Coming to Chapel: AnneMarie Kooistra

AnneMarie KooistraJoin us for Chapel this Friday, February 17 (10:15am) in Benson Great Hall, when the speaker will be none other than our own Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra! To conclude a series on “The Art of Being WITH,” AnneMarie will reflect on finding God in the darknesses of our lives.

(If you can’t be in Chapel, stop back at Bethel’s iTunes U page to listen to AnneMarie’s talk.)

MUHS 2016: Academic Freedom

The closing session of this year’s Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium featured a faculty roundtable on academic freedom. Professors Tycho de Boer, from St. Mary’s University, and David Sellnow, from Martin Luther College, also spoke. The following were my remarks:

AnneMarie speaking at MUHS 2016In October 2015, the Atlantic Monthly carried a story about the ways in which sex-harassment policies were being used to “diminish” free speech on a variety of college campuses. The article claimed that compromised free speech was due, at least in part, to pressure from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which has helped perpetuate the idea that “illegal sexual harassment extends to campus speech with any sexual content that anyone finds offensive.” Professors, consequently, have found themselves under attack to the extent that professors at Harvard are apparently “jettisoning teaching tools that make any reference to human sexuality.”

As a person who both researches and teaches in the field of sexuality and gender within American history, I found the article interesting and yet not surprising. The refrain of sexual misconduct and/or sexual scandal on college campuses is by now rather commonplace. From my vantage point, the arguments surrounding academic freedom and sexuality are minor compared to the problems confronting students in their navigation of the treacherous concept of what passes for “consent” with regard to their sexual activities. But. Here we are.

The Atlantic Monthly article noted that the harassment policy which seems to have diminished free speech has at its heart the goal of protecting students from exposure to ideas that make one uncomfortable and that such a goal is antithetical to education. It is unfortunate that even in the larger academic context, ideas surrounding sexuality and/or gender tend to be ones that are linked to creating a particularly uncomfortable situation. But it also makes me feel a little better about the peculiar context of talking about sexuality here at Bethel.

A couple of years ago, Bethel University had a conversation about a proposed gender studies minor. The pressure against the minor came not from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or from students but from a number of faculty who expressed skepticism about the minor. One colleague, for example, asked if it was possible that those working in the field really had the “academic freedom” to “work from within a framework of biblical sexuality, as Bethel understands it,” a reference, I presume, to Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together which claims that sexuality is one of God’s good gifts but states that “monogamous, heterosexual marriage” is the proper context for “sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity” and condemns pornography, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior as well as sexual harassment.

I think it is, and while I certainly strive to be transparent about my own beliefs, preferences, and feelings about sexuality, I also believe my commitment to a truly liberal arts education means that my students and I together confront ideas that make us uncomfortable. It is sometimes uncomfortable, for example, to acknowledge that in spite of Bethel’s commitment to a particular sexual ethic, Christians do not agree among themselves what “biblical sexuality” is. Views differ among individual Christians, by denomination, by culture, by time period even. Acknowledging those differences is often more uncomfortable than, for example, studying the history of homosexuality, pornography, venereal disease—all topics which we discuss in the History of Sexuality in the United States course. Studying the history of the sexual landscape of the past, knowing it too had its own pitfalls and complexity, I think makes us better equipped to enter into dialogue about how to approach the current sexual landscape—one that we share with a diverse group of people and communities, not just Christians who subscribe to Bethel’s interpretation of biblical sexuality.

I think that we do a great disservice to ourselves if we believe that silence and avoidance of uncomfortable topics or subjects will cause them to go away, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to engage in frank discussions with students about such topics. I am also grateful that the students taking my class seem to see the value of developing historical empathy for a range of views that don’t necessarily align with their own. Part of the success of the course, though, relies on what I think the original intention of the sexual harassment laws may have been, namely, to treat the people around you, with respect. Again, Bethel approaches this goal from a fundamentally different direction from the Department of Education. I doubt, for example, that the concept of imago dei appears in any of their documents, but possibly we may be trying to create what could amount to a similar learning environment which seeks to create a safe space for all people to learn together even while working through uncomfortable, even earth-shattering and heartbreaking ideas.  Because, really, as much as the world is beautiful, it is often, too often, one that breaks our hearts. And that is more than uncomfortable, it is tragic. We won’t be better at coping with tragedy, however, by pretending it doesn’t exist.

