ve just read. For me, my current passion is the RE Initiative. It appears that despite having a successful PSA on WSU’s homepage, as well as a very well thought out and informative blog post on gender-based violence, few students know about the RE Initiative.

At least, this was is the feeling I get because I recently started working for the RE Initiative and every time I told someone about my “totally new and exciting” job, they would simply ask “What is the RE Initiative?” And I guess that is the million dollar question–but I am tired of answering it. So I’m taking the opportunity of exposure that the Internet provides to briefly inform you about what the RE Initiative is, why you should care and how you can get involved.

Overall, the RE Initiative has high hopes of achieving an array of goals by the end of this second semester, but for the sake of time I’ll sum up the organization’s objectives into four major points:

  1. Reduce the amount of gender-based violence and help its victims
  2. Educate the campus on consent and GBV
  3. Create a safe community where people help one another
  4. Certify as many people as possible as active bystanders

No one can argue against protecting people from physical and sexual violence. Helping and respecting others is simply the right thing to do. Not only do you personally benefit from a safer campus environment, but so do all your friends and the people in your classes, and your professors and other WSU staff members.

With such noble and ambitious cause, the RE Initiative needs lots of help to reach out to the entire campus, and this is where you come in. You can make a huge difference in cutting down the number of gender-based violence occurrences on campus for as much or as little commitment as you like. I decided to really devote my time so I am going through training and a semester long course to become a certified peer educator and peer advocate. If you’re really interested in getting involved with GBV prevention, you should apply for a part-time position over at Warrior Jobs.

Even if you don’t have the room in your schedule to be fully trained advocate, or just want something with a little less commitment, you can still help in a really important way. By just attending a two and a half hour training session you can become a certified PACTivist. PACT stands for Prevent, Act, Challenge and Teach, and represents the core steps to ending gender-based violence. The training is fun and engaging, but also intense. The peer educators are incredibly talented. They challenge you to look at a bigger picture and appreciate what it is you have while realizing how big of a difference you can make. This is done through a variety of participation activities. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that these activities are serious and humbling. By the end of the training you’ll not only be glad you attended, but you’ll also want to go out and change the world with your new-found knowledge and insight.

PACTivist training sessions will be held every Tuesday at 6pm throughout February. The exact location is still being determined, and will be announced at a later date. I know that two and a half hours may seem like a lot, especially on a week night, but stopping gender-based violence is crucial and this is how it starts. With one person. Every day women and men of every race, age and sexuality are suffering themselves or from the larger effects of gender-based violence. The harder we work at creating a healthy and safe community, the better chance we have of really helping those in need.

I hope after reading this you consider popping into a PACTivist training session. The world needs more people to step in and help one another, why not be one yourself?

–Hannah Carmack


Ending Gender Based Violence: It's on You, It's on Me, It's on Us

GBV RE Initiative logo

Join the RE Initiative in changing campus culture to end GBV

One in every five women will experience gender-based violence (GBV) while in college. This statistic is seen in every university across the country including Winona State University. But the good news is that instead of sweeping this problem under the rug, we’ve chosen to expose GBV at Winona State. Exposure of GBV is necessary for creating change and transforming our campus culture into one of mutual respect and compassion for people of all genders is something to be proud of.

As compellingly stated in the recent “It’s On Us” campaign, it takes the support of everyone to make a movement sustainable. From our president Dr. Scott Olson all the way down to our incoming undergraduate freshman, we are working towards a cohesive movement of exposing and eliminating GBV at WSU. We’ve also had unwavering support and guidance through a grant provided by the US Department of Justice. This grant has enabled us to not only employ faculty, but also gives students the opportunity to make meaningful changes through student-help positions at the RE Initiative.

Now, you might be asking, “How can I help?” This is a question we love to hear at the RE Initiative. RE stand for recognizing equality since most acts of GBV occur because of the perceived inequalities between genders. The RE Initiative program seeks to spread awareness about GBV to all sorts of audiences on campus as well as training people–mostly students–to become active bystanders both on campus and within the Winona community.

