Interview with Christina Bowerman
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Christina Bowerman Interview
Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and Christina Bowerman for clarity
[00:00:00] MHR: All right. So I'm here with Christina Bowerman. It is May 30th. Hello Christina.
[00:00:05] CB: Hi!
[00:00:06] MHR: Thanks for coming!
[00:00:08] CB: Of course! Thanks for having me.
[00:00:08] MHR: Yeah, I'm excited to talk to you. So to begin I'm just going to ask you, where are you from and how did you end up as a graduate of the College of Wooster?
[00:00:15] CB: So I'm from Walnut Creek California and I applied to all small liberal arts Presbyterian colleges east of Chicago. And I came to visit and I'd already met the chaplain here previously and Wooster just really stood out. It was of course the last school that I heard back from. But I just sort of fell in love during my visit.
[00:00:35] MHR: Yeah. So what made you interested in the WGSS Discipline while you were a student here?
[00:00:39] CB: So I was interested before I came. So I came to the College of Wooster originally to be a music teacher, so I had a music scholarship and I was really interested in that but I knew I wanted to minor in WGSS. And so I was impressed by the WGSS Program just looking at colleges. And then when I got here my whole first semester I took all music classes and one WGSS class. And that class is what made me change my major because I wanted to go and I wanted to, like, dig into things and learn and I was just impressed by, like, the thoroughness of the Program.
[00:01:09] MHR: That's exactly how I was. I came in... I think I wanted to be anthropology and then switched to communications. And I just took that the intro to WGSS class for fun. And then... because coming in I was like, "I don't think I want to be a WGSS major. I feel like I know that already."
[00:01:24] CB: Yeah, yeah!
[00:01:24] MHR: And then I took it and I was like, "no I do not!".
[00:01:27] CB: Yeah!
[00:01:27] MHR: And now here I am. So what were some of your favorite classes that you took in the WGSS Department and what were some of the more valuable things you learned from those classes?
[00:01:37] CB: So I started with two sections. One semester Queer Lives and Queer Theory and Literature were offered the same semester, so I took both of those at once which was a really wonderful thing to do because I was learning about, like, queer identities from very different perspectives. So, I was, like, reading Foucault with Travis Foster and then I was reading, like, a memoir with Christa Craven. So to be able to, like, dig in, it felt really wonderful. And I was really pushed to my limits to what queer identities were versus like what Wooster was and so that was really important to me. And also like every lesbian I knew were in those classes and that was just a really unique experience, like, at the college to be in, like, a pretty predominant queer space is the first time I had experience. And then I forget what the Junior I.S. class called...
[00:02:26] MHR: Doing feminist research.
[00:02:27] CB: OK it might have been something different, but so I took that, I took in my junior year with Stacia Kock, and then I T.A.ed my senior year with Christa Craven. And so to be able to have that class with two different professors, but then also see juniors when I was a senior sort of grapple with what their research might look like and what research in a feminist lens is, has really taught me a lot about how to be a professional.
[00:02:56] MHR: Nice. How did stuff you learned in class inspire what you did for your I.S.?
[00:03:02] CB: So, I was a double major with Religious Studies, so I was in, sort of, two very different spaces that are actually very similar. But I learned a lot about, like, progressive queer identities and I wanted to research something a little bit different. And so, I don't know if you know what I researched, but I researched the ex-gay movement in the Evangelical Christian Church. And so learning about, like, progressive queer identities has made me want to look into people who wanted to reject that completely and live a different life. And it was fascinating and very polarizing as a student to research that with faculty and other students.
[00:03:40] MHR: That's actually so funny because I just realized I read a part of your I.S. for my Junior I.S. class because we had to find an I.S. that, like, kind of went along with what we were thinking about right at the start so I just realized that Christina Bowerman on that...
[00:03:54] CB: Yeah, that is...
[00:03:54] MHR: Is the Christina Bowerman I'm interviewing right now!
[00:03:55] CB: That is me!
