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Students Participate at Gender and Sexuality Conference

CANTON — Disney movies tend to be about princesses who have their wishes granted by a kind fairy godmother, fall in love with the man of their dreams (and have the man of their dreams fall in love with them, too!), and live, of course, happily ever after, most likely in an idyllic castle in the Bavarian countryside.

Princesses aren’t supposed to be bound to a life of hard work, or struggle to be noticed by the man they love, or have boisterous godmothers who have been exiled due to the practice of taboo religions. Right?

When Tiara Davis ’14 watches “The Princess and the Frog,” a Disney movie about a young black girl living in New Orleans, what she sees is an unequal representation of the African-American princess compared with her white counterparts who came before her.

“There are all kinds of racial stereotypes in this movie,” said Tiara, of Houston, Texas. “Tiana (the princess in the movie) is told that her dreams won’t ever come true and that she needs to work hard in life. Basically, she’s told to give up on her dreams. The man she loves is not really in love with her, and she has to work to get him to even notice her. You can’t even tell what ethnicity he is, but he’s not an African-American like her. And then there’s her godmother, Mama Odie, who’s loud, obese, pushy but also a good cook — not the sort of thing when you think of Cinderella’s fairy godmother.”

Tiara, a McNair Scholar and 2013 University Fellow, gave her research poster presentation on Disney’s representation of African-American women during the Gender and Sexuality Studies Conference held Oct. 25 at Clarkson University.

The conference was sponsored through the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley and organized by faculty at the four institutions represented — Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Canton and SUNY Potsdam. Students from the four local colleges presented their research and staffed informational tables following the conference’s opening lecture.

David Pynchon '13 of Canton discussed St. Lawrence’s student organization SAGA, which stands for sexuality and gender activists. SAGA had a video playing, which was filmed during National Coming-Out Day and asked students, “What would you do if your roommate came out to you?”

“We have a pretty tolerant population of students on campus,” David said. “But there aren’t necessarily a lot of discussions about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) issues going on. So, we wanted to demonstrate that there actually does exist a supportive community on campus, and we’re using this video to try to get the conversation started.”

View the video here.

The two-day conference featured keynote speaker Jyoti Purti, professor of sociology at Simmons College and guest speakers Mecke Nagel of SUNY Cortland, Marc Epprecht of Queens University, and Kari Lerum of the University of Washington. The conference featured presentations and a Saturday workshop on activism, research and teaching.

R. Danielle Egan, professor of gender and sexuality studies at St. Lawrence, helped organize the conference and said it was the first gender studies conference held in the region.

“Hopefully, this will become an annual conference, and the Associated Colleges is really the perfect venue to host it,” Egan said. “It’s amazing that, with four colleges in our region, this is the first time there’s been a conference that addresses these issues. It’s long overdue.”

Egan, author of Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls (Polity Press, 2013), launched her book during the conference.