A bystander is an individual who witnesses emergencies, criminal events or situations that could lead to a negative outcome, and by their presence may have the opportunity to provide assistance, do nothing or contribute to the negative behavior. When we use the term active bystander, we are referring to a person who makes a positive contribution to the situation. Active bystanders can help in many ways, from correcting someone who is using offensive language to physically stepping in to protect someone who needs help.

By delivering peer-to-peer PACTivism trainings, we are creating and fostering a new culture here at Winona State University aimed at ending acts of GBV. PACT stands for Prevent, Act, Challenge and Teach, and these trainings focus on teaching people how to become active bystanders in situations that could lead to acts of GBV. There are currently three versions of PACT training:

  • the 50 minute “Don’t Cancel That Class Training”
  • the 2.5 hour training
  • the 5.5 hour training

Currently 11 students are trained to give the PACT trainings, and about 2,000 WSU students have been to a PACT training, including people in athletics, the TKE and Sigma Tau Gamma fraternities, Tri Sigma Sorority, WSU Security, Residence Life, and numerous other groups. Of these students, around 280 became certified PACTivists. Bystander intervention is key to our peer education efforts because it works. By taking a wider community approach rather than targeting individuals as potential victims or perpetrators, the RE Initiative is creating a more effective and cohesive stance against GBV.

In addition to wanting to protect students, WSU needs the RE Initiative to comply with Title IX and The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE). Title IX was passed in 1972 and was originally formed to prohibit sex discrimination on college campuses. It was the campus SaVE Act, signed by President Obama in March of 2013, which brought about the mandated reporting of GBV by college campuses. The campus SaVE Act requires that any incident of GBV be disclosed in an annual campus crime report. One way the Re Initiative here at Winona State University complies with the Campus SaVE act is by providing information on our schools reporting system & disciplinary proceedings. This information can be attained by contacting the RE Initiative through the confidential helpline 507.457.5610.

Through the implementation of the RE Initiative, WSU has taken many steps toward making our campus a safer place for everyone while also addressing and complying with federal mandates of addressing GBV. We hope to eliminate the disturbing statistic of 1 in 5 women experiencing GBV in their young adult lives. Combating GBV is not an issue to be tackled by a small group of individuals. it takes us as an entire community to make the positive change we need.

Are YOU ready to take on that responsibility to end GBV?

–MaryAnn Brannerman-Thompson, Michael Krug and Andrea White

Be an Active Bystander

As a final project in a Women and Gender Studies 150: Insights and Implications, we decided to make public service announcements about gender-based violence (GBV). There are similar projects directed towards this cause through the White House website. We wanted to add our voice to the cause because of the immense problem sexual harassment has become on college campuses. Everyone in our class has gone through Active Bystander Intervention Training, or PACT training, and believe it can make a huge impact on college campuses in preventing sexual assault.

The three public services announcements we created include persuasive information and steps the general population can take to prevent sexual assault. We wanted to change the mindsets of our current students and challenge them to break the silence against sexual assault by being active bystanders.

The first PSA, created by Natalie Volavka, features national statistics and statistics from Winona State University. While 1 in 5 college aged women are sexually assaulted nationally, only one person at Winona State University has reported being sexually assaulted. This shows just how few survivors choose to report their sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the GBV Confidential Hotline at 507.457.5610 for help and support.

The second and third PSAs, created by Logan Wescott and Emily Brandt, focus on the small changes individuals can make that produce a world of a change. The third PSA does this from a male’s perspective and depicts how important males are in this movement in becoming active bystanders.

Step up, and stand actively against sexual assault at Winona State University.

–Emily Brandt, Natalie Volavka and Logan Wescott

Traipsing Through Tinder

This blog post contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

the Tinder app on a smartphone

To swipe right or left? That is the question.

We have this friend, who for blogging purposes, we will call Betsy. Betsy is, quite frankly, a connoisseur of online dating. Now, we know what you are thinking, “Online Dating – isn’t that for weird dudes who smell vaguely of cheese and are obsessed with cartoon ponies?” That’s where you, dear reader, are wrong. Online dating has this stigma attached to it that it doesn’t necessarily deserve. Online dating can be fun for just about anyone. As long as respect and consent are involved, you can’t go wrong.