[00:03:56] MHR: That's really funny. I really liked your I.S., it was very thought provoking.
[00:04:11] CB: Thank you! I have not opened it since my orals because I am just terrified to read it. But I loved it so much.
[00:04:05] MHR: Very nice. So what was the campus climate like when you were a student when it came to women's rights and LGBTQ+ rights?
[00:04:15] CB: So I would say it was tolerant but not accepting. So my now wife and I started dating October of our freshman year of college. And so we sort of became like the norm for our graduating class.
[00:04:28] MHR: So by the time we were Seniors it was no longer accepted to, like, stare at us at Lowry or like mock us or do anything like that because we were so beloved by our graduating class because we the only couple that had stayed together for all of college. So that was a really unique experience as, like, queer women to have that in a very rural environment. I would say for women's rights was like a different thing. I would say the college thought it was accepting but then my senior year, I was just realizing this on the drive, was when a fraternity reenacted date rape onstage during Lip Sync...was my senior year. And so that sort of spurred this new movement for the college to sort of grapple with what is consent and what does it mean to be a female on the college campus. And what does it mean to drink and date and have sex. And so I was actually part of the investigation committee for that and I was interviewed and it was a really different way to end college. And I ended college feeling a lot less safe than I started.
[00:05:28] MHR: What year did you graduate just to get...
[00:05:31] CB: 2013.
[00:05:32] MHR: 2013. So that's pretty recent actually.
[00:05:34] CB: Yeah.
[00:05:35] MHR: That's very horrifying to hear. But it also strikes me as, kind of, thought provoking to think about that event in relation to what's been happening this year, especially, in the news when it's comes to sexual violence and sexual assault in America. To go back to LGBTQ issues real quickly, would you say that there was sort of... the community was not as comfortable to be as open and out?
[00:06:00] CB: Yes. So I would say, like, there were some very big pockets. So, like, there were a lot of women who played sports who were not out but were, like, dating other women but wouldn't identify in that way.
[00:06:12] I would say Wooster my whole four years was a very horrible place to be if you were a gay male and it was a lot more accepted to be a gay woman or a queer woman. But I think that Wooster was really struggling at that time with what it meant to be a non femme queer woman as well. And so a lot of my friends were struggling with their gender identity and it was like the first time people are talking about pronouns and these, like, gender inclusive bathrooms did not exist. And so bathroom politics was a big topic of conversation. And I do think that it was a very difficult space and that people didn't feel comfortable being themselves. I mean I would say for myself when things happened to me that I felt were, like, targeted because of my queer identity the college didn't really seem to care. Because I did complain a couple of times and it went nowhere, so I think because I was very public about it, and people knew that, then they were less comfortable moving forward.
[00:07:05] MHR: So I'm assuming then for people who identify as like bisexual or trans there was the same sort of non visible...
[00:07:13] CB: Yes.
[00:07:13] MHR: ...Community.
[00:07:14] CB: Correct. I would say there was not a lot of visibility. I would say that a lot of times non WGSS, specifically professors, would be incredibly disrespectful about people's gender pronouns and gender identities and would isolate those students. Especially in cross-listed classes would, like, target them and make them speak so their identity or like mis-gender them all the time. I do not identify as trans so I really tried to be a good ally in that space because I just felt like that was incredibly inappropriate.
[00:07:45] MHR: That's really interesting because it's 2018 and I'm going to be class of 2019, and for me I see now professors putting in more effort to ask people about their pronouns. And then the whole gender neutral bathrooms movement was, like, really starting when I was a freshman and now all the single stall bathrooms are gender neutral so it's interesting in that short span of time there's been such a change.
[00:08:10] CB: It's nice to see...
[00:08:11] MHR: Yeah.
[00:08:12] CB: ...because it feels like the things we were frustrated with made a difference. Even if it's a small difference, like there's gender neutral bathroom signs.
