A Feminist Space in Which Students Became Political Analysts and Filmmakers

Women in the Political Process

In the fall of 2020, the class Women in the Political Process brought together undergraduates from various disciplines interested in analyzing women's role in the political arena in the United States. In light of the centennial of the 19th amendment and the elections to be held in the country in November, this course offered a timely space to think critically about the history of women's suffrage, the challenges that women face in popularly elected positions, and reflect on what we mean when we talk about "women's issues."

Designed and taught by Professor Jocelyn Olcott, this course encouraged students to discuss categories such as intersectionality and identity politics, think about the role of respectability politics for black womanhood, reflect on the media and the production of knowledge during election cycles, become familiar with the international struggles for parental leave legislation, learn about the feminist activism in Latin America, etc. Furthermore, this course offered the students the opportunity to discuss with an A-list of guest speakers the current state of US politics and how gender constructions inform it. Thus, students interacted with local political figures such as Jillian Johnson, Durham's Mayor Pro Tempore; feminist theorist Jennifer Nash; journalist Juliet Eilperin; and screenwriter, and TV producer Vanesa Taylor.

Simultaneously, students worked in groups and individually following specific female candidates who participated in the 2020 elections. This, with the purpose of developing a short documentary film based on their analyses and the accumulated audiovisual material as a final project. With the constant support of documentary guru MFA Lauren Henschel, students learned to edit videos professionally with Adobe Premiere Pro and developed essential skills in the formal analysis of audiovisual productions. This inspiring training led many students to discover their talents as filmmakers while leaving the instructors of this course speechless on more than one occasion for their professionalism and creativity.

 All this led the Women in the Political Process's students to create a robust digital archive with the materials they gathered about their candidates, becoming true connoisseurs of each campaign's minutiae. As a highlight, some of the students could get in touch with the candidates or their campaign staff, and even interview them for the documentary films! Among some of these figures, the students interviewed Donna Shalala (who ran for election to the House of Representatives, Florida's 27th District) and Jillian Freeland (also a candidate for the House to represent Colorado’s 5th District).

This multilayered course concluded with a successful virtual film festival in which students presented their finished documentaries to family members, faculty, and the Provost. For two hours, the public rejoiced watching eleven short films about Cori Bush, the Durham Soil and Water Commission, Natalie Murdock, the Maine Senate Race, Lori Trahan, among other fascinating documentaries that reflected the students’ talents as filmmakers and sophisticated political analysts of the role of women in the complex American political context.