ONEONTA, N.Y. -- There was only one question on the final exam in SUNY Oneonta Lecturer Robin Mitchell's "Manifestos, Declarations, and Statements: Introduction to Feminist Theory" class last spring. That didn't mean the test was easy, though.
"Robin assigned this at the beginning of the semester, so we knew it was coming," says sophomore Rebekah Cramer, one of Mitchell's students. "And every week she would remind us to think about it. She really pushed us."
"What do you stand for?" is what Mitchell asked her students, and she challenged them to respond in the form of manifestos of their own. The answers were so powerful that Mitchell contacted the Women's Institute for Leadership and Learning (WILL) to suggest that the manifestos be shared at an upcoming conference. In response, event organizers at WILL, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of women's rights, invited Mitchell's students to present their works at the biennial "Seneca Falls Dialogues" gathering next month.
"It's extremely rare for undergraduates to present at this conference," says Mitchell. "I'm so proud of the work that they've done. It humbles me both as a professor and as a person because they've taken a stand, and then put their works in a public forum. As educators, what more can we ask of them?"
Says Cramer, whose manifesto, "Want to Hear a Joke? Women's Rights" addresses prostitution, human trafficking, and rape, "I guess it's unheard of for undergrad students to be asked to attend this conference. But we're going."
Cramer adds that she hopes her conference presentation provokes thought among viewers. "I'd like my work to give people a reason to start thinking about what they stand for because the issues in my manifesto aren't funny. These aren't jokes. And we need to take these issues more seriously," she says.
Currently the manifestos hang in the college's Milne Library Third Floor Exhibit Space, where their show, "What Do YOU Stand For?" debuted to an applauding crowd earlier this month. Each has been paired with graphics and published in a large format. Some are more than three feet wide, and with titles like "The Anti-BITCH Manifesto" and "Society's Slaves," all of the manifestos present messages that are poignant and personal.
Mitchell, who announced the "Seneca Falls Dialogues" invitation at the opening reception of the library installation, didn't expect her students make such private works public. "When given the opportunity to post them anonymously, all of the students wanted their full names on their work." she says. "I was really surprised at how many of the students said that the
manifesto gave them the opportunity to face issues that had been with them for a long time. I am incredibly moved at their courage and privileged to have been their professor."
"What Do YOU Stand For?" will continue at the Milne Library Third Floor Exhibit Space through November 19. The exhibit is free and open to the public throughout the library's business hours. More information about the manifestos and their installation is available in the "News and Events" section on the Milne Library webpage at www.oneonta.edu/library.