Transformative Justice Workshop Resources

On Friday, February 27th, BCRW Research Assistants and Ejeris Dixon (Founding Director of Vision Change Win Consulting) will facilitate “Transformative Justice Approaches to Sexual Violence on Campus and Beyond”, a workshop at the 40th Annual Scholar & Feminist Conference on education. We (BCRW Research Assistants) have compiled a resources guide to concepts that will be explored at the workshop with the hopes of extending knowledge and continuing conversations around these very important issues.

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand,

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand,

Alternative vs. Restorative vs. Transformative

I have become familiar with the terms “transformative justice”, “restorative justice”, and “alternative justice” since the beginning of my time at Barnard, in the sense that these terms are buzzwords on the current student social justice scene. However, these terms are frequently used interchangeably, and until recently I did not have a deeper understanding of their differences. Generally, alternative justice refers to justice practices that take place outside of the criminal justice system, and restorative justice seeks to repair harm through accountability practices rather than punishment. Transformative justice takes restorative justice one step further by aiming to not only respond to individual acts of violence, but also to transform communities so that structures that enable and perpetuate violence are eradicated. Transformative justice envisions communities in which responses to violence are not solely reactionary but also preventative. It is also important to acknowledge that transformative justice draws upon generations of work carried out by women of color and queer activists.

Carceral Feminism and Transformative Justice

Feminist activists and organizers initially theorized a framework of transformative justice in response to the state’s inability to stop sexual violence. White feminists have traditionally turned to the state to combat sexual violence and abuse through legislation to reform the criminal justice system (e.g. rape shield laws) and to increase police power (e.g. the Violence Against Women Act). This approach to sexual violence, labeled “carceral feminism”, does not recognize or criticize the role of the state in enacting violence and enforcing oppression. For instance, women of color who have turned to the police to escape domestic violence have in turn been brutalized by the same police officers that were supposed to help them. Clearly, we must look beyond the possibility of state justice in order to create communities in which all forms of violence would be unthinkable.

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NYC to Ferguson: A Reflection

Last Tuesday night, thousands of protestors filled Union Square and marched throughout New York City, shouting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace!” in response to the Michael Brown verdict. The day before, history was repeated as the grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri failed to indict Darren Wilson, and yet another white officer was set free after killing an innocent black teenager.

The protest began on the northwest corner of Union Square, as a crowd of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds held up signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Indict Darren Wilson.” Even before the march began, I witnessed the first of our obstacles: conservative news network reporters. One journalist stood in the middle of the crowd shouting at two black protestors for refusing to answer his questions. One of the demonstrators responded, “This is not about you. You are not getting shot at. When you start getting shot at, call me. Now please leave. Get out of here.”

Photo by Priyanka Bhatt

Protestors gather in Union Square. Photo by Priyanka Bhatt.

The group of over 3,000 protestors marched around Union Square, on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, through Times Square, and across the Manhattan Bridge. One section of the group also walked through Lincoln Tunnel. A police barricade was set up at Williamsburg Bridge, where NYPD refused to let protestors cross. A group of white protestors responded by trying to break down the barriers and asked people to help them. Several people of color were arrested as the police officers at the barricade became aggressive, leading most of the demonstrators to turn around in the opposite direction. For most of the journey, NYPD officers played games on their phones as they walked by us, groaning and rolling their eyes as if we were children they were forced to baby sit. Many joked and pointed their fingers, attempting to reduce our movement against racial injustice and hate crimes to a laughing matter.

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Remembering Leslie Feinberg

I remember first encountering an article by Leslie Feinberg in Workers World where zie wrote about the legacy of queer and/or trans activists of color who participated in left, black power, queer, trans liberation, and AIDS activist movements. It was in this article that I learned about Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a Japanese American AIDS activist who was born in an internment camp and became radicalized during the Civil Rights revolution, and Ortez Alderson, a black queer radical with roots in an anti-war activism, the gay liberation front and also an ACT UP Chicago and NYC member. I deeply appreciated how Leslie documented and preserved this history of resistance, which is so often obscured by dominant narratives that treat black and queer freedom struggle as separate at best and antagonistic at worst. For Leslie Feinberg, struggles against racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, trans misogyny, police violence, and racism were united and inextricable from one another. In hir 2007 speech at a meeting of hosted Palestinian queer organization ASWAT in Ramallah, Leslie pointed to these connections: “the imperialists—the U.S. to Israelis—use the experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war.” Leslie dedicated the proceeds from sales of the Hebrew edition of Stone Butch Blues to ASWAT.