[00:08:22] MHR: Yeah. Good to see then. So going back to talking about being a student in the WGSS Discipline, did you face any challenges being a student in the Discipline or was there any stigma surrounding being a student in the WGSS Department?
[00:08:39] CB: I think there was quite a bit. I think there was a lot of stigma around what I would do after college. That being a WGSS student wasn't, like, your career trajectory and I was wasting my time and just researching my own identity. But I also think there was a lot of institutional bias. Cross-listed classes were very frustrating spaces for me to be in. I don't know what your experience has been like, but I would often find that as long as there was, like, women in the title it could be a cross-listed class. And it was very frustrating. I felt like my opinions in those spaces or my scholarship in that space wasn't as valued. But the big issue I had was when I did my I.S. and I wasn't initially approved for...I forget what it's called... HS...
[00:09:21] MHR: HSRC?
[00:09:22] CB: Yes something like that. I wasn’t initially approved because the committee thought that my research would be too sexually explicit when my research was actually about specifically men choosing to be celibate or choosing to marry women. But because they saw ex gay they thought I was going to ask people about their sexual experiences. So I had to rewrite my proposal and change the lens of my research because they believed it would be too controversial. But then I also experienced some bias with the WGSS community because my research wasn't inherently bashing the Ex-Gay movement. A lot of people expected that my research would be really damning to that community. And I think people were frustrated that I didn't do that.
[00:10:02] MHR: Yeah that's interesting. Reading your I.S. I definitely saw that. Did you see, like, a change or improvement or non-improvement in, like, the types of courses that were offered for WGSS? Like what were the required courses for you?
[00:10:19] CB: My gosh, what a throwback! Intro, and then you could take two of three, like, 200 level classes. So I took Global Feminisms which is actually why I became a WGSS major. I did horrible in that class and Christa sat me down and was like, "you need to major in this." And I was like, "I did it so bad." And then I took Queer Lives and then I had to take five cross-listed classes I think.
[00:10:43] And I felt like my group of WGSS majors and minors were huge in terms of changing cross-listed courses. So... but some people then weren't allowed to cross-list after they had us because we were like, "this was a horrible experience." Like it wasn't in anyway what the WGSS Department is looking for. And so Christa took over as chair and that was a huge change for the WGSS Department to have a more progressive, like, lens of scholarship.
[00:11:09] MHR: So when you would take the cross-listed classes and then say this wasn't actually for us...Talk about that a little bit.
[00:11:18] CB: Yeah!
[00:11:19] MHR: I don't know if I framed that in a question.
[00:11:20] CB: No that's ok. One of the cross-listed classes the professor flat out said that being gay shouldn't be a thing essentially. And that was a really horrible experience, so she no longer works here. And then some other classes just like talked about being a woman in a very biased, like, traditional lens. And that was very frustrating, like, just because they were talking about women meant it was, like, a WGSS class instead of actually having like WGSS scholarship or authors or things like that.
[00:11:52] MHR: Interesting. Yeah, for me I think there's a ton of cross-listed that I think people usually enjoy. The main issue right now is due to the fact that we keep having so many visiting professors for only a year that it's hard to find courses that will be approved for the upper level classes that aren't cross-listed. So that's been a struggle I've seen.
[00:12:21] CB: Yeah, I think... I was on the curriculum committee when I was in college and I think a huge thing that I saw from that lens was the lack of, like, a dedicated professorship to WGSS and that everyone was pulled in so many directions. So it wasn't actually able to, like, thrive in the way that it could of.
[00:12:39] MHR: Yeah I think the WGSS Department's doing a tenure search right now, I believe, to try and find another professor who can be specific to WGSS.
[00:12:47] CB: That's amazing.
[00:12:50] MHR: Not just Christa, yeah. So I think you sort of talk about this, but was there any stigma that you sort of felt being a WGSS major? You were saying how people assumed like, "Oh I'm just studying my identity..."
[00:13:01] CB: Yeah.
[00:13:02] MHR: ...and it's not, like, a career path.
