By: Dionne Smith, Community Editor
The Women and Gender Studies program has many interesting people, one of them being Catherine Barbarits, the coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies program, who started working at USM last September. Her job as the coordinator is making sure that the program is always running smoothly, doing a variety of jobs such as managing Work Study students and co-advising the Gender Studies Student Organization
Barbarits grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, a college town that houses the University of New Hampshire (UNH). Growing up there, she attended UNH where she found philosophy. She also studied women’s studies and had a minor in queer studies, which was a new major during her senior year.
“I found my way to philosophy through feminism because there was a class called philosophy of feminism and I thought, why not just take that,” Barbarits said. She notes how, when she was a freshman, she didn’t call herself a feminist because she didn’t understand what feminism was truly about, and didn’t understand the oppression. As she went through college, her views began to change as she witnessed violence against women and witnessed the oppression women face. Seeing the oppression is what guided her towards gender studies.
During her time in college, she became an activist for feminism and helped form a group on campus called the Woman’s Union. “A lot of what we did was respond to sexist events on campus,” Barbarits said. The group’s focus was raising awareness of sexual assault on campus. Members experimented with different forms of activism as well, such as civil disobedience and coalition building with other programs on campus.
The program helped her learn what to do as an activist, and what not to do. Aside from the normal things that people learn from college, like time management, she said that learning what a feminist is, becoming on, and being an activist helped shape who she is as a person and how she thinks.
Once she graduated from college, she tried living in Brooklyn, New York, but the city was too big for her. She enjoys going out in nature and found that hard to do in a large city. She was interested in Portland because it is close from Durham, and she found Portland to be a good middle ground for both the city environment and going out into nature. She took a job working for the Women and Gender Studies Program because it spoke to her strongly, being an activist and a feminist herself. She expressed how excited she was to return to a learning community
While she is working here, she wants to meet and support the student activists at USM, wanting to put them in contact with other people and organizations that help activists. WGS have already held many events in the past, such as having Ӧzlem Altiok, a Turkish feminist and scholar who talked about gender and religion in Turkey, and the Say Now event last year in relation to Donald Trump winning the presidency. There are more events planned for this year. Barbrits also wants students to not only take more Women and Gender Studies classes, but to feel invited to the space that they have available for the students to use. She expressed that she is very motivated to expand the program, and wants to help build on the program as much as possible, creating continuity in an environment that contains so many commuter students. “One of my goals for my job in general is to support the activist and be the bridge,” Barbarits said.