Leslie’s nonfiction work Transgender Warriors, traces trans identities throughout history. Leslie’s writing for Workers World on queer and/or trans of color organizing, trans history, and interviews with Sylvia Rivera worked against historical erasure and disavowal. Hir writing for Workers World highlighted queer and/or trans of color left activism from the 1960s and 70s, figures such as Kiyoshi Kuromiya and Ortez Alderson, and moments of convergence such as the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Convention in 1970s which Sylvia Rivera, Afeni Shakur, and Huey P. Newton attended. Leslie understood that opening up genealogies of queer and trans of color resilience and resistance can counter historical erasure and invisibility. Leslie often marched with and was also arrested with Sylvia Rivera during direct actions. In Transgender Warriors, Leslie describes being at a Palestine solidarity rally in the early 1970s and seeing signs protesting the massacre at Attica prison as well as the Vietnam war: “One banner particularly haunted me: it read ‘Stop the War Against Black America,’ which made me realize it wasn’t just distant wars that needed opposing.” Leslie saw the connection between domestic racialized warfare in America and U.S. warfare abroad.

Towards the end of hir life, Leslie worked in solidarity with CeCe McDonald, writing and visiting her in prion and getting arrested in protest of the white supremacist, anti-queer, and anti-trans violence she faced as well as of the violence of the state’s incarceration of McDonald. Arguing that zie’s Jewish, trans, working class, and lesbian identities as well as white privilege demanded that zie speak out against oppression and violences, Leslie stated “CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she’s sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime…As a white, working-class, Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary I will not be silent as this injustice continues!” Feinberg dedicated the 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues to CeCe McDonald and made a call for supporters to send in photos of solidarity, to create an archive and multimedia show of support to free CeCe, all our siblings, and ourselves.

Che Gossett is the Community Archivist and Student Coordinator at BCRW. They have also written about Leslie and hir lifetime’s work here.

Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

On October 7, 2014, Professor Tina Campt gave the annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. Professor Campt was introduced by BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen and publicly welcomed as the new BCRW Co-Director. Emma Schuster, a Barnard senior and BCRW Research Assistant, reflects on the lecture below.

“What does it mean for a Black feminist to think about, consider, or concede to the concept of futurity?” This was the question that framed Professor Campt’s talk, “Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity.” She urged the audience to consider the future not just in terms of hope, but in terms of tense, focusing on the grammar of the “future real conditional” tense, that is, “that that which will have had to happen.” What is central to this Black feminist grammar that she proposes is the idea of “living the future now,” or imagining what must be and embodying that idea in the present. Also central to the concept of futurity for Professor Campt is looking and listening for futurity not just in large, vocal political or revolutionary movements, but in less obvious places as well.

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Home Is Where the Heart Cannot Be: The Oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

How does it feel to be a stranger in your own home? To be told that you don’t belong in the place you grew up? Activist and law student Altagracia Jean Joseph addressed these questions in her lecture “How Does It Feel to Be Stateless,” hosted by BCRW on October 1. Altagracia, of Haitian descent, was born in Batey Esperanza, a “company town” in the Dominican Republic constructed to keep Haitian workers close to the sugar plantations where they worked. She, along with other Dominicans of Haitian descent, must deal with the consequences of TC168/13, passed in September 2013. The law permanently annulled the citizenship of children born to “undocumented parents” going back to as far as 1929. Clearly aimed at Haitians in the Dominican Republic, who have historically been looked down upon by Dominicans as inferior, the law invalidates the identity of people of Haitian descent who were raised in the Dominican Republic and consider themselves Dominicans.

