Vivian Medithi is a junior majoring in plant biology with a double minor in chemistry and gender, women, and sexuality studies. They are also co-president of the University of Iowa Feminist Union. Vivan took a break to sit down and tell us about this growing student organization.
Tell me about the UI Feminist Union.
Well to start off, the Feminist Union is a student org that meets once a week in the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC, in the Bowman House; this semester we meet Wednesdays at 7 PM).
As a student org, we are committed to feminist issues, which means fighting for the social, political, and economic equality of all genders. Because we recognize that women are not a monolith, we recognize that the experiences of all women are diverse and varied; white women have different experiences than black women, trans women have different experiences than cis women, heterosexual women have different experiences than queer women, and so on. Intersectionality is critical to our feminism; while we welcome feminists (and even non-feminists) of all political persuasions, and even disagree on politics amongst ourselves as co-presidents, we know that ultimately, all people, from Iowa City to Gaza, deserve to be treated as human beings with dignity and respect; this means, ultimately, we do make political statements, such as denouncing racism on campus, or a hardline anti-Trump stance for the election.
Why is Feminist Union important to you?
The easy answer is that I really believe in equality and want the world to be better, but plenty of non/anti/post-feminists would say the same things about themselves.
I'm a South Indian child of immigrants, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual; I see how race, gender, sexuality, and class interplay in modern society, and it troubles me that some people are disadvantaged and others are privileged simply by birthright. Feminism is important to me because I want people to respect my pronouns (they/them/theirs) without questioning them. Feminism is important to me because no one should have to feel uncomfortable because their coworkers make sexist or racist jokes. Ultimately, feminism is important to me because living my life fully, free from discrimination, is important to me and I want that for everyone, not just myself.
How are you making a difference on campus?
As an organization, Feminist Union works in tandem with various student orgs on campus such as Spectrum UI, Black Hawkeyes, Muslim Student Association, and so on to promote events and political action. Like many student orgs involved in social justice, a large part of our work is knowledge based; learning more, sharing knowledge, listening to people's lived experiences.
We also recognize the importance of direct action, from sit-ins and protests to lobbying legislators and registering voters. Ultimately, how we work on campus is a direct product of who is involved with Feminist Union and how the general body wants to move on particular issues.
How many people are involved in Feminist Union?
Feminist Union has 3 co-presidents: Sophie Katz, Vivian Medithi, and Caitlyn Strack. The general body membership is variable, with people showing up as it fits their schedule. We generally have at least 8 people at any given meeting, and for larger events like our biannual Feminist Voices Showcase, over 120 people have shown up.
What is something that most people don’t know about Feminist Union?
Most people think we only care about women's issues, or that we're anti-men, or that we represent a narrow, second-wave brand of feminism that doesn't account for race, sexuality, colonialism, the gender binary, islamophobia, ecofeminism, indigenous people's rights, and more. None of these things are true, of course, but the common misconceptions that persist around feminism are a daily obstacle.
What challenges have you faced in being a part of this organization?
The biggest issue we face as an org is the biggest issue facing feminism as a whole: people with privilege (this includes us) really don't want to relinquish said privilege, whether that privilege exists on an axis of gender, race, religion, economics, sexuality, or something else. The other major challenge is of course that everyone has a take on feminism, and a lot of people have misconceptions about feminism (even self-professed feminists) because of what mainstream media outlets/history books have taught us about feminism (as always, think about source bias and intent when you're reading things, even this; critical thought trumps all else).
Tell me about your proudest moment.
If I personally had to pick a single moment, Feminist Voices Fall 2015 was a truly great moment; so much beautiful art and pure energy. Overarchingly, being able to cultivate a safe space where people are comfortable being themselves and being vulnerable and learning more is something we all take pride in. The world is a harsh place, especially for those oppressed under white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy, and to be a place that feels even marginally less awful is something to be proud of.
What have your learned from this experience?
Personally, I've learned a lot. From intersectionality 101 to research on pregnancy surrogacy to the prison-industrial complex, I can say definitively I'm significantly more informed on political issues that have real world impact on others than I was two years ago. And the connections I've made through Feminist Union, both professonal or personal, have had a huge positive impact on me; I'm glad I've had this opportunity.