[00:13:04] CB: I felt like people thought it was easy. But my actual WGSS classes were some of the most difficult classes I ever took. So I think that was frustrating to me. I also took... majored in two things that were both interdisciplinary so I sometimes felt like I didn't have a Discipline to lean on, so that was really good for me but frustrating at times.
[00:13:27] MHR: So I want to talk a little bit about The Plummer Scholarship, which I see that you were a recipient of. So can you just tell people who could be listening to this who are not familiar with the scholarship what it was and what did it mean to you to be a recipient of the scholarship.
[00:13:45] CB: So it's a scholarship that's given annually to a student who has helped create a more inclusive college campus for queer students. And I was a recipient my senior year and it was a huge honor for me. It's probably one of the most important awards I've ever received from college or since. I think part of the reason it was important to me is because so many adults when I was here modeled that for me. So Mary Schantz doesn't work here anymore but she worked in I.T. and she's an alumn and she and Christa together would host events for queer students, staff, and faculty and they would often also do it at the Wooster Inn. Because I was shown that from early on in college I wanted to make sure to do that for other people. And so it was really an honor for me to get that. One of the reasons it was explained to me that I won is because I also worked for the office of interfaith campus ministries. So I worked really hard to sort of bridge the intersection of what it means to be someone who has religious or spiritual but also queer. But part of what was frustrating about receiving the Plummer Scholarship was that I felt like there was a lot of backlash from the queer community on campus which is sort of the opposite of an inclusive environment. I don't know what it's like now, but when I was here there was a lot of friction between people who were in, like, structured queer groups and then people who weren't. And I wasn't a regular attender of that group. And so I think people were frustrated that it was given to me versus someone who is in that structured space. So that was a really interesting dynamic to experience of like who showed up when I got it and what did that say that it was given to me over one of them. And how do you move forward and to not be fighting against each other but working together.
[00:15:32] MHR: Yeah. It's sort of unfortunate when there's othering within the queer space.
[00:15:37] CB: Yeah it was incredibly frustrating. I would go sometimes to that group to try to, like, be part of everyone that I thought I was really friendly. But I felt like if I wasn't queer enough to be in that space and that was sometimes a frustrating experience to me because I didn't know what they were looking for from me to feel like I could occupy that space with them.
[00:16:01] MHR: Yeah, it's the whole idea of culture in America about what being queer means and what it looks like. I think campus is still, in the queer community, struggling to find that. But I think it's definitely gotten better.
[00:16:16] CB: Good.
[00:16:18] MHR: So, what do you think it means that Wooster has a scholarship like this?
[00:16:23] CB: So, I think it's incredibly important because it shows Wooster's commitment to creating a space where people can be themselves but also a space to realize that there's still room to grow. And I think that Wooster... one of the reasons I love Wooster still to this day, and I come to do things like this, is because Wooster never pretended to be perfect. The town is not perfect, the college is not perfect. The professors I surrounded myself with were very aware of that and were fighting for it to become better. And so I think it's really important that college continues this scholarship and that donor dollars are given to this scholarship because one, it's giving a student some money to get through the rest of college. And sometimes queer students or people fighting for this are isolated from their families. And I know that it's been really helpful to people financially, but I also think just the idea of it. There's a whole, like, ceremony for it, which doesn't happen for other awards, and I think it's just a really special thing.
[00:17:24] And they asked my other adviser, Dr. Kammer, to present to me which was also a really unique experience that they didn't choose a typical, like, WGSS or queer faculty member to present this award which was also a unique way to approach it.
[00:17:41] MHR: Yeah, being very inclusive which is good to hear. I told another person I was interviewing, Hans Johnson, about ways in which I see Wooster now to, sort of, expanding... being more accepted to queer identities and we do something called the Lavender Ceremony.
[00:17:58] CB: Yes! It started the year after I left and I was so pumped and I was so disappointed I didn't get to be part of it. But it was so wonderful to see that that's happening and that there is becoming, like, affirming spaces for people.
