Global-feminisms major Tiffany Hwang ’11 delves into long-hidden stories
by Anisah Hashmi ’11
May 4, 2011
Through the process of digging up the stories of marginalized women, Hwang made a great discovery, she says. “I came to Dickinson in the pursuit of knowledge, and I ended up finding myself in the midst of feminist theory, hidden histories, at the intersectionalities of oppression and within my own experiences.”
When Tiffany Hwang ’11 took a class in women’s & gender studies the spring of her sophomore year, she fell in love. “I felt for the first time that I was learning my history,” she says. “It was the moment I had been waiting for since the first day I stepped foot on campus.”
The summer between her first and second year, Hwang had traveled to mainland China and resolved to return her junior year. But faced with the dilemma of juggling a double major in international studies and women’s & gender studies, her dream of studying abroad seemed impossible.
“In a moment of frustration, I looked at [Assistant Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies] Stephanie Gilmore and asked, ‘Can’t I just make up my own major?’ She said, ‘Well, actually, you can.’ ”
So Hwang began designing a major in global feminisms under the direction of four mentors: Gilmore; Susannah Bartlow, director of the Women’s Center; Paula Lima-Jones, director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives; and Brenda Bretz, assistant provost for curriculum. “As part of my proposal, I needed to create an entirely new curriculum,” Hwang explains.
Due to the global focus of her major, she was able to use the foundational international-studies courses she had taken, including Micro and Macro Economics, International Relations and American Foreign Policy. She also took courses from disciplines as varied as Africana studies, American studies and sociology. And she was able to return to China her junior year.
With global feminisms, Hwang examines women’s experiences in transnational contexts and how their multiple experiences of oppression intersect. More specifically, she focuses on the concept of Third World women as an “imagined community” that supersedes national borders. Her interest in these issues stems from her Chinese identity and family history, what she describes as a “legacy of feminism.”
“Due to unforeseen circumstances my great-grandmother raised five children by herself in mainland China and watched her family separated by civil war and political strife,” Hwang explains. “My grandmother at 18 years old found herself married and living in Taiwan, separated by everything she had known and forced to start a new life. And my mother raised me as a single mother after my parents came to the United States. I’m a first-generation American-born citizen.”
Personal and political
It was the feminist writers introduced to her during her first women’s & gender studies course, like Audre Lorde and Andrea Smith, who gave her the language to articulate her own experiences and the lens through which to view them. “I was like, I know this, I feel this, but I never had the words to express it. It was just very powerful,” Hwang says.
Hwang is now using her own life and the multiple disciplines in her one-of-a-kind major to write her thesis, “Becoming Feminist and Mau Mau in Kenya,” which explores the pivotal role of women in the country’s revolutionary movement and Western development.
She also applies what she has learned in the classroom to her everyday life, uniting theory with practice. Last fall, Hwang trained to be a rape advocate at the YWCA for Cumberland and Perry counties. Once a month, she is on call with the center’s rape-crisis hotline.
“This has been a way for me to see what we learned in class manifested in people’s lived experiences,” she says. “For me, coming to college was really about learning how to think critically and be able to develop my own epistemology. That is the true value of a liberal-arts education.”