– AnneMarie Kooistra

Wednesday’s Webisode: Biography and History

After a week off for Spring Break, Past & Presence returns today with an episode dedicated to biography:

The episode’s theme shows up in several different ways:

  • Prof. Chris Gehrz hosts the episode from his hometown of Stillwater, introducing viewers to some of the formative sites in his life
  • He and Prof. Amy Poppinga discuss their favorite biographies, how such sources show up in their teaching and research, and why historians are sometimes ambivalent about the genre
  • And our final faculty interview of this season finds Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra sharing some of her intellectual autobiography

All that plus ads for HIS/POS324G Human Rights in International History (being taught this fall by political science professor Andy Bramsen) and Bethel’s graduate program in teaching. (Here’s a From AC 2nd… interview with one of our alumni who earned her master’s through that program.)

Interim and Spring Course Previews: History of Sexuality in the United States

Our series introducing four new courses concludes with AnneMarie Kooistra’s newest contribution to the American History category in our curriculum — one of the two required courses in Bethel’s new Gender Studies minor:

HIS302 History of Sexuality in the United States

What are some of the big themes or questions addressed in the course?

Theoretically, Christians and Christian institutions understand that sexuality is one of God’s many gifts to human beings. Bethel University’s own Covenant for Life Together even asserts: “We view sexuality as one of God’s good gifts.”  And yet, for a variety of reasons, Christians often seem to treat sex as a taboo topic of conversation. One of the things I’m excited about, then, in having a class devoted to the study of sexuality is the possibility of reclaiming and believing that sexuality really is one of God’s good gifts, but that it — like any other part of creation — has been marred by the fall and is in need of redemption, and that Christians have a role to play in that redemption. In other words, we can’t let just non-Christians define sexual norms and dictate the way that we understand it, even historically.

"The line at the ticket office" (1911)
Wladyslaw Benda’s 1911 drawing, “The line at the ticket office,” an illustration of the “first sexual revolution”: from “separate spheres” for women and men to a more “heterosocial” culture

Some of the big questions we’ll look at include: Just how has sexuality changed over time? What kinds of categories have evolved? What kinds of sexual norms and mores have evolved? What kinds of historical conditions led to such evolutions? What are the costs and benefits associated with some of the ways in which we understand sexuality and our bodily relationships with each other? I think, too, that an ongoing discussion will be how Christians today might do a better job talking about sexuality and issues relating to the “body” and our relationships with each other than perhaps we’ve done in the past — how do current Bethel students envision a healthy Christian approach to the topic of sexuality, for example? Are there instances when our Christian churches and communities have talked about sexuality in informative and affirmative ways? What changes might we like to see in the Christian community’s approach to sexuality?

What might students most enjoy about HIS302? What might they find most challenging?

We sometimes talk about a “Bethel bubble.” I think we mean that students here are somehow sheltered from what is happening in the larger world. That might be true to an extent, but it’s also evident that the larger world is very much apparent even in this protected community. So, we have questions. And this class might not always provide all the answers, but we’re going to look at issues related to sexuality about which students are curious but about which they might feel reluctant to inquire. So, when we talk about the history of sexual categories, how the concept of “homosexuality” or “heterosexuality” came to be defined and understood popularly, that might be extremely fascinating and yet troubling at the same time. We’ll get into some fairly nitty gritty material, and as historians our first quest is to understand rather than to condemn, and that might be challenging.

What do you most hope that students take away from the course?

I hope students will leave this class with more empathy for people who have made different sexual choices from themselves, that they are more thoughtful about why they possess the sexual paradigm they do, and that they have an appreciation for the challenges and blessings of being embodied members of a complex community of believers. I hope students will walk away more ready to ask questions, to seek true dialogue on the topic of sexuality, and to claim a formative role in shaping our understanding of what sexuality has been and what it should be.

