Panel focuses on topics of gender, race in 2016 election


Kaitlyn Budion

In a crowded room in Dockser Hall on the night of Oct. 6, Northeastern students gathered to listen to a panel of professors discuss how issues of race and gender are playing into the current presidential election.

The panel was comprised of Suzanna Walters, professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, Carole Bell, assistant professor of communication studies and Jessica Silbey, professor of law. The event was moderated by Sarah Jackson, assistant professor of communication studies.

One by one, the women addressed various issues surrounding the election season. Walters opened with a comment about the all-female panel.

“You know, I think that the fact that it’s an allwomen panel here would really upset Donald Trump,” said Walters. “He might have blood coming out of his wherever.”

Walters primarily spoke about the gender discourse of this political season and the importance of diversity in our nation’s highest office. She also spoke about the media’s negative portrayal of Hillary Clinton.

“The narrative of her being both unlikable and untruthful and, of course, now on death’s door, feeds into and from normative ideas of gender about women’s inherent duplicity and dishonesty, our cultural revulsion and hatred of older women, but our reverence for older men,” she said.

Bell spoke next and focused on the impact of race and racism on presidential campaigns, both now and in the past.

“We have long had a really racially polarized electorate,” Bell said. “A lot of people just really didn’t notice it. The democratic party has not won the majority of white vote since 1964.”

Bell also spoke about the draw Trump has to for white voters.

“We have a lot anxiety in whites about immigration, about changing economic power, changing status and so on,” she said. “We really see a lot of that play out more obviously in this election, even though it’s really been there all along.”

Sibley then spoke about how the next president will affect the Supreme Court and the practice of law. She pointed out that the next president will appoint the justice to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February, and maybe others. The next president’s choices will tip the ideological balance of the court, affecting Supreme Court decisions for decades.

“What’s at stake in this election is really for whom will the laws work,” she said. “The president is the chief law enforcer in the nation as well as the commander in chief. It will be her job to present laws and to enforce those laws in a way that is for everybody.”

Jessica Ordinario, a senior communication studies and sociology major who attended the event, praised the panel but expressed regret that the discussion was necessary.

“I think it was just a lot of really smart women who are telling us things that are very obvious, but sadly we need to hear,” Ordinario said.

Another student, Will McAneny, a senior international affairs major, praised the format of the event.

“I thought it was a fantastic panel,” said McAneny. “It was moderated very well. I appreciated how they came from a diversity of academic disciplines and how the questions for the most part all moved the conversation forward by kind of focusing on a different facet or aspect of the issues that were discussed.”

The event was sponsored by the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program; Office of Student Affairs; Humanities Center; School of Law; John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute; Politics, Philosophy and Economics program; Department of Political Science; Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service; Center for Intercultural Engagement; and College of Social Sciences and Humanities, but was largely pushed by Walters.

“I felt we needed a chance to really talk about how race and gender are structuring the way we can even think about this election and the importance of fighting back against Trump,” she said.

Photo by Alex Melagrano