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Altagracia described how even before the passing of TC168/13, sympathy towards the Haitians in the Dominican Republic was nonexistent. She recalled the difficulty she faced in obtaining a copy of her birth certificate; her request was constantly denied. She was told she could not get a copy of the birth certificate because her “last name was weird,” a “ridiculous excuse.” After the first time she was denied her birth certificate, Altagracia cried for three days. Then she made a decision: “I knew I had to do something.” She contacted people, went to the press, and organized other Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been denied—they began to hold public demonstrations, in order to protest their treatment as second-class citizens (or for many, not as citizens at all). In these demonstrations, she said, the use of dance and drums show how “we are Dominicans and we have rights.” Unfortunately, it may take a while for these protests to make an impact. The government has gone so far as to overlook its own constitution in favor of persecuting those of Haitian descent. Altagracia mentioned a provision in the constitution that views those born before 2010 as citizens. Yet, with the passing of TC168/13, it is evident that the government is more interested in pursuing their agenda than in upholding past legislation.

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Welcome Che Gossett: BCRW’s Community Archivist and Student Coordinator

BCRW is excited to welcome Che Gossett to our staff as Community Archivist and Student Coordinator. Che is a Black genderqueer independent scholar and activist who works to excavate queer of color AIDS activist and trans archives. They hold an MA in history from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in education from Brown. They have received a research grant from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University for their project on legacies of queer Black solidarity with Palestinian struggle, have been selected as a Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar with the New York Public Library, and recently received the Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies from the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at the City University of New York.

Che Gossett

As Community Archivist and Student Coordinator, Che will help BCRW digitize our ephemera collection, which is currently archived in the BCRW Library. They will help develop a plan to make the materials accessible to a wider audience. In addition to working on the archive, Che will also be working with our student research assistants to engage them in activism and research at BCRW.

Welcoming our new Associate Director, Tami Navarro

BCRW would like welcome Tami Navarro as our Associate Director. Tami holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University and is also a proud graduate of Wesleyan University (’03). She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands, which engages with a local program (the Economic Development Commission, or EDC) to explore the ways that neoliberal initiatives are often built upon existing inequalities, particularly those related to gender and race. This project is based on 16 months of fieldwork Tami conducted in the US Virgin Islands, a time during which she worked closely in the newly-formed banking sector with a number of local women and one billionaire who was later convicted of using the EDC program to run a multi-million dollar fraud.


Before joining BCRW, Tami worked at the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, a direct-service organization co-founded by Audre Lorde, an experience that solidified her commitment to feminist organizing. Just before coming to Barnard, Tami was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) at Columbia University where she shared her work on contemporary development policies in the Caribbean in a talk entitled “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” as part of IRWGS’s Embodiments of Science series. In this talk, she outlines the features and gendered effects of neoliberal policies in the Anglophone Caribbean.

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Justice in the City: For the Public Good Conference

At this year’s For the Public Good Conference, which took place at Barnard College in April, participants in the morning panel on “Exploring the Public Good in New York City” addressed a range of issues from LGBTQ youth rights to gentrification. The panel provided a rare space in which activists, advocates, and academics alike came together to speak about inequality in New York City—a subject that affects each panelist in different ways but one which they were all able to address in this unique setting. Individuals on the panel included John Blasco and Nico Fonseca of FIERCE; Ede Fox, active in local politics and president of the Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform; Robert Hawkins of the NYU Silver School of Social Work; and Amanda Geller of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

The panelists first responded to a question posed by moderator Gail Cooper, who asked what the public good signifies for the City today. Blasco and Fonseca addressed the issue of LGBTQ youth of color leadership and pointed out that New York will not be a safe space if there are no safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. Many LGBTQ youth—particularly those who lack familial support—face difficulties in finding affordable housing and securing employment that pays a living wage. In addition, issues such as homelessness, policing, the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in public schools and parks, and the lack of documented history and awareness of LGBTQ history in New York—including the historic gathering space at the Christopher Street Pier—contribute to the displacement and marginalization of LGBTQ youth. Fonseca stated, “in order to survive we have to continue moving because every space we have claimed as ours has been taken, and that sucks so much.” LGBTQ youth activists are attempting to reclaim the Pier and reverse its status as a sundown town (there is even a curfew in place now).

Others commented on the need to invest resources into the city as a whole, and to provide people with greater access to such resources. In addition, panelists remarked that public officials including the police should protect people rather than act as oppressors. This point relates to the panel’s subsequent discussion on gentrification, a phenomenon that most speakers agreed is akin to the migration of blacks to the North that occurred during Jim Crow segregation.