<<Read the previous post in this series

Faculty Update, Fall 2013: Publications

Several Bethel History professors have had recent publications, or will soon see their work appear in print:

Bethel Seminary sign• Prof. Diana Magnuson surveyed the recent, challenging past of Bethel Seminary in A Time of Transformation, Bethel Seminary 1982-2012, eds. James and Carole Spickelmier, a new history of that institution that picks up where Missionsskolan, by her father-in-law, Norris Magnuson, left off.

• Prof. Chris Gehrz guest-edited a special issue of The Covenant Quarterly with Bethel theology professor Christian Collins Winn, and contributed to it an article comparing how Brethren historian Dale Brown and former Bethel president Carl Lundquist developed distinctively pietistic approaches to Christian engagement with culture.

• Department alum-turned-adjunct instructor Katie Thostenson recently had a paper accepted for publication in Studia Patristica. “Sharing God’s Image: Tertullian on the Creation of the Sexes” challenges the charge made by early feminist scholars that Tertullian was a misogynist, by exploring to what extent he believed that divine aspects of the Creator are shared by men and women and then comparing his anthropology of female creation with those outlined in other Greco-Roman texts.

• And as previously mentioned here at AC 2nd, Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra’s “The Harlot City?: Prostitution in Hollywood, 1920-1940” will be coming out in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies.

<<Read the previous update in this series

Faculty Update, Fall 2013: Presentations

A Third Way logoOver the weekend Prof. Amy Poppinga was in Chattanooga, TN for the 2013 Adventist Forum Conference, A Third Way: Beyond the conservative/liberal divide to a Christian identity refreshed by interfaith dialogue. In her presentation, “”How Cultural Identity Shapes Faith and Complicates Interfaith Relations,” Amy considered the role of vulnerability in interfaith relationships and the challenge for Christians to rely less on our confidence of what we think we know and more on faith.

That was the first of several presentations that Bethel History professors will be making in 2013-2014:

• Prof. Chris Gehrz will be a fish out of water at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, held in mid-November in Baltimore. Chris will speak on “The Global Reflex: An International Historian Appraises David Swartz’s Moral Minority,” as one of three scholars invited to respond to Swartz’s acclaimed history of politically progressive evangelicalism. (Learn more at Chris’ blog.)

• And next May, Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra will present at the Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, held for 2014 in Toronto. On the heels of teaching her new spring course, History of Sexuality in America, AnneMarie will take part in a panel on “Sexualities in the City,” contributing a paper on “Enterprising Men in Los Angeles’s Red-Light District, 1870-1909.”

Then Prof. Diana Magnuson and Prof. Ruben Rivera will be attending conferences and workshops this fall: Diana later this month at the Minnesota Population Center‘s workshop, “IPUMS-USA, US Census and American Community Survey, from 1850 to present”; Ruben at the Coming Together Immigration Conference, this year on the theme of “The Gospel, the Church & Immigration” (in October at First Baptist Church, Minneapolis), and then the 5th Annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference, “Achieving Peace by Embracing Diversity” (in November at North Park University in Chicago).

<<Read the first entry in this series of updates                Read the last update in the series>>

Previewing “The Harlot City?: Prostitution in Hollywood, 1920-1940”

Olive Clark Day in court (1931)
Olive Clark Day in court, September 15, 1931. Photo used by permission: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; http://www.lapl.org

Although not in print quite yet, you can get a preview of my forthcoming article, “The Harlot City?: Prostitution in Hollywood, 1920-1940,” in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies by listening to an interview-style podcast the journal’s editor, Benjamin Frasier, did with me this summer.  In the podcast, we discuss the concerns of Los Angeles reformers about the sexual dangers allegedly facing the thousands of young women flocking to Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s for an opportunity to break into the film industry; the contrasting depiction of these young women in Hollywood novels; and the way the tension in those contrasting images played out in newspaper coverage of a prostitution case involving Olive Clark Day–a woman who ran a call-girl operation out of Hollywood that catered to the desire of wealthy clients wanting young and seemingly “innocent” girls.  A bonus topic in the interview that doesn’t appear in the article is a discussion of the 1937 Academy Award-winning film, A Star is Born.  Enjoy!