Anyway, back to Betsy. Betsy was well versed in the ways of web-based romance well before Tinder even entered the realm of online dating. Still, when her friends suggested the dating app, she was hesitant. Tinder was different from any dating site she had ever tried before. Tinder is an app for smartphones that is heavily image based with thousands of profiles at your fingertips. In seconds, you decide whether or not you’d like to get to know the user based purely on their profile picture. Sure, you can read their profile, but many users don’t.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Tinder, this article is a quick read that sums it up pretty well.)

Feeling brave, Betsy decided to go for it anyway. At first it was awesome, she met some great people, had some good conversations and generally felt respected. Then she met Fred. Fred spent weeks wooing her. Under the impression that he was a kind, funny person she agreed to meet him. Boy, was she wrong! The date was awkward, tense and genuinely unpleasant. Wait – it gets worse. Fred decided to tweet about Betsy’s body after the date. He wrote, “Never trust a girl who only posts pictures of her face on Tinder.” He later added, “Secret internet fatties are the worst.” No Fred, you are the worst.

When Betsy looked different than Fred had envisioned, the way he treated her drastically changed. He went from nice to nasty in seconds. Although we believe that the way a woman looks should in no way be correlated with the way people treat her, it got our group in WAGS class thinking. We wondered exactly how much the way a woman presents herself online could influence the type of message she receives, even before meeting that individual.

With inspiration from this blog, our group set out to determine how a woman’s identity influences her experience with online dating, especially on Tinder. We made three different profiles based on three different types of women –a goth, a mainstream student and a party girl–to see how other users in the Winona area would respond. My group kept each profile up for four days and swiped yes to every user in order to collect responses from all walks of life.

In the next post, we’ll tell you what we learned about being a mainstream student on Tinder.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Mainstream Student

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

a mainstream female college student

“Hello I’m Sam. I’m a nursing student at WSU. I love my friends, family, and music. Coffee is my lifeline. I spend way too much time watching Netflix. Shoot me a message if you’re looking for new people to talk to!”

With a combination of common characteristics among our friends, our group created the “mainstream” college persona. We chose pictures of our friend, Andie Mattei, where she had minimal makeup and plain, casual clothing. The responses weren’t all that surprising. In exchange for a little of the “mainstream” profile’s time, many users offered up Netflix marathons and cuddling. The “mainstream” tinder profile received 116 messages. Of those messages, 3 were strange, but harmless:

Mainstream Weird Reply 1    a strange but harmless Tinder messagea strange but harmless Tinder message

11 of the messages were either explicit in nature or could be classified as obsessive:

 an obsessiveTinder message  a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder message

51 of the messages were respectful and commented on the content of the profile and not just the user’s looks. These responders took the time to read the profile and offer a friendly attempt to become acquainted with the “mainstream college student” profile:

a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder message

In the next post, see what happened when we debuted the goth lolita profile.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Goth Lolita

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

a goth girl in regalia and make-up

“I am a woman of mystery and creativity. I am a gothic Lolita with an edge of horror and whimsy. I have 20 piercings at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll add to the collection soon. I am not always serious and tend to joke around. I’m a psychology major at WSU. I love cats, vampires and all things dark. Don’t be shy; I don’t bite.”

For the gothic profile, our group based the personality entirely on Andie Mattei and asked her to write the bio because she is heavily involved with the gothic subculture. We chose pictures where she is wearing her favorite gothic dresses and traditionally gothic make up. Because of the stigma surrounding the gothic community, the “gothic lolita” profile received many messages that were more sexually charged than the messages that were received on the other profiles. It seemed as though the responders saw her more as a caricature of a person rather than a real human who deserved respect. Out of the 65 replies, 15 were disturbingly explicit and referenced “dark sex.”

a sexually explicit Tinder message    a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder message

51 of the responses were a mix of typical greetings such as “hey” and “how are you,” and some went as far as to say she seemed interesting and they wanted to get to know her better. They were courteous and didn’t limit her to just her gothic lolita dress.

a courteous Tinder message   a courteous Tinder messagea courteous Tinder message


Now, let’s see how the party girl compares in the next post.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle

Traipsing Through Tinder: Party Girl

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

two female college students dressed up to party
“Psych major at WSU. I like to drink and smoke! Looking for new people to party with!!”