Gentrification, occurring in neighborhoods throughout the city, pushes people to the margins around growing wealth in the communities in which they once lived. “Gentrification looks a lot like takeover,” one panelist poignantly said. Professor Hawkins referred to his research and his analysis of US Census data that showed that although New York’s population has decreased overall in the last 20 years, it has suddenly increased in the last two years. This is directly linked to one consequence of gentrification, which includes the departure of the middle class from gentrified neighborhoods, a phenomenon, he stressed, that only exacerbates poverty in those areas. Fox noted that the areas in the City where affordable housing is needed most are also the most heavily policed places. This, in turn, establishes a dynamic between community members and law enforcement or public officials that is devoid of trust.

For the full conversation, see the video above.

Emilie is a senior studying sociology at Barnard College and a research assistant at the BCRW.


Women’s History Month Lecture: Joan Wallach Scott

BCRW’s annual Women’s History Month Lecture this year featured renowned historian Joan Wallach Scott. However, as she herself admitted, Scott is often considered to be a political philosopher; more “traditional” historians (read: old university men), as she put it, categorize her as such with the intention of criticizing her and perhaps de-legitimizing her approach to history. As a feminist studies student and enamored attendee of her lecture, I’d grant her the label out of admiration for her work in women’s histories and her use of gender as a productive lens for historical analysis. Her lecture was as dense in information as any history lecture I’d ever attended–I don’t think I stopped taking notes at any point while she spoke, but Scott’s approach to history is one of self-conscious (hyper?)criticism. By this I mean she is not only critical of the more traditional historical narratives (in her 1986 article “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” she established a methodological framework for using gender theories in historical analysis, opening up a space for alternative narratives) but also of feminist studies and feminist narratives, particularly when “feminism is produced as a kind of politics.”

Much of her lecture asked us to examine and critically interrogate feminist politics and assumptions. For example, the assumption that secularism and feminism are inevitably aligned due to their mutual “progressiveness.” She questions the notion that secularism is the necessary “common sense” prerequisite for a proliferation of feminist thought and feminist policies, when historically secular ideologies and policies have been working against moves made toward equality and inclusiveness. In the sections of her lecture that really had an impact on me, she urged us to question these increasingly “awkward alignments” between feminism and “narrow strands” of liberal secularists’ ideology; take, for example, the Democratic party’s re-branding as the “political party fighting the war on women.” This assumed solidarity between “secular” and “feminist,” Scott warned, stifles the radical activism or progressiveness of feminist groups as they struggle to maintain their coalitions with established “liberal” and “progressive” institutions.

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Reflections on the BCRW, a Truly Feminist Space

At the end of two years at the BCRW as a research assistant, I am sad to leave such an incredible organization. As I reflect on my time here, I’ve realized that what has been the most exciting and formative part of working at the BCRW has been having the experience to work in a truly feminist space. The BCRW is a feminist space not just because of its initiatives and events, or the way feminism informs every discussion, formal and informal, in 101 Barnard Hall. To me, the BCRW enacts feminism most profoundly in the way it fosters a place where every voice is valued, heard, and appreciated. 

I have always remembered that during one of my first days working at the BCRW, my hours happened to overlap with the weekly staff meeting. I was immediately invited to join the discussion, and my opinion was sought at every turn and by every member of the team, despite what a new addition I was. More than this, I was impressed by how quickly other research assistants jumped in to offer their own opinion, confident of how genuinely their voice was valued. New to the research assistant position, and hesitant in my own contributions, this meeting was a first and powerful indication of how deeply the BCRW cultivates a rare and special feminist work environment, a commitment to horizontal organization, and leadership that nurtures rather than demands.  


Adair at the Scholar & Feminist Conference 2014, with past BCRW Research Assistant Shilpa Guha ’12

This has only continued and deepened during my time at the BCRW. My projects have almost always been ones that, first and foremost, support my own edification. My first responsibility was to archive ephemeral materials from the women’s movement. I was excited as I discovered a magazine from the 1970s describing a female sexuality discussion group like the one I was part of on campus. Were the questions and struggles discussed then really so similar to those that I planned our curriculum around at Barnard now? 

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