Are you a Fulbrighter?

Fulbright logo

We’re just about to begin a new semester at Bethel University.  For some of you that means you’ll have your bachelor’s degree in a matter of mere months, and you’re already wondering how life after Bethel will look.  If you have done well academically, and have a passion for overseas service, you might consider applying for a Fulbright Grant.

The Fulbright Grant comes in two forms. Students applying for the “Study/Research” grant “design their own projects and will typically work with advisers at foreign universities or other institutes of higher education.” The “English Teaching Assistantship” grant “places a Fulbrighter in a classroom abroad to provide assistance to teachers of English to non-native English-speakers. English Teaching Assistants help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for U.S. culture.”  The Fulbright Program operates in over 140 different countries worldwide.

The application process is rigorous.  Students will need to draft a statement of grant purpose, a personal statement, solicit three reference letters, and (where appropriate) complete a foreign language evaluation form.  Students applying for the “Study/Research” grant will also need an affiliation letter from someone in the host country who has agreed to serve as their adviser.  Bethel University, however, has a Fulbright Program Adviser–Dr. Kooistra–who will help you walk through the process.

The deadline for grants that would begin in Fall 2014 is October 15, 2013.  Students wishing to apply, however, should have their materials completed no later than September 29, 2013 given that they will also have to go through a campus interview before they can submit their application.

Interested students should first examine the Fulbright’s website, and then contact Dr. Kooistra.

Dangerous Women and Women in Danger

Ann Forester, 1941
Ann Forrester, “The Black Widow,” 1941 – Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

It’s not often that one finds photographs of prostitutes on our History Department blog, but as part of a March 8-9, 2013 conference at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, “Dangerous Women and Women in Danger,” Ann Forrester will be the means by which a number of UK scholars get an introduction to Bethel University.

The conference is being held in celebration of International Women’s Day, and, according to its website, “will focus on the related theme of dangerous women and women facing peril.” Interested in what I might say about “The Black Widow”?  Feel free to read the abstract:

The “Black Widow’s” Triple Threat: Pandering, Interracial Sex, and Corporate Undermining

In 1938, Los Angeles police arrested Ann Forrester, who newspapers dubbed “The Black Widow” in connection with a so-called prostitution ring.  Using newspaper accounts of the investigation as well as trial transcripts from her trial, it is clear that Forrester was seen as a dangerous woman on three accounts.  First, the testimony of Ann Forrester provides a window into the business operations of a Los Angeles organization called “The Syndicate” which consisted of a small group of men who had, already by the 1920s, absorbed many brothel operators and prostitutes into a more hierarchical business structure which—through its ties with city politicians and police—succeeded in dominating not only prostitution but also gambling and the Prohibition-era trade in illegal liquor in the city.  It is evident in the trial transcript that Forrester’s attempt to deny culpability threatened exposure of the municipally-sanctioned incorporation of prostitution.  Forrester was also portrayed as a threat to the young women of the city as newspapers constructed the prostitutes working for Forrester as “white slaves”—unwilling victims of the “Black Widow” and her associates.  Why was this the case?  One of the alleged associates of Forrester was Charles Montgomery, who newspapers described as “Negro-Portuguese.”  I argue in this paper that just as newspapers (and many other social observers) had used the term “white slavery” during the Progressive Era to denote what was then the ultimate sexual taboo of white women engaging in prostitution, Los Angeles newspapers in the 1930s were reviving the term “white slavery” to denote what was then the ultimate sexual taboo: white women engaging in sexual intercourse with men of color.  The “Black Widow” preyed on the sexual innocence of young women but, worse yet, was associated with interracial sexual commerce.