Faculty and students gathered Thursday night for a viewing of the documentary Equal Means Equal by director, writer and producer Kamala Lopez, which offers an unflinching look into women’s rights, as part of Women’s History month.
Spearheaded by Alisa Smith, department chair of legal studies, and M.C. Santana, director of women’s and gender studies, the film was meant to spark an in-depth conversation of women’s rights and how to bring awareness to the UCF community.
“Documentaries have a point of view and for this producer the point of view or point of entry is ERA, or the equal rights amendment, as the way to create consensus nationally, not by communities, not depending on governors and not by state, but by the United States constitution.” Santana said.
There were nine main topics in the film that are primarily in the center of the women’s rights discussion. Women’s rights laws, wage gaps, reproductive healthcare and human trafficking were some of the topics that were mentioned.
Women’s right advocates and UCF faculty members Maria Beckman, director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, Ph.D., M.S.W., C.S.E. Tameca N. Harris-Jackson, and Ph.D. Jennifer Sandoval, comprised the panel that led the discussion after the movie.
A lot of the issues discussed are occurring here in Orlando, such as human trafficking. UCF has a human trafficking institute where faculty and students can get together to talk to law enforcement where they address parents whose child may be at risk for prostitution or trafficking.
There is also a new registered student group called Why Act, whose sole purpose is to create awareness for students who may be at risk of falling prey to human trafficking.
The panel also discussed breaking the social norms of society. As an example, Beckman offered the audience a riddle that she used while she trained very high administrators at UCF. The purpose of the riddle is to try to get people to understand the way society sees women as different than men.
The riddle is: there was a serious car accident, and a father and a son were in the car accident. The father died at the scene. The son was rushed to the emergency room at the local hospital and the surgeon on call was called in to attend to the son. The surgeon on call said I can’t operate on this patient he’s my son. How is that possible?
“I will tell you that in training after training of the most high level university officials here, that nobody gets the answer. So, once people understand that even they don’t get that, that it’s impossible for them to figure – most people – that it’s the mother, then you have their attention.” Beckman said.
Panelists encouraged those in attendance to get politically involved at the local level. Harris-Jackson stated that the only way to move toward equality is realizing that if people in power feel they are at risk of losing the power, they will fight to keep it.
“One of the things I usually talk about with students and the community is, when we have these conversations about inequality and gaps and discrimination and social injustice, I really don’t think we can effectively have those conversations until we kind of look around us and see who’s missing at the table that can add a perspective that we are not embracing or not understanding.” Harris-Jackson said, “Everyone needs to be at the table.”
Audience members cited lack of education and media coverage, as well as social norms for causes as to why more is not being done to fix these issues.
In response, Beckman stated that one of the issues with the textbooks she uses in class is that they don’t deal with issues such as sex discriminiation and sexual orientation discriminiation in other areas of the world. To educate her students on the subject, Beckman has the students do their research paper on a discriminatory practice in another country.
Sandoval spoke on the difficult topics in her classroom such as racism, sexism, heterosexism and abuse.
“For my students, I let them create the rules of conversation in my classroom, I’m not going to dictate how we talk about things. The first day they negotiate what they expect from each other, were going to talk about everything that’s wrong in the world so they set the rules and I think that creates a little bit more of a space for them to feel like well we set the agenda.” Sandoval said.
The discussion then turned to how to get people who are not in the room to understand that these issues are important and recognize their own privileges.
“It’s almost overwhelming when you see it all put together. I think that there are some root issues, the law is one, education is another, media is another, because I think that we are undereducated and underinformed,” Smith said, “I think that we need people elected, we need people that understand the issues, we need people who are voting, we need people to understand the extent and consequences, and they need to be personal.”
In the age of technology, it can be easy to choose what you want to take in. With social media playing a big part in the number of mixed messages people receive, it can be difficult to sort through them all. It’s a paradox of choice according Sandoval, in the end you take in what you want to take in.
At the end of the discussion, audience members asked what advice they would give to those who were not in the room and to those in attendance to help keep the discussion going.
“Every single human being that lives is insecure or being victimized in some way, so I think that if we could all be allies with each other when we experience injustice no matter what it is based on, if there’s a way that we can all stand up for each other in an open way, in all of the different ways that we feel is unjust then maybe we are now a community and we can see how sticking up for each other when we experience injustice, benefits everybody,” Beckman said.
Harris-Jackson concluded the discussion by saying that her goal is to get each person in the room to care about the person beside them, asking the question “what do you need to hear, see or experience for that to happen?”
To learn more about joining related groups on campus such as Why Act? or NOW, the National Organization for Women, students can find their information on KnightConnect.
Students can rent Equal Means Equal on iTunes for $4.99 and can learn more about the documentary on their website http://www.equalmeansequal.com
Originally published April 3, 2017