We saved this profile for last. Andie didn’t have any photographs that really fit the stereotype of a “party girl,” so with her permission, we used Emily Kaluzny’s pictures. We chose images where it looks like she is out partying and wearing clothes that are more revealing. We kept the bio for this profile short and to the point as we wanted it to look like bios we saw from guys who like partying. 21 of the 224 responses were graphic in nature.

a sexually explicit Tinder message a sexually explicit Tinder messagea sexually explicit Tinder message

Although 21 of the messages were disrespectful, 203 were either simple greetings or genuine inquiries.

a respectful Tinder message a respectful Tinder messagea respectful Tinder message

Looking at the types of responses each of these profiles received from different Tinder users was enlightening in an of itself. However, we gifted with a rare chance for comparison when a few people messaged the mainstream, goth lolita and party girl over the course of a few days.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle


Traipsing Through Tinder: Comparisons & Conclusions

This blog post is a continuation of Traipsing Through Tinder and contains some explicit material that some may find triggering.

At the end of the experiment, we went through the messages each profile received and we noticed something incredibly eye opening. In more than one case, the same user sent each profile a message that was completely different than what they had sent the other profiles. Instead of being authentic and trying to get to know the person behind the profile, they catered their message to characteristics they assumed based on false stereotypes.

For example, the same user who messaged the goth profile the chat on the left, sent the mainstream profile the chat on the right three days later:

a sexually explicit Tinder message   a respectful Tinder message

When we created the party girl profile, he sent her this:

a sexually explicit Tinder message

Another profile sent messages to the goth profile, the mainstream profile and the party girl profile. The three messages had very different tones:

a sexually explicit Tinder message a respectful Tinder message
a sexually explicit Tinder message

The Survey

Our group also decided to survey Winona State University students on their experiences with Tinder and had 82 responses. 80% of respondents had personally used Tinder before. When asked how their experience had been with the application, 23% reported it had been positive, 58% said it had been neutral, and 18% had a negative experience. Respondents gave several reasons for their experience ratings. Some enjoyed it for its entertainment value, some to find another person to hook up with while others had met their significant others on the app. There were also those who hadn’t had the best experience with the application but said their experience also hadn’t been awful.

The next question we asked participants was if they had ever received a message on Tinder that made them feel uncomfortable. 55% responded that they had received a message that made them uncomfortable, 41% reported that they had not received a message that made them uncomfortable and 3% reported that they were not sure. When asked how they responded to those messages, the most popular response was that they ignored the message and either unmatched or blocked the user that sent it to them. A small portion would tell their friends about it as well.

We also asked participants if their friends had received any messages that made them feel uncomfortable. 67% reported that their friends had received a message that made them uncomfortable, 8% said that their friends had not received a message like that, and 23% said that they were not sure. We asked them how their friends would respond to the messages and the responses were the same as before: ignore, block, unmatch and tell their friends about the messages they received.

Our Conclusions

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to scare you away from online dating. It can be great. What became clear to us in this experiment is that when you take away respect and consent, what you get isn’t so great. By putting people in boxes you not only deny them their humanity, you deny yourself the ability to get to know the person behind the profile. If we’re going to end sexual harassment online, it’s time we stop just blocking users who make us uncomfortable and start confronting them. First, inform them that what they did that made you feel uncomfortable or harassed. If that doesn’t work (and it might not), here are some creative ways to get your message across:

If all else fails, then you can block them. Protect yourself. Your safety matters more than their feelings.

–Samantha Atkins, Clare Arvidson and Mike McArdle