[00:18:11] MHR: Yeah. And this year too, I went to go support some friends, and there was, like, a huge turnout. I think that bring you in even more chairs.
[00:18:18] CB: That's amazing.
[00:18:19] MHR: I think it's a very cool way to show that Wooster, as you were saying, is not perfect but it's trying to progress more.
[00:18:25] CB: So one year before I graduated they bought rainbow tassels for all the queer students...
[00:18:30] MHR: Oh nice!
[00:18:30] CB: ...and so I didn't graduate that year. But Mary Schantz actually saved me and Evelyn rainbow tassels so that when we were seniors we got to wear them and it was really wonderful. And it was just that small symbol of like thank you for what you did, but also, like, you survived being queer in Wooster. It was really a nice gesture.
[00:18:51] MHR: Very nice! I think my final question is how have you used what you've learned from the WGSS Discipline in your life after Wooster? Is there anything that really sticks with you and you try to really use.
[00:19:04] CB: So I think everything. I think one of the things I've been reflecting on is the ability to take feedback at work. So I work in a middle school in Cleveland now. I used to work for an education nonprofit in Cleveland, so ever since I've left I've worked in urban education. And I think something that has helped me, sort of, progress pretty quickly in my career is that I'll often give myself feedback before my supervisor does, but with them and in partnership with them because WGSS taught me that I'm not always right, that it's important to listen to other people, and that it's super important to be self reflective. And so I'll often get things in my performance, it's performance review season, and so I often get feedback that's like, "you're very self aware and you're good at giving yourself your own critical feedback and you hold yourself accountable." And those are things specifically Christa taught me, was to have high expectations of everyone but higher ones of myself and to push myself to a limit I didn't think existed. And that has gone a really long way for me professionally.
[00:20:07] MHR: I think that's really interesting because I think it's cool to hear where WGSS majors have gone post Wooster and show people who are, sort of, iffy on the whole WGSS thing to say, "you know, we are learning, like, important things about how to interact with people in the world and do that. And, like, you're in teaching and you were a WGSS and Religious Studies major. Just we can bring things we learn into the real world to help us, sort of, be better people.
[00:20:37] CB: So I'm the Director of Operations for this middle school and I think what's really interesting to me is that in my, sort of, operations cohort I'm told very often that I am, like, very empathetic and I'm good with kids and I'm good have parents things and I don't think those should be abnormal in my job because I'm in charge of like our food Program and our dismissal process and our enrollment. So I'm interacting with regularly those groups of people. I think that's a skill that WGSS taught me is to, sort of, view everyone as a whole person and, sort of, work within that instead of isolating or stereotyping people based on what I'm told. And I can't thank the people who are my peers but also my professors enough for sort of pushing me to that place because Wooster can be a big bubble and WGSS can be a bubble, and sadly my life is not just a nice WGSS family after college. So it also helped me learn how to be patient with people who are still learning but be willing to, like, walk alongside them in that process.
[00:21:41] MHR: Yeah, that's awesome. Those are all the questions I have for you, but do you have anything you want to say or ask me?
[00:21:48] CB: This is exciting, like, thank you for having me. I think WGSS is incredibly important and if it was up to me it would be a requirement just like a religious studies classes is because it just teaches you how to be a better person.
[00:22:02] MHR: Yeah, I agree! That's what I was telling other people I've interviewed because they've asked, "like what do you want to see?" And I said, "I think it'd be cool to have like a feminist requirement class." So, we'll see where that goes...if that'll take fruition.
[00:22:19] CB: And it's amazing to see how far Christa has taken this.. this major and this Department and she was a huge mentor to me and still is. And I'm just so grateful to see her work continue and touch people. So...
[00:22:34] MHR: Yeah, I agree!
[00:22:35] CB: Yep.
[00:22:36] MHR: Well thank you so much for coming!
[00:22:38] CB: Yeah, of course!
[00:22:38] MHR: This was very nice to talk to you.
[00:22:40] CB: Yeah you too.